Hamish Mackie’s sculpture work is internationally renowned. Jeremy Hobson finds out more

Bearing in mind the detail on one of your latest sculptures, it looks as if you are very much au-fait with chickens – do you keep any in the garden?

We used to keep the ubiquitous ‘brown jobs’ – ex-battery hens – but got fed up with the foxes killing them. We now get eggs from our neighbour in return for them using our chicken equipment. I enjoyed keeping them though. It’s nice to give ex-battery hens a good life. They arrive with hardly any feathers and frightened of grass but soon settle in. You can’t beat a home grown fresh egg in the morning!

When did you first realise you had an interest in chickens?

I grew up on a livestock farm in Cornwall. The Marans chicken we had when I was a boy was one of my first sculpture subjects. I’ll never forget those deep brown shells and those delicious almost orange yolks. [In the kitchen of the family farm, there apparently still hangs his first ever bronze sculpture – a calf’s head he made at the age of 12 as a Christmas present for his father]

Given your very active sculptures (the horses, African wildlife, otters, and the like seen at various summer fairs and shows you attend) how different is it to produce a far more placid piece depicting barnyard fowl?

My sculptures are not only about dynamics but also getting into the head of the subject. Chickens are such characters, the challenge is to get that across in a cold metal (bronze). I guess what I mean by that is my ‘art’ is in bringing life to a cold hard metal. But more than just life also character. Technically, it’s into the clay original which is then lost-wax cast into bronze. The eyes are the key thing to do this with. I give a hint of an eye in my sculpture which the human brain then auto-fills if you give enough of a hint.

It is close observation of my subject’s behaviour that really brings my pieces to life. I want to convey a sense of character, their spirit. This determines how I handle my material – in a loose fluid manner or in a tighter, more controlled way; with large sweeping strokes, or with smaller detail. Birds require a different approach… it’s about interpreting feather pattern through texture.

Where will readers next see your work – and will it include a chicken?!

I shall next be exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show this month (May) and will have my Cockerel Head for sale there. This particular sculpture is in a numbered edition of 12; measures 10cm long x 40cm high and is 17cm deep. The original Chicken Head sculpture was commissioned by a chicken breeder as a gift for a big European egg production company.

Editor’s note: Bearing in mind the phenomenal success of the film Darkest Hour, it is of possible interest for readers to know that Hamish Mackie’s famous bronze bust of Sir Winston Churchill has been acquired by Blenheim Palace and can now be viewed in the permanent Churchill exhibition there.

To find out more about Hamish and his work, take a look at his website: www.hamishmackie.com

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