09 August 2023

More sculptures
on the move in
public spaces in
Milton Keynes

Keith McCarter’s ‘Cycloidal Form’ outside the Hotel La Tour in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

One of the delights of walking around Milton Keynes and Campbell Park on a summer evening is having the uninterrupted space and light to appreciate many of the 200 or more modern sculptures in public spaces throughout this new city.

Keith McCarter’s sculpture ‘Cycloidal Form’ is now outside the Hotel La Tour in Milton Keynes, which opened last year (2022).

‘Cycloidal Form’ is a 3 metre diameter stainless steel sculpture, and was first commissioned by Standard Commercial Properties for Great Eastern Enterprise, Marsh Wall, in the London Docklands. The site was where Brunel had the keel laid for his ship Great Eastern and the sculpture reflects this maritime association.

Keith McCarter’s ‘Cycloidal Form’ formed part of a fountain outside HSBC near South Quay station London Docklands. However, HSBC decided to leave its 45-floor ‘tower of doom’ in the docklands and move back to the City of London after more than two decades. It was a major blow to Canary Wharf’s standing as a global financial centre in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic, and at a time ‘hybrid working’ reduced the need for office space.

Keith McCarter is a Scottish sculptor, with several works on public display. He was born in Edinburgh in 1936 and studied at Edinburgh College of Art. An Andrew Grant Scholarship allowed him to travel through Europe in 1960-1961. He then lived in the US until 1963, returning to the UK to become a visiting lecturer at Hornsey College of Art.

As his career moved on, he switched from working in concrete to metal. He designed many of the concrete walls, murals and patterns on buildings that formed the aesthetic of postwar Britain.

He is known for his abstract sculptural relief in concrete, ‘Celestial,’ which was commissioned by the Ordnance Survey in 1969. The mural was a beacon of postwar optimism and adorned the OS headquarters in Southampton until 2011, when the OS downsized and moved to new premises.

As map-making and storage became digitised, and printing was outsourced, there was no longer a need for vast floors. As far as I know, more than a decade later, the dismantled 34-tonne sculpture is still stored at the bottom of a field in Milton Keynes, and all efforts to find a new home for it have proven fruitless.

Meanwhile, Keith McCarter’s creative energy remains undiminished, although he had become a full-time carer for his wife, Brenda, a talented needleworker who died recently.

‘Chain Reaction’ (1992) by Ray Smith at the northern entrance to Campbell Park in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

‘Chain Reaction’ (1992) was created by Ray Smith specifically for Skeldon Gate, the northern entrance to Campbell Park, and was sponsored by many local developers. It is one of the ‘Town Giants’ in Milton Keynes, and was presented to the Milton Keynes Parks Trust in June 1992.

This 12-metre model of figures balanced like acrobats in an endless chain was designed to be viewed from every angle. Smith’s basic idea was to create a three-dimensional model of figures balanced like acrobats in an endless chain. It is made from laser-cut mild steel and painted in red paint.

Ray Smith (1949-2018) was a sculptor, painter, illustrator and writer who exhibited widely. Although he had no formal art training, he received many awards, including an award from the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Royal Society of Arts Architecture Award. He also wrote several books on art for the publisher Dorling Kindersley and designed a selection of record sleeves.

Smith was born in 1949 in Harrow and studied English at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. His first solo exhibition was at the School of Architecture at Cambridge in 1970. He married Catriona Hermon, a fellow student at Cambridge, in 1971. He taught English at the Cambridge School of English and lectured at the Chelsea School of Art in the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, he also designed and illustrated record sleeves for several bands and musicians.

He illustrated two of Catriona Hermon’s children’s books, The Long Slide (1977) and The Long Dive (1978), in his ‘precise, whimsical style,’ and won two awards for his work in The Long Slide. He wrote and illustrates his own children’s book, Jacko’s Play (1980), followed by a series of Dorling Kindersley art books in 1984-1995, including The Artist’s Handbook (1987) and was consulting editor for DK’s Art School series.

Smith explored several art forms, including sculpture, painting and portrait photography, and exhibited his work widely. He was self-employed and much of his output was commissioned. He created a number of painted steel sculptures, including ‘Chain Reaction’ in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes.

He received many awards during his career, and has been a fine arts fellow at Southampton University. He died from dementia in 2018 at 69.

Summer evenings offer uninterrupted space and light to appreciate the 200 or more modern sculptures in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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