miles halpin sculptures miles halpin abstract photographs


To save repeating myself on every page, here's a few notes on the techniques and materials that I use.

Most of the sculptures are made from mild steel with some small inclusions of stainless steel. The stainless steel is mirror-finish and these inclusions are usually behind small holes and gaps so that they reflect the world outside to include it in the work itself. The stainless steel inserts are sometimes heat-discoloured to give blues, oranges, yellows and reds. Where you see small holes, in grids or singly, they probably have stainless behind them.

You will notice the steel in the sculptures is either shiny/grey coloured, bright orange/brown or blue/black.

Where it is shiny/grey, I have polished the steel with a rotary wire brush after construction to remove weld impurities and workshop dirt and scratches. I also use this brushing to scour patterns on the surface of the work - a strong example of this can be see on the surface of 'Armors Flaw'. You will see this effect in many other pieces, though not usually in such a regular pattern. The effect is created by brushing the steel in different directions; in Armours Flaw each square was brushed alternately vertically and horizontally. This effect is very dynamic as the dark and light patches swap depending on the direction of the light and the position of the viewer.

Where the steel is bright orange this will be where I have oxidised it using a weak nitric acid solution.
This is a fairly free process - it is difficult to entirely determine the outcome, I can only encourage it to go in a certain direction. It depends on how long I leave the acid on the steel, how much water is used to wash it off, ambient temperature, and composition of the steel - different batches behave slightly differently. I like this process a lot. The bright dry oranges always enchant and excite me, and there are points in the process where you have to fully commit to it; there's no going back, and you have to work quickly and decisively. And when you stop you still don't know how it will look - the actual consequences of what you have done take about 12 hours to fully reveal themselves. I think this is what is exciting - you just have to 'feel' when to stop. Once the surface is dry the process is practically over and the finish is quite stable - but crucially it still continues very slowly. Molecule by molecule changes occur - a tiny activity, a quiet process.

Where the steel has a flat grey textured appearance this is a new technique. Washing the steel with a phosphoric acid based cleaner gives it a matt coating with streaks where the initial wash etches the surface. I like this process as it is fairly repeatable until the desired effect is achieved, though subsequent treatments never quite work the same as the first. The effect changes greatly depending how much water is used. I have discovered that the steel 'blues' more vividly, and at a lower temperature, after this treatment, and that burning the grey surface gives new colours, which can be lacquered over. (see city skies for examples of this effect)

Where the steel is green-blue or blue/black, I have polished the steel and then heated it with a blowtorch to get vibrant blues, and blacks. A little practice is needed to get the blue/green colours; it is easy to overcook or undercook the steel, and similar to the acid process, you don't quite know what it looks like until the end when it is lacquered. A tricky part in doing this is that heating the steel distorts it so that the whole piece might buckle in undesirable ways. I have learned how to minimise this by using new construction techniques, but it is always a problem and sometimes blueing is not possible because of the distortion potential.
All the blued and shiny surfaces are treated with an acrylic 2-pack lacquer.

And talking of acrylics and avoiding distortion when colouring the steel... this has been the major advantage of painting the surface with acrylic colours.
First the whole piece must be lacquered, as acrylic paints are water based and will rust untreated steel. Then the lacquer is rubbed down with a nylon pad to prevent the paint from beading off the glossy surface. Then it's ready to be coloured. I use very thin washes of colour in a multi-layer application, this preserves the translucency of the colour and retains a steely quality to the final surface. I can vary the tone and colour of each wash to give more depth, and I have found that heating the steel first (or force-drying the paint) gives different effects to painting just on cold steel and waiting for it to dry. Heating also speeds up the process considerably so that several coats can be applied in just a few hours.

I have sometimes added pencil lines to give extra dynamics to the surface: sometimes over paint, or sometimes direct onto the steel.

