Eddie Roberts - a rising star of sculpture turning metal into art

One of the first things that struck me about Eddie Roberts is that he’s very self-effacing and matter-of-fact.

Eddie Roberts with one of his striking works in Valley Gardens, Harrogate. (Simon Hulme).

He’s only in his mid-40s, but his life has already been a full one and the word “varied” doesn’t even begin to cover it. His story to date – as one of Oscar Wilde’s characters once said – has been “rich in incident”.

Eddie is regarded as one of the rising stars in the world of contemporary sculpture and his work (like the man himself) is fascinating.

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He now lives near Pateley Bridge, and works for Harrogate Steel, based in Darley, just outside the town.

Eddie with one of his metal works. (Simon Hulme)

His story, though, began further north. He was born in Sunderland to a white mother and a black father and was given up for adoption. He was only a month old when John and Nikky Roberts took him into their home, and into their hearts. The couple already had a child of their own and adopted more after Eddie came along. Eddie calls them mum and dad and says they are all family.

He’s also reconnected with his birth mother and discovered that she, too, has a wider family. Eddie embraces them all. “When I finally met my birth mother for the first time it was as if a hole in my stomach was filed, and to discover that I had another family as well, was just joyous.”

Growing up as a mixed raced child in Britain during the 1980s could be challenging at times. “I grew up in rather different times to where we find ourselves now. I can’t say that I was bullied at school, that would be wrong. But I knew that there was something ‘different’, and other kids, as kids do, remarked on it. There were quite a few stares on the street, but mum and dad were always there for support and advice, and they still are. It was a typical North-East home – ‘come in, sit you down, fancy a cuppa and a slice of cake?’ The house always seemed to be full. All parents are remarkable, but looking back, they were the best ever.”

He wasn’t particularly artistically inclined as a youngster, but when he left school he decided to study art at Northumbria University. “I soon found out that it wasn’t for me,” he recalls, “but I stuck it out and I completed the course. I don’t want to disparage anyone who taught there at the time, but I didn’t like the way that what you produced was constantly being judged, it can make you become disenchanted. I wasn’t a rebel, I just questioned things all the time.”

Eddie creates unique metal sculptures. (Picture credit: Mike Whorley).

After finishing university he worked for Sainsbury’s for six years becoming a store manager. It was his aunt, a design lecturer, who saw something in her nephew that he perhaps hadn’t seen himself. She encouraged him to go out and see the world. So he did. He joined a cruise line working in retail, a job that took him everywhere from Alaska to Australia over the next six years.

He married an Australian and moved Down Under. Sadly, the relationship didn’t last, but it was while living there that one day he thought to himself “I want to learn to weld metal”. He smiles: “I know, crackers, isn’t it? But that’s the moment that my life turned around. It was a bit of an epiphany.”

He learned the basics of welding in his spare time and discovered that he had an eye for shape, form and line and began creating one-off metal sculptures, demand for which grew. “From previously using paper and plastic to shape my designs and ideas, I started using steel, and what had been a dream was now becoming reality. My first piece of sculpture at college was actually used in the grounds of the Weatherly Institute (in Australia) where I trained, which inspired me to keep going.”

His influences include the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Caro, Anish Kapoor and the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, one of the pioneers of abstract art. “I get inspiration from objects and buildings around me. I like to echo shapes and forms,” says Eddie.

He returned to the UK and after a stint working alongside another metal worker in London he moved back north to Yorkshire. He had heard about Harrogate Steel and went to meet the owners, Richard Searle and Dan Worsell, to pitch an idea.

The concept was that he’d work for them and take along his considerable expertise if they, in turn, supported his own developing Cult-ore art business. They agreed for him to become their operations manager and gave him a studio workshop on site.

It’s a unique business-arts arrangement and the firm – known for building vast warehouses – is now a trendsetter in the art world as well.

Eddie has his own department and another personal studio space at home. He uses Core 10 steel to create sculptures for both inside and outside the home, using a range of different colours. “The items I create range from furniture, planters and firepits to commissioned unique works of art. There is no limit to what you can create with steel,” he says.

He produces everything from a standard range up to bespoke pieces that would set you back north of £20,000. And the commissions have been coming in thick and fast. He has created works for celebrities including the actress and singer Natalie Imbruglia and for a television programme for Alan Titchmarsh called Love your Garden, where a piece was installed in a garden for a 90-year-old lady.

Harrogate International Festival asked him to create lettering for its show a couple of years ago. (This caused a bit of a stir when they were stolen, before they were eventually returned).

He now has works in Sheffield, Harrogate and London, including several larger artworks in hotels, with the promise of many more to come. “I am now selling pieces online via Saatchi Art. This has effectively given me a worldwide stage, which considering I only learnt to weld nine years ago as a hobby is a phenomenal achievement,” he says.

It has, he readily admits, been quite a journey. “I really am lucky to be working where I am and especially with such a supportive company, and my advice to anyone else who has similar ideas is just to go for it,” he says.

“I’m always delighted when people who see my work comment on it and tell me what they got from it, how it perhaps moved them, or made them feel better. That makes me believe that yes, you can make a difference.”

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