For Benson Landes, sculpture is most definitely a passion. His oeuvre of cast bronzes is populated with off duty ballet dancers, energetic flamenco dancers and pieces such as Home Alone; rather wistful women, often caught in moments of solitary repose.
Such an obvious appreciation of the grace and elegance of the female form was, no doubt, heightened by 25 years spent in the couture business, which Benson entered at the age of 14. The sculptor now admits that his time as an apprentice at his fathers clothing workroom and factory was given rather reluctantly, as he always harboured desires to become an artist. The sense of responsibility of the young boy was clearly equal to his creativity, though, as Benson knuckled down and learned the family trade.
At the age of 18, however, a 2 year conscription to the RAF provided one of the few opportunities for Benson to experience artistic freedom. The possibilities of otherwise unobtainable materials such as pastels, paper, perspex and plaster of paris fuelled his ingenuity at the bases well-stocked workshop.
On completion of his RAF service, Benson briefly returned to the clothing factory now owned by his father. After his marriage to Ruth at 21, in an effort to provide for his new wife, Benson decided to set up his own business. Starting with a single sewing machine and tailoress, Benson and Ruth soon expanded the business. By the 1970s they employed over 50 staff and supplied to prestigious stores such as Dickens & Jones and Harrods.
As the decade progressed, however, fashion turned towards less structured, more casual garments; a trend that prompted Benson to retire and spend time with his first love - plasticine.
Buoyed by the liberty he enjoyed in his Southport studio, Benson succeeded in selling some of his first pieces of sculpture, a collection of sporting trophies shown at the 1981 Open Golf Championship, to Garrards, the Crown Jewellers. This success quickly brought important contacts and new commissions.
An entirely self-taught sculptor, Benson now works from a studio in Cheshire. Certain pieces are motivated by childhood memories, whilst the ballet dancers such as Flame Girl were inspired by a back stage visit at the Royal Ballet. According to Benson, he first visualises the form, and then creation of the sculpture naturally flows.
Benson oversees every stage of production of the final cast bronzes. He works with the ancient technique of cire perdu, or lost wax. In this, modelling wax is moulded around a steel skeleton, which is then passed to the foundry. A rubber mould is made, into which is poured a coating of hot wax; this results in a hollow replica of the original figure. The steel skeleton is discarded during this process. Also, when the edition limit has been cast for a particular piece, this mould is destroyed.
The wax mould is hand-chased and then usually cut up, to allow sprues, or vents, to be inserted; these will later allow molten bronze to be poured into the figure. Next the wax is dipped in ceramic powder, which, after firing in a kiln, hardens to a shell; at the same time the wax is melted out.
Bronze is then heated until molten and poured through the sprues into the ceramic shell. Once cooled, the shell is knocked off and sprues removed. The cast bronze parts are welded together and the figure is chased before a patina is applied through the use of chemical solutions. Finally, the sculpture is waxed to a finish.
Benson maintains that being able to work as he does is a unique privilege. Usually in the company of a model, he often works in the studio against the soothing background of classical music. Indeed, now eminently collectable, Bensons work has provided much comfort after the recent death of Ruth. The things that matter in life to Benson now are those of beauty; he truly believes that romance and elegance are necessary shields to what he sees as the sometimes too hurried manner of life today.