Where desired, I have used an oil based varnish instead of a lacquer. With the varnish I can partially burn it to a rich black which fades through dark reds and golden yellows where there is a temperature gradient at the edges of the work. I found that the varnish burns off completely at just the point where the steel begins to go blue, giving a great blue/black charred finish. This technique has kind of fallen out of favour in recent times though as the burning varnish smells like cancer - I'm sure it's some kind of supertoxic dioxin soup, and I always end up inhaling a little bit. oops. But it looks great.

Another favourite technique is cracking the steel (example 1) (example 2) . I grind the steel on one side until it is very thin, then beat it really hard against wood with a ball-end hammer until it begins to dome and split. This is a mad process! grinding the steel makes the sheet distort with the heat generated, then I bash this buckled thing until it's a big twisted mess with razor sharp flakes poking out all over the place. It looks like it's been in a serious explosion. At this point it is difficult to imagine using it for anything at all. I then have to try to work the sheet back to some kind of flatness and presentability. All this is hard hammer work. But I love the result: very much redolent of some great internal forces breaking free, it reminds me of landscapes broken by tectonic upheaval. Again this is another free process - with careful beating (is that an oxymoron?) you can suggest where you want the steel to split but you can never be sure. The trick with this technique is in the preparation- if the steel is ground too thin it cracks without enough force and falls to bits when beaten (or you can easily grind through the steel), or if it's too thick you can beat it all you like and it doesn't split, it just buckles. Given that the steel is 0.7mm to start with, the margins for error are not large.

For the most part I like to keep my workshop simple. I like hand tools. And I like the idea that the energy that is used to form the metal, the energy locked into a bend or a cut, is my physical energy. Hand tools leave all sorts of irregularities and imperfections that power tools would not permit - lines aren't dead straight, curves aren't perfect. And they make you work at a different pace - halfway along cutting a slow line with the shears I might decide to give it a little kink; something you'd never do with power tools: it's all over too quickly. And sometimes, without power tools, I am presented with technical problems that require some imaginative and innovative solutions. The thinking is an enjoyable part of the process: there is a real satisfaction in finding a creative solution to a problem.
My worshop tools are: arc welder, angle grinder, drill, pliers, hammer, lots of locking plier clamps, metal shears.... and, most importantly, me.

I think that covers most of the techniques I use, and probably answers any questions about it. If there's something that's puzzling you, or if you want to know more so you can have a go yourself, or if you have a technique that you think I might like, please get in touch.




This first part of the statement was written in 2000. I think my position and emphasis have shifted since then - as they should - but it took a long time to put into words some of the ideas here, and they are still an important background to my work, so it's still worth including...

   " whats that supposed to be then?".....I'm sure it's the question every artist dreads; there's never an easy answer, and often it changes over time. I wish I could just say “oh, its all quite simple really..”, and tell you all about it. But I can’t. For me, that’s maybe the whole point of visual art - to say something beyond words. If I could just tell you about it I wouldn't have to make it, I’d write a book.
So why all these words?....what this writing is for is to try to get you to a mental viewpoint from where I would like you to look at my work. My aesthetic True North. Perhaps I could just write “think maps, bodies, fossils, relics, fragments; think containment, time and process”. But there’s more....

... the history of it is in my first work. This was with ceramics where I created ‘organic’ pod shapes: shapes arising partly from the nature of the material pushing in that direction, and partly from an urge to capture a particular stage in the evolution of the pod-form that suggests where it was begun and where it will end. ( Like a certain point in life where you can see in your face how you looked when you were young, and how you will look when you are old ).
I see pod forms as an archetypal body, utterly self-contained, and a model of individuality and identity. Seed pods are capsules of a past made to hold a future, capturing a present moment which implies all the other moments, past and future. Seed pods are perfect symbols of this moment, containing as they do the whole life cycle of the plant that formed it, and the life cycle of that which it wiII become. Seeds within the pod are pure potential.
Inherent in pod shapes is the idea of containment, they are sealed vessels. This notion of containment and the relationship between a container and its content lies behind much of my work. The effects of internal and external processes on the archetypal body and how the integrity of the individual is maintained in a dynamic world -a theme of body, identity and individuality - is central to my work.

