The award-winning sculptor tells us how illness forced him to re-evaluate his future and follow his dreams
Not many of us know what that moment feels like when you tell your parents you want to be an artist creating enormous metal sculptures that will be tricky to transport and expensive to produce. Cue Jacob Chandler. Blessed with a trained blacksmith father and woodworking mum, he couldn’t have asked for more understanding parents and from his sizeable workshop at the bottom of the garden things are going pretty well for the talented 21-year-old. Jacob was invited to exhibit by the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists at its gallery in the Jewellery Quarter last month as part of its national open competition. He is the youngest artist in the society’s 200-year history to be given this privilege and his sculpture Poise and Tension III took pride of place alongside professional artists, receiving positive reviews and plenty of media attention.
Most of Jacob’s work so far aims to ‘capture the most dramatic part of an action, the tipping point from one movement to another, a point that is more often felt rather than seen’. The medium of choice is corten steel which is the same metal used by one of Jacob’s heroes Antony Gormley. He explained: “The rusting that is characteristic of this material is also a dynamic process and is wholly in keeping with my rationale.” Having the space and logistics to produce and transport the life size sculptures presents its challenges and Jacob tries to stick to a rule when designing a piece. “If it won’t fit in the people carrier, it’s not made,” he says. He admits to flouting this now and then by adding a trailer to the vehicle, but he hasn’t had to hire a lorry just yet. The inspiration for the pieces comes from many places, but dance has been a big influence – in fact Elmhurst School for Dance in Edgbaston has one of Jacob’s works titled The Lift in its reception. Of his fascination with the dancing form he says: “My cousin Corinne Cox is a dancer with Czech ballet company JK Tyl and a family friend Anna Kaszuba is a contemporary dancer, so I’ve been to numerous performances and events which have sparked my fascination with a dancer’s amazing strength and beauty.”
Although Jacob was always interested in art at school and had a particularly supportive A-Level teacher who encouraged his large scale projects, he thought the sensible thing to do in order to future proof his career would be to study architecture. “I was content with my choice but had subordinated my dreams of becoming a sculptor, due to the inherent difficulties of making a living as an artist,” he says. Four weeks into a seven-year architecture course at Birmingham City University fate intervened and Jacob was struck down with a severe allergic reaction teamed with a flu-like virus that left him bed-bound for months. He remembered: “It meant that my studies had to be deferred. Recovery was slow and in order to keep my spirits up, I turned to art. My parents encouraged me to turn my misfortune on its head, saying this was my opportunity to prove I had what it takes to become an artist.” The garden slowly filled up with pieces as Jacob grew stronger. Working with 200kg pieces of metal was pretty exhausting but interest from a local school and hospital spurred him on. Meeting with structural engineers, specifying materials and building business relationships made Jacob realise this could be a viable career.
He exhibited a year’s worth of work at the Big Art Show in Shrewsbury and was delighted with the response from both the public and fellow artists. On a roll, Jacob got business cards printed, created a website and began ‘to feel like a professional’. He now sells through his website and exhibits at the sculpture park at the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry and the Ironbridge Fine Art Gallery. With grand plans, Jacob would love to exhibit in a London gallery as well as creating a larger piece in a public space like his hero. He enthused: “The tension created in the sculptures at their tipping point, would be accentuated with the increasing scale. It’s this feeling of fleeting and precarious movements and balance that I most want to capture.”