10,000 Hours: Wolfgang Buttress

British artist Wolfgang Buttress reveals his design process, where he finds inspiration and the philosophy behind The Hive in London’s Kew Gardens

Wolfgang Buttress in his studio, Nottingham, UK – photo by Barney Melton

I have made art for as long as I can remember, I cannot imagine my life without it. It’s a two-way conversation, it defines me yet, at the same time, I create it.

The desire for me to create is as natural as breathing. I think one is influenced by what is around one all the time; the things that emotionally resonate with you, possibly go in deeper and last longer.

My first step in the design process is to see and feel the space and then dream of what can happen there. Context is essential to me; it is important that my work harmonises or responds to context. Everything then starts with a sketch. A sketch can be a primal connection between your head, heart, eyes and hand… a moment transcribing what you can see and what you cannot, what you can feel and what you’d like to.

This is then usually modelled in 3D in a CAD programme with the ability to change the form, parametrically. What happens in the digital realm is often as instrumental a part of the ‘discovery’ process or generation of concepts, as it is in the later task of refinement and realisation.

The Hive at Kew, designed by Wolfgang Buttress – photo by RBG Kew

I use 3D printing to create maquettes or details that need to be seen or felt in the round. I like to use materials which patinate naturally – corten steel, mill-finished aluminium or something reflective that mirrors the world and context it finds itself in. When this works, a harmony between art, structure and nature can be found.

Inspiration can be felt from a smell, a song, a memory, a building, an idea, a story, a landscape…The eureka moment usually comes when you least expect it and you are not trying too hard. The thoughts are always there, sometimes they present themselves when I swim or drive, or at the point just before sleeping or just after waking.

My approach to a sculpture seeks to frame nature so it can be experienced more intimately. The space and the void inside The Hive at Kew Gardens is as important as what can be seen. The Hive is an immersive experience; when one is inside The Hive, it can act as a lens with which one can view and contemplate the outside world.

Lucent (2015) at the John Hancock Center, Chicago, designed by Wolfgang Buttress – Photo by Mark Hadden

The process behind the thinking has been evolutionary and the path felt natural. The idea of harmonising context, form and different disciplines to create an atmosphere and meaning greater than the sum of its parts, has been incredibly satisfying and enjoyable. I am realising that art and science share common ground – a search and expression of what it is, and what it feels like, to be human in a world where we are more connected, yet increasingly disconnected from nature.

Wolfgang Buttress will be hosting a talk about his work and its relationship with architecture, at Chatsworth House on Sun 25 Sep, as part of Art Out Loud festival

10,000 hours: Philip Parker

Illustration Dan Williams
Illustration Dan Williams

Master tailor Phillip Parker writes for PORT and explains how he perfected his craft

As MD and Head Cutter of the Savile Row house who invented the Tuxedo jacket, put Churchill in chalk stripe, and set the sartorial standard for generations of the rich, the royal, and the respectable, Philip Parker has the weight of tradition on his neatly-padded shoulders. He’s cut Rex Harrison’s cloths for ‘My Fair Lady’ and re-created Emperor Hirohito’s costume for Madame Tussaud’s, and here he explains how he stitched his way to success.

“The first time I picked up a needle and thread, I wasn’t thinking of a career – it was the early 1960s and I was just a teenager messing around, trying to make my jeans fit tighter. But when my father asked me what I intended to do when I left school, I told him I wanted to be a tailor. A week later he’d got me an interview at the Federation of Merchant Tailors on Savile Row. The man I met there was very tall and incredibly elegant, and I was so intimidated I barely spoke, but he mentioned that there was a position going at Sullivan, Woolley & Co on Conduit Street and I was taken on as an apprentice coat maker.

On my first day, I arrived in the workshop, which was like something out of Dickens, and my master asked me if I knew how to sew. I said I did, so he watched me for about ten seconds and just said ‘stop’. Then he showed me how to do it properly – how to hold the cloth, how to position the needle, how to make a stitch – and that was all I did for the rest of the day. There are some tailors who are complete naturals and seem to have the knowledge inside them; and there are others who have to learn it – I was one of those. But right from day one, I never doubted that I was destined to be here.

Normally, the side of the business you go in on is where you stay, but I’d been at Sullivan’s for four years when one of the cutters left and, although I wasn’t thinking much beyond the end of the week, they must have sensed that I’d do alright in the front shop, so they moved me up and started me off as an undercutter. In those days, the senior cutters on Savile Row were absolutely terrifying – they seemed to sit just below God and I’d cross the road if I saw one coming out of his shop. But if you showed dedication, they’d teach you everything, not just about the job, but about life, too.

Over the next five years, I got to know every aspect of the trade, from meeting the customer and taking measurements, to figuration and creating the paper pattern, to chalking the cloth and cutting out by hand so the trimmer can add the linings and buttons. At the beginning, you’re only cutting trousers, as they were deemed easier than the jacket, though my view of that changed over the years: if you get into trouble with trousers it is far more difficult to correct. One of the first suits I cut from start to finish was the one I wore on my wedding day. It was dark blue mohair: the jacket had narrow lapels and side vents, and the trousers were slightly flared leg… well, it was 1970.

By the time Sullivan’s was taken over by Henry Poole & Co in 1981, I’d worked my way up to be head cutter and that’s what I am here today, though the business has evolved a lot in recent years and you never stop learning. With each new suit, you’re working from a blank canvas to create something that fits the customer perfectly. The Savile Row style is very distinctive, but we’re offering a bespoke tailoring to an individual and, as our owner Mr Cundey always says, ‘a customer isn’t a customer until he’s ordered twice’. During my career, I’ve cut thousands of garments, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s livery for court, a tuxedo for Joanna Lumley, a business suit for an ordinary man off the street, the best part of the job is always the same. It’s the moment during the final fitting when everything looks immaculate and I can say to myself: ‘Yes, that’s it: I’ve done my job. Just try picking holes in that.’”

This story was taken from issue 7 of PORT. To subscribe or buy a back issue, click here