Certain isolated features of a pod often evoked the whole, as with a still frame from a film, or a line from a favourite song. Small things, fragments, imply a greater whole. Maps too can be perceived in this way - like a page taken from the diary of a landscape. With the wallpieces there is a clear visual relationship with contours and maps. This has taken me in a new direction as I have become more interested in layers and the interaction between them, how one layer partly determines, or contains, the next.

A geographical map shows only a fixed moment in the process of the evolution of a landscape. It shows only a fragment of the world, yet implies the existence of something more beyond its borders. Similarly fossils imply the myriad events and the vast processes that have led to their existence and subsequent discovery. In this way they are event maps.
Viewed in a similar way, landscape itself can be seen as a huge event map, implying the events and processes that have given rise to its features. Landscape, maps and fossils contain implied processes,and in this way the relationship between container (landscape/ fossil/ map) and contents (the implicit processes) is again a strong theme. These relationships are dynamic and the associated themes of process and change lie at the heart of my work. Cast-off shells, skeletons, landscapes, seed pods, maps and fossils are all relics of these processes and suggestions of these forms can be seen in much of my sculpture.

Any object can be viewed as an event map of the processes behind its existence - the processes themselves being as important as the object. Hence my work contains many visual references to a revealing decay that exposes hidden layers. Decay tells a more interesting story than pristine longevity. The scratches on a table, the mud on my shoes, the scars in my skin, the worn edges of a stair tread, all tell of events beyond the object itself. This is why I like to oxidise the surface of steel: it suggests age and process, and a future of further change. Molecule by molecule the oxidisation process marches on in its own free way, giving the steel its own internal independent destiny. Thinking of these oxidised sculptures as event maps I feel like I have set them free to develop their own identity, like some Pygmalion or Frankenstein. I enjoy the paradox that it is decay that gives them this life, gives them the potential to become something new. Which brings me full circle back to seeds....

So are you thinking maps, bodies, fossils, relics, fragments? containment, time and process? seeds and events...?

... maybe its all a cheat anyway, trying to tell you what to think. I'd like you to enjoy my work from your own perspective, your own aesthetic True North. But I hope what I have written enhances your experience, and we maybe share a compass point.



I think I covered a lot of ground above, but there's a few things to add - nothing particularly radical, more just a change of emphasis, nuance.
Gradually, the idea of maps has become more and more essential to my work - maps of experiences, identities, people places and events. Everything has a map of its own history embedded in it; implied in its features. Looked at in this way, everything IS a map. Maybe objects are more useful and interesting if we forget their manifest form and just think of them as maps - the worn step on the stairs is unimportant as a piece of wood, but is fascinating as a map of a million ascencions and descents. It is these thoughts which have come to the fore of my work.
A good example of this kind of thinking worked into a sculpture would be would be Different Ways of Walking. It is a map of the feelings and ideas associated with a particular place ( a beach in Tasmania), yet the ideas and feelings are associated with all places, all journeys. It's like showing not just one, but several, steps from several different staircases.
Another good example might be Billy's House: Wednesday I have made no real attempt to geographically map the place: I map the emotional locations and the object-events that link them.

When I started making sculptures I worked almost exclusively instinctively, but when I did measure things I often found a lot of proportionality. In the past few years I have become more interested in consciously using space, and designing work with Golden Section (1:1.62) and other proportions that appeal to me at the time (eg. Fibonnacci). To me this is an extension of the idea of connectivity in the 'maps': everything is related to everything else. I still often work instinctively, but I sometimes check my drawings and find there's numerical relationships between spaces and points. I find it fascinating that what just 'feels' right often has a mathematical correctness to it. Most work proceeds with a mixture of these two approaches: I may lay out a consciously proportioned shape, then start inserting points where I feel good about them, then measure these points' places and use those locational proportions elsewhere... and so on...


Anyway, finally I really have said all I want to say...I think thats enough words.





