Alistair McClymont’s stunning stainless steel “pillows” — formal title: Bifurcation Inflation — has become an established favourite in the garden. Although Frederick Gibberd died nearly 30 years before it made its appearance in 2010, his influence on Alistair’s work and thinking is clear.
In his proposal for the sculpture, which went on to win a national competition to design a new piece for the Garden, Alistair wrote: “Inspiration was taken from Gibberd’s use of modern materials. He would use a material to its strengths, and its very nature would often dictate the form.” Alistair’s proposal also explained he wanted the sculpture to reflect the sky, the trees and the landscape around it. He didn’t know it at the time, but that is exactly how Gibberd went about building his sculpture collection. Sometimes, a space would demand a sculpture; sometimes a sculpture he wished to buy would first need him to design the right spot for it.
Without the generous and enthusiastic support of the late Martin Lawn whose dedication to ensuring the future of the Gibberd Garden was exemplified in many ways, we would not have had Bifurcation Inflation. Martin lived and worked in Harlow from the 1950s until his death in 2015.
Not content with fighting locally and nationally for the survival of Gibberd’s garden, Martin put his hand to the wheel in practical ways by becoming a regular volunteer throughout the season. He recognised the importance of keeping “life” in the garden, and how better than to fund a competition for young artists? He knew that many of the sculptors represented in the Gibberd Garden had received vital financial encouragement from both Frederick and Patricia Gibberd to launch them on their careers.
Martin was a long-serving Harlow councillor and was for some years a member of the Development Corporation Board, to which Gibberd as Harlow’s master planner, reported. Frederick Gibberd was instrumental in founding the Harlow Art Trust — which has resulted in Harlow becoming the UK’s first sculpture town with its prestigious public collection — and Patricia Gibberd served on the Art Trust until her death in 2006.
Alistair submitted an immaculate proposal, complete with costings of materials, transport and installation. He visited the garden to identify preferred locations. What none of the judges knew as they viewed and debated the entries was that Alistair was a local boy, whose parents live just up the road in Sawbridgeworth. It was only after he was awarded the prize that the judges learned of his local connection. Nowadays his mum Sue is a regular volunteer and Friend of the Garden.
Alistair recalls: “I was certainly influenced by Harlow. When I heard about the competition I was very interested. I was born in Harlow and lived there until I was six. I didn’t know it when I was young, but the artworks throughout Harlow are a product of Gibberd’s vision and contacts. I can remember being pushed past Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth works in a pram.”
His first degree, in fine art, was at Hull School of Art, where Frederick Gibberd designed several university buildings, and the listed Queen’s Gardens. From there, he did an MA in sculpture in London at the Royal College of Art. Now, he teaches on the BA Graphic Media Design course at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, and as an occasional visiting lecturer at the RCA, while also practising as an artist. His work has been exhibited in the UK, including Tate Modern and the V & A Museum, and in Europe. He has explored how art is impacted by developments in science; for example, how the latest developments in laser physics are inspiring artists today.
“The fact some people call the pillows crisp packets is perfect as the idea originated in a couple of places. Firstly, in experiments on my BA inflating welded forms, then revisited because I saw a crisp packet inflate at high altitude on a plane, due to the low pressure in the cabin.”
As regular visitors know, Patricia Gibberd loved stainless steel as a medium, and Antanas Brazdyz’s Owl, situated near The House, is a favourite with many. Alistair recalls Brazdyz showing him round his studio a few years ago, and Lee Grandjean, who grew up in Harlow and has work in Harlow’s collection, was one his tutors at the RCA, “It’s an honour to be part of the collection, and the Gibberd Garden is a fantastic place to have something installed.”