Earlier this year I was most interested to meet local Shepperton sculptor, Stephen Kettle, whose work is featured on this months’ front cover. He was speaking at a networking event and I was intrigued to see his original method of creating art out of tiny chips of slate. His statue of Alan Turing had just been nominated for an award from the Art Fund, and his work had been championed by none other than James May of Top Gear fame. I listened to his story in awe.
Having spent 15 years as a plasterer after coming out of the Royal Navy, Stephen pursued his unique slate art very much as a hobby ,exhibiting in small shows, until the fateful day when the phone rang. The caller was keen to find out if Stephen could create a life sized statue and could he email a photo to show that he could create a likeness. In calm panic, Stephen explained that of course he could and yes, photo would be sent shortly. The calm panic was down to the fact that Stephen had never done anything like it, but with the prospect of a commission for a statue for the London Science Museum, paid for by a US billionaire, this was not going to stand in his way!
Stephen took a week off plastering and set about sculpting his own face in tiny slate chips. He put off the billionaire with stories of internet problems, but always with the promise that he would deliver. Deliver he did, just one week later, and the commission for a statue of the spitfire designer R. J. Mitchell was his. He never looked back!
The word “slate” comes from the old French verb “eclater”, to split. Stephen takes blocks of 500m year old Welsh slate and literally splits them into slices. These slices are then broken down into coin size pieces and then tumbled in a cement mixer to soften the edges and then assembled with an adhesive that his own creation. The whole process is laborious and precise, but Stephen loves it.
His works are in many public and private collections and his most celebrated piece is a statue of wartime codebreaker Alan Turing which is permanently housed at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. The statue comprises of 500,000 individual pieces of stacked slate, with 200 pieces in the shoe laces alone. The piece took 18 months to create and has won numerous awards. Stephen’s works are available in numerous galleries plus the Pride of the valley sculpture park in Hampshire who sell his larger pieces through Sotherbys auction house. He also undertakes commissions.