Brief history and c.v.

I'm 41 years old and I have been working as a sculptor for the past 13 years, professionally since 1995. I am self-taught and I developed my skills through a series of enthusiasms for photography, ceramics and watercolour painting. Ceramics were my first love and much of my later work has evolved from the ‘organic’ sculptural style of my pottery. When I later discovered steel and arc welding I immediately felt excited by it, and it remains my favoured medium.
I had a rather academic education where arts based subjects were very much a second priority, but with hindsight I can see this as quite a positive thing. Having had no training I came to start making things as a vocation - it was something I discovered in myself. As a result I think I have kept a fresh and original approach that comes from the heart. I have often used my materials and tools in ways that a trained person probably wouldn't, and I've been free to explore materials and techniques without any preconceived ideas about what I 'should' or 'shouldn't' do. Also, my academic schooling and the ideas it generated have had a strong influence on my work. I studied Geology and Geography to A level and my work contains many references to ideas of Process, and to landscape features, maps, and fossils.

I was born in Manchester in 1965 but lived on the moors near Blackburn from 1971. I spent most of my childhood exploring these huge soaked playgrounds, and the streams and wooded valleys nearby. Here, and in later travels abroad in my late teens and early twenties, I noticed how things decay and change, and saw the similarities in the growth and entropy of landscape and structure in diverse environments. On an internal level I have felt analogous processes at work as features of my own internal landscape change over time. Thus my work echoes changes to both external and internal landscapes, and this parallel development is what has driven much of my work.

Over the years I have been involved in many things - too many to list, and more vitae than curriculum, but some of the most interesting or enjoyable have been:

-running and exhibiting at an artist-led gallery in Nottingham - the Broad Street Gallery - from 1994-96;
-working with the Groundwork Trust and English Nature on public arts and events in 1996 and 2000;
-exhibiting at various times at Tregoning Fine Art, Ashbourne since 1995;
-working with A level students and children with special needs at local schools;
-creating larger pieces for the Hebden Bridge Sculpture Trail in Yorkshire in summer 1999 and 2000, and for the local Arts Trail every year since 1996.

-In 2001 I exhibited at Ashbourne ( now the St.John Street Gallery ), and in The Beetroot Tree Gallery in Nottinghamshire, also at The Art Attack Project in Hoxton Sq., London, and at the Beatrice Royal Gallery, and Sir Gerald Hillier Gardens, Hampshire. Also at Whitby, in Herons Moon Gallery, at The Ropewalk Gallery in Humberside, and in Kings Heath, Birmingham at the Park View Gallery. Later this year I will be installing the piece "Map of the Universe" ( see '3-D gallery' on my homepage) at Henshaws Arts Centre, Knaresborough, N. Yorks.

-Already in 2002 I have work in several of the galleries mentioned above, and a new opportunity at the Cusp Gallery at Burleigh House- a very impressive stately home in Stamford, Lincs.
Also I have made an environmental award trophy for English Nature, which will be given to a new candidate each year.
Unfortunately the installation of 'Map of the Universe' at Henshaws still hasn't happened - it's been too windy/cold/rainy for several months(!) and now I can't transport it because my beloved old pick-up truck died and my new van is too small! ....but I have a firm plan to make some progress with this in the next week or so.

In 2002 I had work in the Beetroot Tree Gallery, Park View Gallery, and an ongoing selection of work is in the St.John Street Gallery.

I had more work in the Cusp Gallery from August, and I'm looking forward to showing work there again when the gallery re-opens in March 2003.

I have contacts again with Phil Tregoning, and he is currently showing several pieces in his new space in Derby.

Also I had some work at Leicester University Botanic Gardens alongside a number of renowned British and international artists, from June to September. This was great fun and I'm told the feedback from the public was very positive. Hopefully the event will be repeated this year and I look forward to hearing more in early Spring.

