Kent sculptor Bob Allen in the spotlight

PUBLISHED: 16:53 20 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:13 20 February 2013

Kent sculptor Bob Allen in the spotlight

Kent sculptor Bob Allen in the spotlight

Largely self-taught, Kent sculptor Bob Allen now has large sculptures in iconic positions

Kent sculptor Bob Allen in the spotlight

Largely self-taught, Kent sculptor Bob Allen now has large sculptures in iconic positions

When we meet in a pub deep in the Kent countryside, Bob Allen greets me with a lovely piece of sculpture that I immediately want to touch: its smooth surface and the beautiful curving lines invite such a tactile reaction. I later learn that this is one of the things the artist really wishes to inspire in his viewers; I have earned Brownie points.

Bob Allen is a highly private person who has been beavering away at the art that he has made his own for the past 10 years. Previously working in finance, a serious health problem made him turn his life around completely.

I havent any artistic background and Ive only been to one exhibition at Tate Modern, and that was two years ago. Its a conscious decision, I dont want to draw ideas from other people, I want to work through my own inspiration.

Its a compliment when people ask to touch one of my sculptures, it becomes an exchange

Its a moot point. There is something about Bobs sculptures which recall both Henry Moore, although his pieces show much slimmer figures, and the smooth lines of Barbara Hepworth, even though we dont get the circles and ovals characteristic of this sculptor. Bob has had pieces in this years Frieze art fair, the place for contemporary art, and he has also exhibited on a small scale in lots of manor houses, for example Pashley Manor Gardens at Ticehurst.

I asked Bob how he would categorise his work. Informal or non-formal, what would be the word? he searches for a definition. Usually it has a strong emotional theme. His award-winning Electron, 42 foot high and weighing 10 tons, stands next to East India Docks railway station, on the site of a power switching station.

I wanted it to be a stepping stone, because not many people do big things today. I now have the confidence to do even bigger things and Ive many ideas in my head, he says. The sculpture is like a bolt of energy going upwards. The surface finish was done with a 4.5 inch angle grinder and to burnish it took eight days. When it was finished and the sun hit it, it was blinding.

His piece Freeflow began life as wood from the hedgerow. I started at it with a hammer and chisel and in an hour I could see it. I worked overnight non-stop and I got the shape. Unfortunately, it doesnt often happen as well as that.

Bob has kept the first piece he ever made, as it was an entire accident. To his surprise people wanted to buy something he had been doodling with, and it made him realise he was set on a path. I loved doing it and its rolled along from there.

His reason for choosing sculpture is pretty pragmatic: I cant draw. It just doesnt happen! But there are problems. When you sculpt, many of the pieces are originally carved in wood and you have to work with that, you cant dictate to it. You may come across a piece of rot, splits or grain which affects the way you carve and they dictate to some extent what you produce.

Moving on to bronze, there are a number of lengthy processes you have to go through to get your work cast, but carving the first piece is just the first step on a path which is time consuming and expensive. When you then scale something up, for example Freeflow, you have to do the whole thing again, but you are working against the laws of physics, with for instance a steel frame for very heavy clay. You have to produce that but still keep it in the form you want.

A future project is a competition Bob won for a piece outside a theatre in Northern Ireland. Its a fabulous site at Newtownabbey, on a hill, so that people look up as they approach the theatre.

We return to the tactile nature of sculpture. Its a compliment when people ask to touch one of my sculptures, Bob says, Its an exchange, you are interreacting to it. Its an achievement if someone is involved in it, its impacting on them, and its not something you can buy, but a reflection of the quality of what youve produced.


Bob Allen, sculptor, Woodgers Wharf, Horsham Lane, Lower Rainham ME8 7XB,

tel 0794 4858988.

Bob will be exhibiting 11-17 August, at the Horsebridge Centre in Whitstable, together with Nick Cordezs work, tel 01227 281174.

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