about peter | sculpture | film
The work of Peter Eugene Ball is mainly figurative and frequently made from found objects, predominantly wood, often partly covered in copper or pewter and embellished with silver and gold leaf. In his constant pursuit of suitable material to undergo the metamorphosis into a Ship of Fools or Pilgrim, he still haunts sea-shores and junk shops. He is fascinated by the idea that an object may have been through many lives, perhaps first as a tree, then as part of a ship or other functional item, and finally ends up in his studio as a piece of sea-worn driftwood now serving quite another purpose. These objects not only provide the materials but also the stimulus for his sculpture. Ball has been strongly influenced by his love of African, primitive and Pre-Columbian art and is also attracted by the work of such artists as Dubuffet and Picasso, particularly their introduction of found objects into their work. But it is in Romanesque art that he finds both a rich source of subject matter and an expressive language, which has informed his work since he was first introduced to it as a student in the late 1950s. Here he found a gritty, down to earth quality in the village Romanesque of the twelfth century with which he could identify but he was also drawn to the more jewel-like and precious works of art of the early medieval period such as reliquaries and early Madonnas.
His secular work covers a wide variety of subjects – harpies and satyrs, centaurs and warriors, dancers and mermaids – and it is within this non-religious world that he is able to draw on his own particular literary and historical interests, to ponder the vagaries of life and to express his often wry sense of humour. He often creates witty conversation pieces and playful compositions, which in part reflect something of the artist’s own cheery disposition: man in bath wearing top hat or begoggled aviator with scarf flying in the wind. But on a darker note, ships of fools and lone figures in boats crossing the Styx suggest a gently mocking observation of our human vulnerabilities.
However, it is in his religious work that he is truly able to tap into a medieval artistic tradition stretching back centuries which gives his sculptures a timeless and sacred quality wherever they are placed. As Dr Pamela Tudor-Craig wrote in ‘An Appreciation’ in 2008: ‘Peter Ball’s work has a way, unmatched in the art of his contemporaries, of settling into exalted spaces of our ancient cathedrals’. She also states that ‘It is the alchemy of Peter Ball’s art that, as he creates them, he can invest his figures with the aura of long Devotion’. This devotional quality is most apparent in the remarkable faces, which are so typical of his work. Richard Davey, in the Introduction to “Icons of the Invisible God”, stated ‘Their presence can transform even the simplest piece of driftwood into the image of an angel or Zeus. The strong curve of the elongated sphere which forms the head is echoed in the curves which articulate the features of the face. The gentle curves of the eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth generate a sense of serenity and rest in the figure. Ball contributes to the emotional intensity by giving many of his figures closed eyes. This is not intended to suggest sleep but rather a moment of sublime contemplation and concentration. But the closed eyes also create a sense of separation and distance between the image and the viewer, inviting contemplation rather than direct involvement. It is therefore significant when figures are given open eyes. Their wide-eyed stares confront the viewer with a direct gaze, which is both challenging and compassionate. These are clearly not imaginary, abstract faces but portraits of individuals; each with a different story to tell.’ Ball himself states that it is always his intention to produce religious art which offers a sympathetic focus for thought and prayer and which complements and enhances the space in which it resides.
He continues to work with the materials which have always been his mainstay: wood, metals and various found objects, and his work remains idiosyncratic and unique as he constantly strives to express himself without compromise to the changing fashions of the art world.