Moving experience as sculpture meets art of engineering

James Capper operates his machines and power-tools
James Capper operates his machines and power-tools
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if you think about it, sculptures are pretty hefty pieces of equipment.

The Angel of the North, for example, is a beautiful piece of work, resonant, powerful and it has caused waves – culturally speaking – across the whole of the North East. But it is also a seriously impressive piece of machinery, a feat of engineering.

Young artist James Capper understands this well. So much so that he has embraced the fact that sculpture is a big, heavy art form and created work accordingly.

His sculptures can walk, climb and carve the earth.

Capper has been around machines all his life. Even when he was a young boy, he worked alongside mechanics, farmers and steel fabricators. He was, unwittingly or not, setting himself up for a future career in the arts.

“When I was a teenager and my mates were playing football or whatever, I was trying to get a Saturday job working with local mechanics in the village, because I wanted to be around these massive machines,” he says.

Later Capper went to Chelsea College of Art and Design before going on to study sculpture at the Royal College of Art.

His interest in art and large machinery combined to great effect when he began to pursue a career as an artist and won both the Royal British Society of Sculpture Bursary Award and the Royal Academy Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture in 2009.

Yorkshire audiences will be able to see first hand how a fascination with enormous machinery and training as an artist combined for Capper when he demonstrates his work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield this weekend. The park is displaying three of his enormous earth-moving sculptures until April – Midi Marker, a vibrant, yellow machine with claw-like feet which imprints on the landscape; Exstenda Claw (2012), a gigantic, forklift-like engine; and Tread Toe (2010), a large-scale moving sculpture, self-powered by a hydraulic foot which moves forward in a slow, stepping motion.

Although the works are being exhibited at an arts venue, they do sound an awful lot like machines.

“When other artists at art school were being influenced by the work of people that had gone before them, I was being influenced by engineers and the machines I had been around while growing up,” he says.

“There is absolutely a blurring of the line in what I do between art and engineering, but I think the difference between me and an engineer is the approach we take.

“I would argue a lot of engineers create sculptures, but they start from a position of creating something functional, whereas for me the functionality is something that comes after the idea.”

While he sees his work as art, the 26-year-old is also enthused by the idea that it is something that young people in particular might be interested in.

“When they see these sculptures they have that same sort of wide-eyed look that I used to have when I first saw the massive machines that inspired me to make my sculptures,” he says.

“It’s great to have my work at YSP.”

Capper will be demonstrating how the sculptures move on Sunday. Visit or telephone 01924 832631 for more details.