London-based artist Sarah Staton is creating a folly for Milton Keynes. Entitled Alphonso, it is located in Newton Leys, which straddles the boundaries of Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire. It takes its inspiration from multiple strands of local heritage, and is sited on a mound beside a lake and surrounded by a new housing development, which was originally a brickworks.
Staton’s work has become increasingly prominent and admired in the UK over the past decade, presenting a beguiling mixture of traditional craft techniques with cutting edge technology. Her grounded sculptural forms occupy an edgy aesthetic territory between use value and sheer visual pleasure. She has created large-scale works for the Folkestone Triennial in 2014, and a brickwork sculpture, Edith and Hans, for Bristol University in 2016, a work that was conceived as being somewhere between a ruin and an archaeological find.
Alphonso forms part of Milton Keynes Council’s ongoing Public Art commissioning programme — since the town’s inception in the 1960s, more than 250 artworks have been created, all of them within the public realm. Alphonso is the most recent addition to this ongoing commitment to the Council’s ambitious and strategic public art commissioning initiative.
Alphonso is a triangular, three-sided structure built from wood-fired brick and incorporates a bespoke hand-painted tiled wall inspired by Azulejos tiling, depicting the local area, its wildlife and history. It is sited on a spot called Little Callow Mound, Willow Lake, Newton Leys, Bucks and includes a decorative archway and seating area, which overlooks Willow Lake and the environment around it.
Staton worked closely with the Newton Leys Public Art Commission Steering Group when developing the work. The process involved a visit to Rushton Lodge, a triangular folly designed by Sir Thomas Tresham in the 14th Century, as well as H.G. Matthews, which supplied the bricks for the artwork. She also visited Newton Leys Primary School where she led a drawing workshop. Staton describes developing the artwork as ‘a design process that begins with imagination. Once the idea of the form had appeared in my mind’s eye, I began to think about the images that would adorn the sculpture.’
One essential part of the commission was to reference the brick-making history of Newton Leys and how it is today. Staton says: ‘Early on in the design process, I thought Alphonso would look most interesting if handmade bricks were used on the east elevation, creating a richly nuanced speckled brown surface, and that this would be complemented with fresh blue and white tiles on the west side. The lake is referenced pictorially. I had been very struck by the way that blue and white tiling is used on cathedrals and churches in Portugal to create the illusion of transparency when viewed from a distance against the sky.’
Staton had included elements that would appeal to various age groups. There are pictures and textures for children, an archway to pass through, and a small bench for residents and visitors who might like to take in and enjoy the views across Willow Lake. Input by local residents was equally important. For example, one noticed that you can quickly find triangles in the letters, N W N, L, and Y, so the triangular form of the sculpture appears pictorially within the name Newton Leys, and Alphonso provides a mirroring between name and form. The artwork’s name is a reference to the many Italians who worked at the brickworks.
Concludes Staton: ‘With its fine location, so much thought, discussion and research going into the design and build process, I hope that Alphonso will be enjoyed by the community for years to come.’
Staton’s practice embraces painting, drawing, sculpture, furniture, and publications. In the late 1980s Staton, whose work is in the permanent collection of Tate Galleries, opened up her Bloomsbury squat as a gallery and named it Milch, which became one of the best-known art spaces of its kind at the time. Staton is also known for decorating the lawn of Serpentine Galleries with a Union flag of smashed bottles.
One of the artist’s most celebrated projects is the SupaStore, a peripatetic shop selling works by up-and-coming contemporaries, unknowns and established artists such as Sol LeWitt, Mike Kelley and Stephen Willats. The SupaStore has appeared at the ICA, London, the San Francisco Art Fair, and the Middlesbrough Art Gallery. An iteration is currently taking place at The South London Gallery, which will run until 5 September 2021. Called SupaStore Southside, Slingbacks & Sunshine, it features works by Gavin Turk, Yinka Shonibare, OBE, Claes Oldenburg and Rut Blees Luxemburg.
Deputy Leader of MK Council and Cabinet Member responsible for Culture, Cllr Robin Bradburn said: ‘This is an exciting new addition to the rich and diverse portfolio of public art across Milton Keynes, and I can’t wait to see Alphonso in its home in Newton Leys. Local people have played a significant role in the development of this cultural project, and we’re grateful for all their time and commitment in ensuring the work is reflective of its new community and its heritage.’