Let There Be Light

Midlands artist and sculptor Peter Walker talks about the many strings to his bow, including being artistic director at Lichfield Cathedral and Luxmuralis, a collaborative team of artists from different backgrounds and disciplines.

From bronze sculpture to painting and spellbinding light & sound shows, Peter Walker’s career as an artist has been nothing short of prestigious. Talking about everything from fine art to state-of-the-art projection, Peter fills us in on his artistic journey...

How would you describe your career path?
Since my late teenage years, I’ve always been involved in the arts in one way or another: first through music, then poetry, and eventually becoming a sculptor in my early 20s. After years of working with sculpture, especially bronze and statuary, my work eventually evolved into large-scale installation, fine artwork in terms of painting and works on canvas, and creating huge son et lumières with my colleague David Harper (as artistic director at Luxmuralis). There's always been an increasing evolution of different art forms. I can approach each and every subject in a totally unique way and use the most appropriate materials or style of work to do that. For example, my fine artwork is usually more personal and can relate more to myself and my emotions. The sculptural is perhaps a little more intellectual, in terms of being more gallery-orientated work. Then, my public work is more approachable and accessible. The big light shows that we do at Luxmuralis, for instance, often approach larger subject matter that has more universal appeal, such as 24-hours on earth, space journeys or festive themes.

What makes Luxmuralis’ shows different?
The type of projection work we produce at Luxmuralis is probably nothing like any other out there. Even though it’s using light, it’s still pretty sculptural and fine-art-orientated. One of the reasons we do so much work in cathedrals is because we’re almost creating an entire new artform using light. We don’t just project on walls to tell stories, we use the walls and facades themselves as part of the story. We like viewers to actually be bathed in the light of the installation too, so that it feels like they’re within the artwork and the story itself. It’s an incredible and emotional experience to be standing in a 36m projection within a knave, where you can walk through the light and just look around these all-encompassing visuals. It’s also always accompanied by beautiful music written by David, so it’s almost an overwhelming experience to be carried through this light & sound journey. Even though there’s quite a lot of it around now, I feel like we have quite an individual approach to using these mediums.

How do you think the landscape for, and response to, art has changed during your career?
I think there’s an ever-increasing appetite from all kinds of people for engaging with the arts. I think one thing that we try to do at Luxmuralis is remove the invisible barriers that have restricted people’s access to art. For example, a lot of the work I do is outside of the major European cities - and we’re always overwhelmed by the response. The desire to experience the arts is certainly there. But also towns, cities and venues have realised that offering a multiplicity of arts to their communities does encourage open engagement. A bronze sculpture in a museum, for instance, is more expensive than seeing a light & sound installation, which may be free or have a low ticket price. An audience can be from any background, any age, and feel like they own, and are part of, this piece of art for the time they’re there.

What’s coming up next at Lichfield Cathedral?
It’s approaching my six-year anniversary at Lichfield Cathedral, and the formal relationship ends at the close of this year. There will be a retrospective exhibition, to look back over the many projects from that period. People will be able to revisit a number of artworks or see videos of some of our iconic light shows, including Cathedral Illuminated - our iconic Christmas show that’s almost become part of the yearly festive traditions in the city. It’s really a great chance to invite the people back who’ve been involved previously, whether as an audience member, participant or contributor. The exhibition is a big thank-you from me as an artist, both to the cathedral and the audience. It’s also definitely an opportunity to reminisce about how we’ve managed to pull off programmes each year that are very unique as far as cathedrals in modern times go. My latest installation, The Laboratory, will be in the cathedral at the same time as the retrospective. At the centre, it mimics Einstein’s desk, and surrounding it is the story of science built from objects, sound and projection. It’s about having a space for oneself to think and consider in this cluttered and noisy world, whatever your field of exploration.

And what about later in the year?
We aim to bring back two of our most popular light shows to Lichfield Cathedral. So in November, we’re planning the return of our Remembrance piece, Poppy Fields, which features sound recordings from Eddie Redmayne. Then we hope our What’s On Readers’ Award-winning Cathedral Illuminated will also be back for one more time this Christmas! That would be a beautiful end to this six-year period.

Peter Walker’s exhibition, Retrospective, shows at Lichfield Cathedral from Thursday 2 September until Monday 1 November. For further information, visit: lichfield-cathedral.org