Talking to the sculptor
Interview with Paul Day – April 2004
“The Embankment is a grand & austere townscape with superb views along the Thames. However, all the monuments in the vicinity are perched on high plinths or are remote and over formal. Monuments in general portray rigid characters, starched demi-gods and brooding heroes from an unknown Golden-Age. I think that this Monument ought to be on a human scale, approachable, visually exciting in its detail and something that seduces the passer-bye to slow, even stop and gaze at a tale of modern heroism seen through modern eyes.
The Battle of Britain at its core is about youthful courage, dogged determination in the face of technologically efficient terror, and a joy for life with purpose, (the purpose being to fight for one’s life and the continued existence of one’s nation) that cements individuals into a great collective force, to serve no other ideology than that of freedom to be free from oppressive ideologies. It was clearly an unambiguous struggle for good over the oppression of what later became clear to be unrivalled evil.
The actual combat involved a comparative handful of very young pilots – the Few – fighting from the controls of formidably powerful machines against a huge and experienced enemy. On the ground, however, the collective effort to enable those boys to remain in the air was no less heroic. It was an unglamorous heroism: that of the factory worker, the aircraft mechanic or the telephone engineer – men and women playing their vital part in the colossal drama that was being enacted in the skies above them – the future of the Nation and ultimately the World hung in the Balance.
I think that, with our historical distance from the events (64 years !), the Monument can portray this epic tale without hurting the sensibilities of any who mourned losses and is therefore free to tackle the thing head on without political constraints – to give an historical rendition, an almost journalistic account. It is my intention to honour the pilots of course but not to beatify them. There exist plenty of apotheoses in recent monument history to satisfy the needs of the neoclassically minded. There are enough minimalist monuments which avoid harming sensibilities but which at the same time avoid touching sensibilities too. There are excellent exceptions in all possible genres but there are few Monuments that I have seen that really tease me into an intimate appreciation of the subject – mainly because they always serve the needs for grandeur and an architectural setting.
In this particular case, it is my opinion that a low Monument at eye level not only serves my own designs to create a Monument that is close and approachable but also responds imaginatively to the architectural setting in a way that enhances what exists without dominating it and fills the gap for detail that, left empty, makes a stroll along the embankment a breathtaking but impersonal affair.”