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  • Writer's pictureRichard Atkinson - Willes

The Orion Series, sculptor Richard Atkinson-Willes discusses 'the third element' and the inspiration behind his latest collection of work


Where I found my inspiration

My inspiration for my new ‘Orion’ series is based way back in the aesthetic first championed by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth when they started to explore the relationship between the space which objects physically occupy and the space around them - or, in simple terms, the relationship between where something is and where it is not. This led to an iconic series of monumental sculptures with holes in which demonstrated the dialogue that could occur between solid and void - basic vocabulary nowadays, but at the time this investigation of the interaction between things and their immediate environment was seriously out there.

Questions of space

I worshipped Moore as a schoolboy and still love the monumental majesty of his work, especially the questions that it raises. Let's look at some examples;

  • If an artwork like Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ on Crosby Beach relies upon the space around it to be complete, how big actually is it? Clearly it's bigger than just the physical presence of the hundred mysterious iron figures.

  • Likewise a dangerously leaning wall seems to occupy not only its own mass, but also the void into which it is about to fall – to the extent that we make a positive decision to walk around the place where it isn’t. The wall has somehow adopted the area into which it's going to fall and included it in its presence.

  • Leonardo's Vitruvian Man standing within a circle is often questioned by people who think it incorrectly describes the geometry of the human body, but Leonardo was no fool and wouldn't have made that mistake. I think he's showing us how big he thinks a person actually is, including the space that is theirs.

  • If this all sounds far-fetched, try having a conversation with a relative stranger who starts to edge towards you; there's a distance at which their proximity will suddenly become unacceptable, even though their physical presence is still some way off. I think Leonardo is showing us how big a person really is, surrounding space and all. 

Arthur Gormley's Another Place on Crosby Beach
Arthur Gormley's Another Place on Crosby Beach
Mesh as a canvas

My mesh sculptures join the debate by introducing an element which tries to describe this elusive, unseen element of objects. There are solid bits, which is where the sculpture is, and there's the space around them where it is not. The mesh introduces a third bit which is sort of there, but not really. It holds things apart and at the same time holds them together. On a practical level it enables me to make a sculpture in much the same way as a painter paints a picture.

The mesh is my canvas and I can place objects on it wherever I want, unconstrained by the sculptor’s usual technical boundaries of strength, weight and gravity.

I can then go one step beyond the painter and cut the canvas into whatever shape I want because my image is freestanding and requires no frame. In fact, like Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’, my sculpture actually benefits from having no edge or boundary at all.  

Richard Atkinson-Willes The Orion Series
Richard Atkinson-Willes The Orion Series No1 to 5
The Cloud of Unknowing

Having no frame suits the whole premise of abstract sculpture very well, allowing us to visualise metaphysical concepts like being, knowing, time and space and somehow give them form.  Ancient civilizations personified abstract concepts as gods and mythical beasts as indeed we still do. Our children all grow up to visualise their God in a human form, and most will cling to that image for their whole lives despite encountering evidence suggesting that such beings might never have physically existed. This is either lazy familiarity or the mature realisation that whether a religious text is word for word true or just a construct designed to define abstract social concepts, doesn’t really matter – either way its job is done. The important thing is that the visualisation and accompanying stories provide a framework for understanding, expressed on a human level, which fills the void that medieval philosophers ominously called ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’.  


Scientific advancements

The Cloud of Unknowing has taken quite a battering in the intervening years as science has exposed mysteries which would have astonished its medieval inventors, but it’s still a long way off being consigned to history.

We may smugly suppose that we don’t need a God to make the crops grow anymore — or at least we had better hope we don’t — yet every great problem solved seems simply to pose another. Advances in medicine have given us the power over life and death – and the agonising dilemmas of how to use it; science has given us the weapon to end all wars – and the immense burden of managing it. If anything, 'the cloud of unknowing' remains just the same despite the wonders of scientific discovery - it’s just populated by a new pantheon of gods. 

Visualising these new 'Gods'

So what are our new Gods like – there’s plenty of them: artificial Intelligence, the internet, the metaverse – these are all things which exert supernatural power over our lives, yet have no form, mass or volume. They are nothing to do with our corporeal presence and have none of their own, yet they increasingly dictate the way we live our lives.

My new collection of sculpture ' The Orion Series' suggests what it might be like to actually encounter them. It is coincidental yet unintentional that all of these pieces have ended up looking like landscapes, but perhaps it’s not surprising when essentially they are an attempt to define an abstract thing in space. 

Where is the metaverse? What’s artificial intelligence like? I’ve spoken to it and it’s replied, so don’t tell me it doesn’t exist. To live comfortably in the company of these titanic forces, it’s human nature to try to give them form. I see them not as the space around us, but as that third element, the mesh, holding us together and apart. 

The metaverse feels quite big, so its position towering over a tiny world seems appropriate. It’s somewhere above the birds, but below the moon, which I guess is where the internet lives too, along with artificial intelligence in a kind of hi-tech Valhalla. Placing random objects in space creates a sense of grand scale, which in turn suggests constellations of stars reminiscent of ancient visualisations of deities. 

Richard Atkinson-Willes and his sculpture 'Rare sighting of a metaverse'
Richard Atkinson-Willes and his sculpture 'Rare sighting of a metaverse'

It appears that ideas don’t actually change, they morph into a new generation of ideas that is almost indistinguishable from the last. The ‘cloud of unknowing’ is now ‘the cloud’, and we think we know exactly what it contains, but, like Anthony Gormley’s sculpture, it’s become much bigger than the finite stuff we put into it. 


It seems a ridiculous proposition to try to convert this sort of rambling abstract concept into sculpture, but the truth is that these sculptures are more about us than metaphysics and re-iterate questions that have been asked for thousands of years — Are we actually bigger than ourselves? Why do we so desperately need to give abstract issues a face - and why do we always look up for the answer? 

Getting up close to the art

All Richard's latest collection 'Orion Series' will be on display at our Talos Summer Exhibition 2024. Richard will be on site throughout the show should you like to ask more about his collection or in fact any of the works in Talos Art Gallery and Gardens. For an exclusive tour of the exhibition and an introduction to the principles of bronze casting please do look into booking one of our Group Tours.

For commissions, buying or more information about visiting us contact Richard on 01249 599 069 (please leave a message) or email

Richard Atkinson-Willes sculpture 'AI'
Richard Atkinson-Willes sculpture 'AI'


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