Biography – David Breuer-Weil is a Cambridge-educated, multi-discliplinary artist from North London. From his student days at Central St Martins and subsequent Training Bursary at Sotheby’s, he progressed through professional sketching and painting to the acclaimed sculpture that we know today. Past exhibitions have included the Roundhouse (2001), the Jewish Museum of Art (2007), Sotheby’s ‘Beyond Limits’ at Chatsworth (2010 & 2013), and the Vaults at Waterloo (2013). Today, he has colossal sculptures installed at many sites such as: Marble Arch (‘Brothers’), Mottisfont National Trust (‘Alien’), Lisbon (copy of ‘Alien’, not on display) and also Teddy Kollek Park, Jerusalem (Centre of the World)…
Did you always want to be an artist?
Yes, I did actually. I started very young. I started buying very big canvasses when I was about 10.
During your Sotheby’s Bursary, which was your favourite department?
I worked in a number of departments there, but I think my favourite was ‘Impressionists and Modern’ – I felt close to some of the artists there – such as Picasso and VanGogh – because their work is so similar to my own.
What is your favourite medium?
Pencil and paper. I do a lot of drawing and I travel a lot, so I can draw on an aeroplane, for example. It’s very immediate. You need to really concentrate on the skill involved. You can’t hide anything when you do it and also you can really explore ideas that way, quite rapidly. Even a big sculpture begins its life as a sketch in pencil.
What is your favourite piece?
In terms of sculpture there’s 2 of them: ‘Alien’ (an upside-down figure that arrived from Outer Space) and one is always quite close to the newest thing you’ve done which is my current work, ‘Brothers’ at Marble Arch.
What challenges did you face by not showing ‘Alien’s top half?
If you don’t include a face on a sculpture, you have to make the body very expressive. It’s living and breathing. I guess the biggest challenge is to give the body (the chest and legs and so forth) a sense of life to them. I’d been drawing and painting images of the submerged body for years, so I’d had a lot of training in that before making it into a really big sculpture. I collect a lot of Greek and Roman sculpture – small bronzes – so I’ve learned a lot from them. With an ancient piece, you often find that you only have a fragment left and if the sculptor was really good you can still see that sense of life in it, even though you don’t see the whole figure.
Why does he look human?
I give an awful lot of thought to life in the rest of the Universe and in my opinion there is absolutely loads of it out there. To me, it’s illogical that we’re the only planet with life on it in this immense Universe. So, I had the idea that if an alien were to land here, that they could be the same as us but just a bit bigger or smaller – in this case bigger. That’s slightly comic, but there is a serious element to it aswell – the idea of an alien being a person from a different culture. My Grandfather was a refugee who came to England and the sculpture has that element, too.
How long did he take to make?
The studies have taken place over a number of years, but the casting took 1 year. I make a small version to see how it would look, then a middle-sized version, and so on…
What are the challenges involved in making a colossal sculpture?
When you work on something very large but have been making smaller versions of it for years, you never really know how it will come out. There is always a risk factor when you go big, whether it will work aesthetically or not. With viewpoints, you have to imagine the perspective of looking up at it. With ‘Alien’ I would take the smallest version and put it above my head, so that I could see how it would be to look up at it.
Who is your favourite sculptor?
It’s more important that the piece is strong than who did it, so I like any piece that is strong.
The ‘Brothers’ are facing each other – are they in opposition?
You can read all of my pieces in different ways, be it comic, tragic, serious or funny… I like the idea that they are ambiguous in that way. On one hand, they are coming together to share communication as one mind, but on the other hand I think they could be fighting each other, too. Often a sibling is the closest, real genetic relation that you have and I like this idea that this relationship can be very close but turn very easily. On the sculpture itself there is a lot of graffiti that I have written into it, such as the names of brothers from history like Cane and Able. One of them killed the other! Vincent and Theo (Van Gogh and his brother) had a supportive and loving relationship. I put my own brother’s name on there and also my 2 sons’. Brothers are 2 sides of the same coin: they can be in conflict but also love each other. Most of the conflict in the world is to do with brothers fighting each other – it’s one of the most archetypal subjects.
How were they placed there?
It was very difficult because they had to be assembled there together and then the head joined on, on site.
What would you like the viewer to think and feel when looking at ‘Brothers’?
They share a head so it’s about the 21st Century being the Age of Communications. With email and phone etc, it’s almost like we have telepathy, so it’s so easy to communicate with people even if they’re thousands of miles away. There’s also the arch shape they create – it’s in Marble Arch – so I created a human arch and I like that architectural element.
How did that commission begin?
It’s been a subject of mine for years – I’ve done a lot of paintings and drawings of it over that time. It was presented to Westminster Council, and they decided that they would like the large-scale figures there at Marble Arch.
Is ‘Brothers’ a permanent or temporary installation there?
‘Brothers’ is there for 1 year. ‘Alien’ was at Grosvenor Gardens and is now at a National Trust house in Hampshire (Mottisfont). I cast more than one of those from the mould, so there’s another one in Lisbon.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Don’t listen to anybody!