Art at the Park – Meet the artists: Dominic Welch

5 minutes

“In my final year at school I put an advert in a magazine looking for an apprenticeship ­– an idea triggered by reading a book, where the author’s blurb (bio) had mentioned how it had all started with his apprenticeship with a painter.

I forgot all about the advert until months later, during my gap year before a Geography degree in London, a surprise postcard arrived from   sculptor Peter Randall-Page. He said he had just moved to Dartmoor from London with his young family, and, with a big retrospective exhibition coming up he was looking to take on people to help.

It was a stroke of luck that he been sent a few old copies of the magazine, Resurgence, as the editorial team planned to include a future feature on his work. My advert was in one of them! I went to meet him, we got on extremely well and I thought I’d try it out for a few months. I ended up being Peter’s apprentice for almost a decade! We still live close-by.

Carving stone felt right from the word go and I started to make my own work straight away in the occasional lulls in Peter's intense studio practice. He was either full-on and madly making work for a commission or exhibition, or then nothing for two months, very much like my own practice today.

I filled my time without ever thinking ‘I'm going to be a sculptor’ – I was just getting on and making, enjoying my new life on the edge of Dartmoor. I made two or three pieces a year in a small shed, the old milking parlour, on a neighbouring former dairy farm. I continued with a workshop there (eventually gravitating to the larger old cattle barn) and have only just left it after 35 years, although back then I was told ‘don't get too settled because we think we might have to sell’!

Peter and I worked very well together because I was fresh and had no preconceptions about art – I hadn't gone to art school and maybe that was one reason why my application stood out as when he’d employed art students before but they tended to come with quite big opinions of what art was ‘about’.

There was never any long-term plan. We just worked it out as we went along. I was completely fresh and open to everything. There was always a great deal of manual and machine work which is basically still the same. And although I didn't have any prior experience by default I became involved in everything; installation and the logistics of moving things around, dealing with health and safety issues, shipping overseas and all the stuff behind the scenes. It couldn't have been a better stepping stone to go on and do it myself and eventually form my own practice.

This happened when after some years, Peter and I were in a show together at Wimborne, in Dorset where he was the master artist among five established artists showing alongside five younger artists that included me. I did really well, sold all my pieces and got a big commission. That was ‘my moment’ and suddenly other commissions came along from different sources so I was now able to concentrate fully on my own work.

I continued for a while to occasionally help out Peter if he was busy but he is such a well-known sculptor, more involved in public commissions rather than private work as I am, that we're never treading on each other’s toes.

Now I exhibit my work at home alongside my partner and photographer Juliette Mills. It’s an Arts and Crafts house on the edge of Dartmoor originally built by the sculptor Robert Stark, father of the travel writer Freya Stark (who spent her childhood summers here). Barbara Hepworth's first husband (John Skeaping) also rented the studio in the 1940s. It’s an isolated spot, but with the acres of woodlands and planted gardens of azaleas and rhododendrons. It’s a magical spot to show our work. 

Much of my work is larger scale, for outside spaces, but I have always made smaller and medium sized pieces which work well inside. My sculptures at ‘Art at the Park’ will mostly be smaller interior works, although many are of a size that have been sold and placed outside in the past.

Over the years my work has become more honed and simplified. In particular the simple disc forms and taller ‘tear drop’ forms are a recurring theme. Recently I’ve been creating new bronze editions of my work, using an original stone carving as the start point. My bronzes are all cast at the renowned Pangolin foundry, near Stroud in Gloucestershire. At the forthcoming exhibition at Braxton Park I will be exhibiting a selection of both bronze and stone pieces, based around these simple and honed ‘planetary’ disc shapes and striking ‘rising’ forms.

To see my larger works our sculpture gardens near Chagford on Dartmoor are open by appointment all year round, with our next big exhibition planned in May. I also have a long-standing relationship with Messum’s Fine Art, in Bury Street, St. James, London. They have been very supportive of what we are doing here and have put publicity behind the first big show this May and plans for many more in the future.

About Home-Start Essex

Home-Start Essex aims to give children the best possible start in life by supporting parents and caregivers to feel less isolated, to build their confidence in themselves and their parenting and to find ways to manage the challenges they face. We build trusting, helpful relationships with families and deliver a range of flexible support to meet their individual needs, including volunteer-led home visiting, family groups, wellbeing services, school-readiness, and behaviour support programmes.

Howden Private Clients Director Julie Webb says: “We are proud to support Home-Start through Art at the Park and I look forward to inviting my art-loving clients to Braxted Park, a beautiful country house at Witham in Essex. Art at the Park will be such an exciting event, featuring so many incredibly talented artists.”

Art at the Park in aid of Home-Start at Braxted Park, Witham, runs from February 1-4, 2024, supported by Howden. Work will be on display in the grounds and Georgian house with prices expected to range from around £15 to £50,000.
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About Home-Start Essex

Home-Start Essex is a family support charity, which helps to give children the best start in life by helping to support parents and caregivers to feel less isolated, to build their confidence and find ways to manage the challenges they face. Home-Start Essex builds trusting, helpful relationships with families and delivers a range of support to meet their individual needs, including volunteer-led home visiting, family groups, wellbeing services, school-readiness and behaviour support programmes.

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