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We are Makers and Creators: Fine Art Lecturer Desmond Brett

Meet Senior Lecturer Desmond Brett, academic, artist and sculptor. Desmond teaches on our BA (Hons) Fine Art and MA Fine Art courses and is a talented practicing sculptor, exhibiting across the world. We met Desmond in his studio space at nearby Outpost Studios to discuss his journey to NUA and how he finds his inspiration. This blog serves part of our Makers and Creators photo series, showcasing our talented staff.

Tell us a bit about your practice

I make sculpture. Much of my practice is involved in making sculptural objects that are borne out of handling materials in the studio and speculating through drawing.

I am interested in how sculpture might be something that is formed out of inert materials such as clay, wax and plaster generally through a process of modelling in these materials. They hopefully operate as sculptures in their own right and are attempts to resist direct reference to specific things.

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“Drawing is of huge importance to me as a space to make things without logic and with little jeopardy. These drawings become visual ‘prompts’ for my sculptures.”

Desmond Brett

What has been your path to this point?

After my MA I was a builder’s labourer digging holes and mixing concrete. I went onto making sculptures for the leisure industry: a 10ft Buddha and a Chinese Dragon, Neptune, a ghost train.

I worked at a 6th form college and was a Visiting Lecturer at two universities, before taking up the post of Course Leader at Hull School of Art. After 4 years in Hull I moved to York St John University before joining Norwich University of the Arts.

For much of this period I was without a studio so that my sketchbook became my space to work and anywhere I could borrow to build sculpture was a bonus.

To me, NUA has always represented an institution that has heft within the firmament of art institutions. There is, of course the history of Norwich School painters, but also the impressive legacy of sculpture coming out of Norwich and seeing the work of artists who cut their teeth over the years at East International.

My involvement with Outpost already alerted me to Norwich’s vitality as a place to be an artist so being able to work and live in the city has been an opportunity to reconnect with artists I respect and admire working here too.

NUA is built for purpose, to be a place to make art and I was attracted to working somewhere that means business in the education and production of art with the facilities, spaces and incredible colleagues to enable me to assert myself as a Senior Lecturer and to develop sculpture here at NUA.

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What are the high points of your career to date?

Right now. Having the opportunity to get into the studio and make or think or pace is a high point each time I’m in there.

Otherwise, studying at the Slade and now being a current PhD student at the Royal College of Art is a privilege. Being taught by some amazing tutors and supervisors too. At the RCA I am studying with some incredible artists who are operating at the edges and the centres and each time I am there I have to raise my game!

Being invited to work I with Jaroslaw Koslowski at his workshop in Skoki, Poland was profound. Getting to know and exhibit with Lee Grandjean who has become a friend and inspiration. Working together at De Farbriek on a residency was instructive.

Where or how do you find your inspiration?

Much of my work is sort of self generated from what has gone before or what is occupying the studio right now in various states of unfinished-ness or speculation. This might sound a bit inward looking – which in many ways it is – but much of the work I make is formed rather improvisatorially either out of material handling or drawing that operates for me as a way of proposing sculptures or as a kind of auxiliary practice.

In fact, drawing is of huge importance to me as a space to make things without logic and with little jeopardy. These drawings become visual ‘prompts’ for my sculptures.

I am driven by finding sculptural forms that operate as sculpture that aren’t directly derived from things in the world but attempt to exist as objects in their own right. I’m not interested in sculpting trees or heads which are incredible as they are. Instead I strive to create my own taxonomy of objects that could be described as abstract.

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How do you work with the creative community in Norwich?

I am a member and a studio holder with Outpost so I am privileged to be able to work in proximity to some incredibly talented artists in Gildengate House. So I can catch up with people when I’m working in the studio but also meet up with people connected to other parts of the Norwich art ‘scene’ at openings and events.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering MA study, what would it be?

Be prepared to dismantle your assumptions.

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Photos by BA Photography graduate, Denisa Ilie