‘It’s always been there, in the materials you choose,
whether it’s something which doesn’t reflect light
as much, like Corten, or something that reflects
light, like a mirror or stainless steel. I’ve always been
interested how materials work, how they reflect, how
they refract. Light is part of the palette of materials.
What you do with light completely changes the surface
of the material and changes your perception of the
sculpture, your relationship with it, the atmosphere.
It’s fundamental to the experience.’
Most of his works are outside. Some are uplit from
the ground, he says, but the more successul pieces
are where the light is integrated into the work itself.
‘It’s important how the sculpture is perceived at night,
that magic hour at dawn or dusk when it changes and
goes into something else. It can be kind of spiritual.
Rather than creating the sculpture and then treating
the illumination as an afterthought, the lighting is
conceived as part of the work right from the beginning.
The light more often than not is within the sculpture so
there’s this sense of energy, sense of life coming from
within. Once they’re out in the world they’re not really
yours, they just exist. The idea is to try and imbue
them with life and imbue them with light I suppose –
especially in the West light expresses life.’
That is partly because light is dynamic, mercurial.
‘Light, like sound, is ephemeral, it’s fluid, it moves.
It reminds us what it is to be human. The movement
of light puts the viewer in the now because you know
it will never look the same again. It can focus you in
the moment. What I’m interested in now is creating
experiences rather than something static to look at.’
Understanding how humans relate to the world and
the cosmos is fundamental to Buttress’s work. The sun
and stars are frequent motifs and the natural world is
a powerful influence. He moved at around the age of
11 from a council estate in Birmingham, in the West
Midlands, to Cumbria and the Lake District in the
north west. The transition from the urban and the
industrial to the rural was liberating and seminal. ▼
‘It becomes really intimate as only you can
see it. It’s like looking into space. It doesn’t
reveal itself all at one time’
Previous page and opposite: Una, a spherical stainless steel sculpture
in Canberra, Australia, has 9100 perforations representing all the stars
that can be seen with the naked eye from the Earth