Interview with Neil Ayling

Neil Ayling

Neil Ayling, Untitled-Composite Order show site specific installation, Large format BW prints, Plywood, 2014

Neil Ayling remixes historical and overlooked architectural details into disarming sculptures. For his most extensive series, Ayling photographed the interiors of Venetian churches, folded and cut the large-scale photographs and printed them on abstract sculptural bases, some nine feet tall. He performed similar trompe l’oeil wizardry with the interiors of drab London buildings. Both sets of work alerts viewers to often overlooked qualities and elements in these structures.

Born in Berkshire, England and living in London, Ayling attended the Winchester School of Art and has received numerous prestigious grants and awards for his thoughtful work. Ayling is one of ten sculptors to receive a Royal British Society of Sculptors’ 2014 Bursary Award. He, and his fellow receipants, will exhibit their work at the Society’s HQ from 18 September to 24 October. On October 8, Ayling will participate in a Sculpture Slam, described as “an energetic series of back-to-back 5 min talks delivered relay style” at London’s RBS Galleries ( In the meantime, he gives us a more generous amount of time to talk over his influences and artworks.

Neil Ayling

Neil Ayling, Ionic, Jesmonite, BW image transfer, 2014

AFH: Why is sculpture the final product of your transits from architecture to photography to a fresh three-dimensional object?

NA: I treat the photographic images in the work as another form of material or through processes that fuse the image to an underlaying material. I look to bring a physicality to the image; to restore three dimensions to an essentially flat two dimensional format through cutting and folding. My sculptures, like the architecture they are created from, are activated by movement around them. This process doesn’t always work with all images I have taken. Sometimes an image is best to stay as an image. With this in mind, perhaps the images themselves that are developed further and realised into finished sculptures are flawed? That’s to say the image has more potential.

AFH: How much of this process derives from experimentation over pre-made conceptual planning?

NA: For me, ongoing studio work is often of an object basis, material and process led. These can be free standing, wall based or even on the ceiling. I think in three dimensions. Though given the opportunity to show work in a space, I will look at the options of that specific space, its characteristics and how I find myself interacting and negotiating with it. This can really affect either what I show or if I produce a site-specific installation (for example, the full size room installation I made for the ‘Composite Order’ show) or using projection and moving image (for example, Sabre included in my show ‘Flection’ from 2011).

Neil Ayling Bankside

Neil Ayling, Bankside, Jesmonite, Printed nylon mesh, Sand, Pigment, Stainless Steel, 2014

AFH: Many viewers will experience your sculptures as photographs printed in publications or on-line. How does this return to a photograph effect the meaning of this work and your aesthetic concerns for this project?

NA: I want the viewer to actively move around and explore the new configurations of image and form of the sculpture; to be torn between the familiar and the fragment. The viewer needs interaction with the work in order to establish scale, weight, the void as well as the mass. When the work is only viewed as photographic documentation it does flatten the work again. As though the work goes in a full circle. The full potential of the sculpture isn’t realised. However, I feel this is a particular format limitation affecting all sculpture. Now, our reliance of the flat image is amplified because of the age of the smart phone and tablet so sculpture is forced to rely on the technology, which does not do the medium any favours. I hope that my work on the screen gives enough intrigue for people to want to view the work in reality.

AFH: Why did you select the particular buildings you’ve used as source material for your sculptures?

NA: The architectural elements I am drawn to in the first instance have something about them that I feel can be taken further, elevated and saluted – I feel a sense of optimism from the source.An intersection of architecture, conjoined surfaces and structural elements; these elements can exist unnoticed when passing the architecture day to day. They are often up above, down low, creases and corners. Yet, so fundamental are these illustrations of weight, scale and volume that all it takes is a cropped image of two or three intersecting lines and we know it. I often walk around areas of London, usually at times when it’s less busy and purposely get lost. Then it’s just what catches my eye when looking all around, whilst trying not to get run over!

AFH: On that note, what is you rationale for the sharp geometry of your sculptures?

NA: The sculptures are conceived by cutting, folding and cropping print outs of photographs usually at a smaller scale to establish further potential. They are then developed further in full size with the introduction of various materials and processes. The cutting and folding has an inherent angular and geometric configuration. The resulting planes can be read as further fragments of visual references whilst obscuring and skewing the established viewpoint. All of which I hope creates the need to walk around the sculpture to discover more.

Neil Ayling Corinthian

Neil Ayling, Corinthian, Jesmonite and Black and White image transfer, 2013.

AFH: Why have you selected Venetian architecture as your source material?

NA: With regards to the Venice imagery, I hadn’t necessarily planned to search for it or indeed use that classical style as I was still working on other sculptures with more brutalist architecture. Yet, it resonated with me during my visit and gave evidence of all the aspects of structural make up I am drawn to by means of a different aesthetic.

AFH: Explain the term “Composite Order.” How does this relate to your combining of historical references and mediums?

NA: Composite Order refers to the order of classical architecture, developed in Rome which combines the four other orders of classical architecture; Corinthian, Ionic, Doric and Tuscan. It was championed by architects from the Renaissance but the earliest examples date back to as early as 82 AD.  The images used in the sculptures from my solo show titled Composite Order earlier in the year are specifically of sections of the interior of the basilica St. Giorgio Maggiore on the Palladio Island in Venice which used this particular style. The term appealed to me for several reasons not just for the origins of the source imagery used. It also refers to the composite materials used- polymer plaster and fiberglass matting and the technique of image transfer using toner prints and wet plaster-a fresco technique. As well as this it seemed to sum up my reconfiguring or re-ordering of the photographic image.

AFH: What do you learn about the original architectural features through your process? What is the intimacy that you develop with an object by photographing it and re-envisioning its physical identity as a new entity?

NA: I get quite obsessed with a particular building or maybe just a section of building. I often photograph it extensively and over the course of a few days or revisit after a few weeks with different light. Usually taking a hundred photographs or so. I learn more and more about the architecture as I begin to work with the images, selecting and rejecting specific viewpoints. The process becomes almost like a challenge or puzzle; to try to produce a sculpture that retains the sense of the source yet through a new experience of it.

Neil Ayling Wharfdale Road

Neil Ayling, Vert, Permanent Public Sculpture on Wharfdale Road, Kings Cross, London.

AFH: Why use the materials that you do? How do these material influence viewers’ understanding or experience of your original source materials?

NA: The imagery and material become fused and blurred. I am interested in making the image integral to the form and to give it an anchor in real time, physically. Corinthian and Ionic use the composite order architecture. The source building is a brilliant white coloured marble with lots of tonal contrast. Inside there is also lots of trompe l’oeil and frescos on plaster. For my sculptures I chose to use plaster (though resin infused) I also added white marble powder to it. Through experimenting with the material and print outs I found I was able to transfer the toner ink of the print out on to the surface of the wet plaster when placed face down. I had to then rub back the paper backing to leave the ink infused into the surface. Steel for example, wouldn’t have worked in this sculpture, it would have jarred. Yet, steel worked with sculptures using images of the Lloyds building for example. I think I try to give enough information to the viewer through visual and material reference yet still being able to explore new qualities within the making process.

By Ana Finel Honigman

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