30 January 2023

Sampling the largest public
art collection in Milton Keynes
during a visit to hospital

‘Family’ by Jon Buck at the entrance to Milton Keynes University Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Milton Keynes University Hospital again at the weekend for a check-up over 10 months after I was admitted to hospital with a stroke – 10 months and 10 days since 18 March 2022 to be precise.

This time, I was in the hospital for a follow-up to a procedure some months ago for some lesions on the skin of the head, probably caused by too much exposure to direct sunlight. I suppose I can blame myself for not wearing a hat over almost four decades during those many, lengthy summer holidays in Greece.

Once again, I have been impressed by the quality and standard of attention and care that I receive in every hospital I have attended over the past year. A neighbour was telling me yesterday that when she arrived at A&E one day recently, she was told there was a nine-hour waiting list. But this is not the fault of the NHS or the staff – this is due to the combined failure of the government to invest properly in the NHS and to the consequences of Brexit that has prevented the NHS from recruiting the best available to fill vacancies.

Being a patient and arriving early at the hospital, I had a little time to appreciate one of the many sculptures on the hospital campus. Arts for Health Milton Keynes is a project using arts and creativity to improve health and wellbeing.

The project organises exhibitions and workshops at the hospital, has developed an art trail app, and has inspired creative courtyards. This explains why Milton Keynes University Hospital has the largest public art collection in Milton Keynes, with over 450 artworks from local, national and international artists.

The collection ranges from sculptures, paintings and drawings to site-specific installations and commissions, and includes sculptures from nationally and internationally renowned artists such as Peter Randall-Page, Jon Buck and Glynn Williams.

Jon Buck has been working as a sculptor since graduating in the 1970s and has completed many public commissions. His two sculptures in Milton Keynes University Hospital are ‘Equilibrium’, a 165cm high bronze work, and ‘Family’, a 170 cm high bronze.

‘Family’ is one of two sculptures by Jon Buck in Milton Keynes University Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Jon Buck has exhibited regularly from 1980 on, mostly in Europe and America, and he has contributed to some of the recent significant sculpture exhibitions in Britain. He was born in 1951 and grew up just south of Bristol at the mouth of the river Avon. His was the first generation to break with the family tradition of becoming Bristol Channel Pilots. From an early age, he was determined to go his own way and his deep fascination with the natural world led to his first employment at Bristol Zoo.

Studying animals and birds at close quarters gave him the opportunity to indulge in his passion for drawing. Gradually, though, he became disillusioned with the unethical nature of the work and after initially enrolling on a science degree he transferred to a Fine Art course at Cardiff in 1975.

After his first degree at Nottingham, Jon Buck took a Master’s degree at Manchester and then received a Fellowship at Cheltenham School of Art. At this point, he began showing with the Nicholas Treadwell gallery based in London. In the early 1980s, he became part of a disparate group of artists for whose work Treadwell coined the term ‘Superhumanism’.

He received a grant from Southern Arts in 1984 to become Artist in Residence for the Borough of Thamesdown in a regeneration area of Swindon. This placement gave him the opportunity to make his first large-scale work and to take on the challenge of making art for a public place.

Until then, all his sculptures were cast in resin and glass fibre. The Swindon experience showed him how inadequate these materials were for art in an external environment. This led to Jon Buck adopting bronze as his preferred media and into developing a close collaboration with his casting foundry, Pangolin Editions. This relationship has been central to his attempt to use traditional processes to make contemporary images.

Jon Buck has continued to work in both the public and private realms and for over 20 years he was Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Southampton Solent University and a visiting lecturer at other art colleges and institutions.

Central to his work has always been his interest in humanity’s connection to the natural world. In art, he has always believed in some sort of visual ‘lingua franca’ and has been fascinated with art outside the western tradition, particularly African sculpture. In addition, the art of prehistory, outsider art and the drawings of children have all affected his way of thinking about making art.

He has worked on a number of occasions as artist consultant with Camlin Lonsdale Landscape Architects, in conjunction with planners and other artists, most notably on the Caerphilly Town Centre Enhancement Scheme in 1995.

He was the artist chosen to be part of a team for the enhancement and refurbishment of Deal Pier in 1998. This involved a major public consultation scheme and collaboration with planners and landscape architects from Kent County Council. The resulting work won the 1999 Rouse Kent Award for Public Art.

Jon Buck was invited to deliver a sculpture workshop at Makerere University, Kampala, in 2004 on behalf of the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation. He returned to Uganda in 2007 and 2009 to undertake further design research into tribal and clan totems for the Foundation and to oversee the translation of his designs into a series of bronze casts.

Milton Keynes University Hospital actively promotes the arts (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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