Dirk Bogarde was well known as an actor and almost as well known as an art lover and patron of the arts. I was lucky enough to get to know him, first as a patient, and then as a friend. When I was invited to hold my first exhibition at Waterman’s Gallery in Jermyn Street in London, he very kindly volunteered to write the introduction in the catalogue, which is reproduced below:
Neil Lawson Baker has been a dentist since 1963, qualifying at Guys Hospital; subsequently obtaining a second degree as a doctor at St. George’s Hospital and winning the Brodie Prize in clinical surgery. Now, on the evidence set before us here, he becomes a sculptor of signiﬁcance.
The intensive training required for dentistry and surgery has stood him in good stead for this new and exciting career; for career it most certainly will be. He has a sound grounding in all the hand skills necessary for this art form and the knowledge of anatomy which is absolutely essential to describe proportion, weight and movement even in work so contemporary in style as this.
Stricken by a serious illness late in 1986, forced to remain in bed for two months and then conﬁned to one room for a further eight weeks, this restless man sought some physical diversion to occupy the long, weary hours of recuperation.
As a man of action, three day event rider, vintage racing driver and a ﬁne ball game player he was hideously restricted and frustrated until by some strange intervention he suddenly decided to ‘have a go’ at sculpture.
He would fashion something vibrant and alive by only the use of his hands and his imagination. Wax and armature wire were sought and with his dental nurse temporarily becoming sculptor’s assistant, Neil started by using his own hands as his model.
Immediately, seriously and passionately he began to work in earnest and his life took on a new dimension. What was an occupational therapy became a force for life and today the fruits of that modest beginning only three and a half years ago are before us, marking the emergence of a sculptor of startling imagination and power.
For long a collector of ﬁne art for both his house and his surgery, he gained an understanding and comprehension of form, particularly in metals.
He freely admits to the inﬂuence in some of his work of Rodin, Bourdelle, Dali, Moore, Frink, and also the drawings of Degas and Gericault. Echoes of these great masters are no doubt apparent in some of his creations but through them the force of his own particular style is clearly seen.
It is far too easy to dismiss derivative art and this is a frequent fault of art criticism. How, pray, does any “young” artist, be he painter, sculptor, writer, musician, actor or singer, arrive at his own individuality without ﬁrst of all being inﬂuenced by his masters? Time enough, once understanding and awareness are absorbed fully, to push through the boundaries set by others and to explore one’s own style, one’s own methods of interpretation.
I can, in Lawson-Baker’s case, easily see the effect that Giacometti or Chadwick have had on him: in one of his recent works there is perhaps reference to the line of Matisse in his gouache découpées in the early 1950’s. The impact of his interpretation of Gericault in three dimensions is considerable. A drawing from “Race for Riderless Horses,” the Barberi, a famous event run at the annual festival in Rome in the early 19th century, has been transformed to a heroic bronze which one day, one might dare to say, could be monumental. His own strong individuality is ﬁrmly showing through the inﬂuence of his “teachers”.
His ﬁrst earlier works, started purely as occupational therapy and not seen in this exhibition, followed the themes of “The Prophet” by the famous Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran.
Neil had always felt that the drawings and writings of this great man should be expressed in three dimensional form. Having discussed this idea with a number of established sculptors over a period of time, he found himself, after the frustrations of illness, suddenly making a series of maquettes which are now the subject of a presentation to Maryland University in America where they are discussing the possibilities of building a peace park within the University campus based on this theme.
There is a second major series in hand, vastly different in its approach, using strong lines and graphic images. The theme is that of the currencies of Europe and the maquettes for these monumental sculptures will be presented later this year to the European Commission in Brussels for consideration as works to be sited at the World Fair in Seville in 1992.
One of the bronze maquettes, appropriately named “Sterling” was recently personally accepted by Margaret Thatcher in the Houses of Parliament and an enlargement of this Work is to be erected beside the River Thames, just outside one of the oldest refurbished docks, west of Battersea Bridge — Great Eastern Wharf.
This exceptional work has also been cast at 21″ in a magniﬁcent polished bronze edition by Susse Freres in Paris.
This famous foundry made works for some of the greatest sculptors in history, ranging from Rodin to Degas and indeed Giacometti and even Renoir cast with them, as well as many, many others. This foundry is now owned and personally managed by an Englishman Charles Pineles.
Lawson-Baker has at all times aimed for the best in everything and from his very ﬁrst wax model it was natural for him to go to one of the ﬁnest English foundries, where he had a personal introduction to Eric Gibbard, one of the Directors of Burleighﬁeld Arts. It was later that Eric, who had once been the President Director General of Susse, introduced Neil to this French foundry and also to a famous sculptural enlarger just outside Paris whose grandfather had been one of Rodin’s plaster moulders. This sort of help at the beginning of a career is immeasurably invaluable.
I well remember sitting in “the Chair” in his surgery and seeing, for the ﬁrst time, a cast of a hand in bronze. I was alerted instantly: here was a quite remarkable piece, but by whom? My dentist modestly said that the piece was by him: not Rodin, not Degas, nothing “very special” he said, just Neil Lawson Baker. The metamorphosis from dentist to sculptor of power had begun.
DIRK BOGARDE – London – January 1990