Also in September I took part in the Wirksworth Art and Architecture trail, where I was able to show over 20 pieces. Lots of very strong feedback from the public, and the many positive comments gave me a much needed confidence and enthusiasm boost.

Finally, I took part in this years Leicester City Gallery Open exhibition, which was excellent for its quality and diversity... and I sold some work there, which always brings things up in my estimation!

2003 started slowly, working on a gate which took up a lot of time (click here to see pics), and afterwards I worked on some other wood projects - which may be revealed in time - and learned a little about stonework. It was fun to play with new materials and learn about their nature and ways, But by April I felt the urge for steel again and started work...
In June Phil Tregoning moved, again, to a new space in Ashbourne, Derbys., and I have work there for the indefinite future. < >

The exhibition "Sculpture in the Garden" in Leicester was held again this year, and I exhibited alongside internationally known artists such as Peter Randall-Page and many sculptors from Pietrasanta in Italy. The exhibition ran to late August 2003. The work I showed is called "Water" :click here to see pictures.
Also they've put all the info and pictures from the whole exhibition on a website at

From June to July i had a joint exhibition with Martyn Barratt, whose work I like very much, in Stamford, Lincs., at the Art Centre there < > Martyn chose to exhibit some of his wood work in Stamford, but you can see some of his stonework on the '' link as he also showed work there.

I had a few commissions to work on (two lights and a large wallpiece: click here to see pictures) which kept me busy through to December. Meanwhile I had a solo exhibition at Gallery DNA in Burton on Trent from November to January 2004, and showed a few works in a joint show at the Charisma Gallery in Matlock.

In December I was pleased to hear I had been elected as an Associate of the Royal British Society of Sculptors.

In February 2004 I showed some wallpieces at 'The Loft Bar' in Nottingham, in April I exhibited a range of work at Charisma..... and in July I had a solo show with the Harding House Gallery in Lincoln.
For some of the Summer I helped in the production of a short film, which absorbed a lot of creative time, but by September I took some work to show in the Wirksworth Art Trail, and subsequently took some work to Gallery 1218 in Holmfirth, Yorks. I also have a few pieces with the St John Street Gallery in Ashbourne, and sold some work at the Leicester City Gallery Open Exhibition.

2005 brought me back to Hebden Bridge for the last ever Sculpture trail. There was a clash of dates with the 100th anniversary show of the RBS in Leicester, but as it was the last sculpture trail I thought I'd do that instead. I created the piece "We Must Remain Silent" for a particular spot amongst a rocky outcropping beneath some trees down by the river. I later showed this as part of the Wirksworth Festival. Late in the year I did the Manchester Art Show and sold a number of works there - and spent all the money on a beautiful painting by Lucy Burscough.
In October I had an exhibition back at the Ropewalk Gallery in Humberside which went down very well. They asked me to make some large work for their new garden area, to be installed in early
2006 I finished this work, "Ghosts", in March.
I've worked on several commissions since, and went on to make more wallmounted work for various galleries including, for the first time, the Anstey Gallery in Harrogate. Francis Burrows has opened his own gallery in Birmingham at the Custard Factory, and a new Nottingham gallery on Friar Lane has some of my work. Phil Tregoning again has some of my work at his gallery in Derby.
Meanwhile I have also bee trying to finish the video project (12 months behind schedule) and get my new photography project going. Made an albums-worth of music, too, under the name Slow Drum Hum, all of which you can find on this site... which brings us bang up to date....
....And so begins 2007 Finished this site - I shall try to keep my updates more regular.
I have been working on setting up a new website WWW.PAW-YAW.COM where you can buy stuff from emerging artists, musicians and video-makers etc etc, all on a PAY WHAT YOU WANT basis - they send you their stuff and you just send some money - whatever you think its worth to you. So those mp3 myspace bands that you like but who dont have a record deal, or those videos you loved but you wanted to see on a bigger screen than grainy youtube 6x10cm you can now get on cd and dvd for... whatever you want to pay.
online from feb/march 2007




techniques and materials

statement 2000

statement 2008