Laury Dizengremel is an award-winning sculptor and over the last 30 years, her work has been featured not only in the UK but also in a diverse range of countries including the US, Canada, France, Ireland, China, Vietnam and Honduras. Laury is currently working on a life-size full-figure statue of Virginia Woolf for Richmond-Upon-Thames. In addition to this, she is artist-in-residence for the Belvoir Castle and its estate in England where she created busts of the family for the Duchess of Rutland, and engaged the local community through sculpture workshops.
“Because I care about statuary, I need to speak my truth of wanting not men to be represented less, but women to be represented more.”
43 years as a sculptor
My path as a sculptor has been brilliant fun but far from what some might consider traditional. It wasn’t until 2004, aged 50, that I decided to study fine art formally in the UK, and by then I had for over two decades undertaken a range of private and corporate commissions all over the world as well as created monumental public sculptures in France (inaugurated by President Mitterrand), in Ireland, China and Vietnam.
Initially, back in 1978, I had studied sculpture in small classes run by Martine Vaugel in California and then gone on to develop ‘solo’ from there, except for a one year stint as a guest student at the Beaux-Arts in Paris in my late twenties, thanks to a professor in the metal studio.
It wasn’t until I was consistently being asked to lecture in universities abroad that I thought I’d better get a formal degree of some sort under my belt. Therefore, I applied directly to the masters of fine art international degree programme at what is now the University of the Creative Arts in Canterbury, graduating in 2006.
There was a surreal element during those two years as I seemed to be just as active professionally as any of my lecturers: in 2005 one of my sculptures was presented in a ceremony in the House of Lords; the same year I also took part in another international sculpture symposium in China; alongside my research and studies, I carried on during both years with a whole host of private and corporate sculpture commissions.
Career-wise, I am so lucky to have had a bunch of further great opportunities: creating an artwork for the United Nations Development Programme in Honduras; sculpting the top eight tennis players of the world in 2007 as Tennis Terracotta Warriors, including Federer, Nadal and Djokovic for the ATP; seeing my life-size bronze of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown installed in Hammersmith, and countless other sculpting adventures in South Korea, Vietnam, Wales and other places.
My work day-to-day
Fast forward to 2021 and on a day-to-day basis, I make new sculptures to exhibit and sell, indulging myself recently in creating over thirty fantastical beast-person statuettes in terracotta.
I also carry on with new commissions which will be cast in traditional lost-wax bronze.
Furthermore, just last week I was short-listed as one of the four finalist sculptors for the Emily Williamson (co-founder of the RSPB) statue campaign. And this week I am starting on the life-size bust of the founder of a UK company who passed away some years ago, working solely from photographs.
Virginia Woolf brought back to life in sculptural form
I was approached by charity Aurora Metro Arts and Media just over four years ago to sculpt the first-ever full figure life-size statue of Virginia Woolf. Up until then, there had only ever been a bust of Virginia (in Tavistock Square), which I am told she did not like.
Shortly afterward I was working on another life-size statue of a boxing champion for a town in Wales, and despite formal fundraising not yet having launched by Aurora Metro, I decided to take my first step with regards to Virginia.
Having sourced a whole bunch of images of her I started by creating a small rough maquette (a sculptor’s small preliminary model). After that, over a life-size armature of metal and wood, I worked to model Virginia in clay with a book on her lap, a hat resting beside her, looking peacefully outward, sat on a bench of her own. Then I had that clay statue and bench waste-moulded, after which I worked further on a resin version because that material is tougher than clay and one can make refinements impossible in the softer clay.
Back in Rodin’s day, the intermediary stage between clay and bronze was plaster, but today I choose resin because it is even tougher. The resin version ended up being my ‘master’ artwork, which now awaits fundraising to be completed before the order to cast it into bronze can be given.
Donations are welcomed by the charity, who will donate the statue to Richmond-Upon-Thames, where Virginia lived for ten years and founded the Hogarth Press with her husband Leonard, via the Virgin Giving page accessible from https://www.aurorametro.org/virginia-woolf-statue. If you would like to make a larger donation please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements.
Acknowledging her legacy
Virginia Woolf was an iconic writer whom I admire tremendously because she pioneered a whole new genre, the modern novel. It is important to acknowledge her influence on generations of authors who have followed and will continue to follow, everywhere in the English-speaking world, and indeed in translated versions of her amazing books throughout the globe.
The most visible forms of art in our public spaces are architecture, statuary, and murals – and as a sculptor of course I feel that every person whose legacy can inspire others is deserving of public artwork.
My Virginia statue is interactive: people can sit by her on the bench and one comment we have had is that it will beg for lots of selfies. My hope is that it will serve to encourage young girls to read, write, to achieve great things.
Why we need more statues celebrating women of achievement
As your audience might know, there is a huge imbalance between male and female statuary in the UK and this is reflected worldwide.
To put things into perspective, let me quote Terri Bell-Halliwell, who hosts the inVISIBLEwomen website: “It seems that men outnumber women by a factor of up to 16 to 1 and if you take Queen Victoria out of the equation the figures would be seriously worse.” That is an appalling statistic.
Those people campaigning for the statues of Virginia Woolf, but also of suffragettes Mary Jane Clarke, Amy Walmsley and Sylvia Pankhurst, the palaeontologist Mary Anning, the MP Barbara Castle and the Matchgirls 1888 project were all taken aback by a recent proposal by a couple of MPs from the Common Sense Group to erect statues to the 1,761 holders of Victoria Cross and George Cross (of which only 11 are women).
My feeling personally is that should only happen after the current lack of female representation has been remedied. Let the world pause on tributes to men for a spell so we can catch up!
It’s not about representing men less, it’s about representing women more
With March being Women’s History Month I feel women everywhere need to rise up and make their voices heard in every sphere where equal rights and privileges have not yet been achieved. It is important to celebrate what has been created by women everywhere already and to focus on what can be further accomplished.
My daughters (the eldest a doctor, the youngest a filmmaker) follow in my footsteps. Their daughters will follow them. Because I care about statuary, I need to speak my truth of wanting not men to be represented less, but women to be represented more.
Using art to help healing post-pandemic
I am hoping fundraising for the Virginia Woolf statue will soon be completed so it can be installed on the terraces in Richmond-Upon-Thames, where I have obtained planning permission for it.
Jane Priston, who led the campaign for a statue of aviatrix Amy Johnson, might soon lend her shoulder to the wheel on this campaign, and help get what the Aurora charity director Cheryl Robson and others have raised so far up to the target amount.
Fellow sculptor Di Crispin and I have just created an arts foundation called Arts Luna. What I am excited about now is creating more public artwork myself, passing on my skills via master class sculpture workshops, and fostering opportunities for other artists (both young and old, women and men) to themselves create more art.
With the end of the coronavirus pandemic in our hopeful sight, the world needs more art to help the healing process and to inspire the generations that follow.