Wooden Bowl by Paul Caton

Paul Caton

by Helen Johnson

Sculptor Paul Caton says, “When I was 50, I reached a point of seeing things differently, through more mature eyes, rather than being the restless youngster wanting to conquer the world.”
Sculpture was Paul’s third choice of career. He says, “First on my list, I wanted to be an RAF pilot, but then they wanted A* in maths and physics, so that was the end of that.”
His second choice was forestry, and he went to Switzerland to learn forestry. “It was very hard work. We were in the mountains, using horses to bring out the timber.” Despite the hard work, Paul says, “During long lunch breaks, while the others were sleeping, I did a bit of carving. I bought a mallet and some proper gouges - and of course, I had an endless supply of wood.”
“The other foresters would smile and say ‘that’s lovely’. Word got out, people heard about the English Carver and came out to look at me. Then they bought my work.”
That made a connection for me, between sculpture and making money. Before that, although sculpture had been the third thing I’d wanted to do, I hadn’t thought that you could make money doing it.”
This revelation tipped Paul into his career. He returned to his parents’ home in Devon, and says, “I started as a sculptor. I was inspired by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Constantin Brâncuçi, and by two potters, Lucy Rie and Hans Cooper.”
“I had no training. I wish now that I had - I wish I’d been to Art School and I really wish I’d done business training. I just went to the sawmill, got lumps of wood, and carved. Then I did the same in stone.”
“When I was aged about 22, I got a big commission for a granite sculpture in Okehampton. It was six and a half tons of Dartmoor granite, carved into an abstract piece based on ideas of a Dartmoor Tor. I did a lot of large sculptures based on nature: bones, shells etc, they sold all over. There was a magazine article about me, and I was a member of the Devon Guild.”
“All this was in the early 70s. Then one day, I bought a log with a big crack down the middle. I could see two bowls in it, so I hand carved them, following the shape of the log. They were organic, and very thick. They sold very quickly.”
The sale of the bowls proved a second tipping point: “I found abstract sculpture very frustrating, as in the art world, you have to explain everything. Mine were just forms - quite naive art, really. But bowls had a purpose. They were tactile, they looked nice as sculptures - but they could be used too, to put fruit in for example. I enjoyed them, so I started exploring bowls, their form, etc.”
Paul recalls, “We moved to Bath and I became known as a bowl maker, in wood and stone, then I began bronze too. I could sell everything I made then, things were going really well.”
“The bronze bowls ring when you strike them, so I thought about turning them upside down and making them into bells. I started bells in about 1980, they’re more Buddhist type than English Church. I make them in various sizes, for various locations. There’s one at Iona Abbey and lots in private homes and gardens.”
Paul moved house again, to Somerset, then to Shropshire. All the while, he says, “I made lots of bowls. They’re in collections all over the world: America, Japan, Britain, etc. I became a Crafts Council member and taught at John Makepeace’s school at Parnham House. I’ve made bowls from 5 inches to 5 feet, so big that you can get in and curl up.”
“When I was aged 40, I received a Crafts Council ‘mid life crisis’ grant to go to Carrara, where Michaelangelo’s marble was quarried. Carrara has over 40 sculpture workshops. I was as happy as a pig in muck. If you could pick up something from the spoil heaps at the quarries, you could have it. There were workshops, where a bench with pneumatic tools was £5 a day, with a tutor looking over your shoulder.”
“I brought back a loaded trailer. That was definitely a Tipping Point.”
Reviewing his working life, Paul says, “I think most of my tipping points were age related. When I was 20, I was interviewed by Devon Life, and the reporter asked what I wanted. I replied that I wanted to be rich and famous. But by famous, I meant that I wanted to be respected by my peers. And by rich, I meant sufficient financial security to do the work I wanted to do. I wanted the freedom to do the work I wanted to do, and doors to be opened for me to be accepted in the art world.”
“At 30, I was married with a child coming along, and my priorities changed. Now I was worried about the mortgage and so on. At 40, you wonder, is this what I’m doing with my life. That’s when I got the grant to go to Carrara.”
“At 50, you mature and realise that there’s no panic. You start taking life in a more measured way.”
He comments, “I’m terrible at finances, marketing, PR and so on. Some people are very good at it and   I admire them. But with me, it faded as I didn’t keep up with exhibitions, magazine articles, and so on. I waited for them to come to me.“
As competition grew, publicity tended not to come to the waiting Paul so frequently, and he took a part-time teaching job.
However, he loves his teaching, saying, “I’m going to be 60 this year and I see the teaching as part of the balance of life. It mentally stretches me. I took an OU degree in 2005, just because I enjoyed it. I teach economics, geography, and sociology at an international school. It’s fascinating. When we do sociology, I can ask what it’s like in Kazakhstan, or Taiwan, or whatever.”
The contrast keeps Paul interested in his sculpture, which he continues.
He’s always seen himself more as a maker than a businessman and says, “I’ve always wanted an agent. People like me desperately need an agent. I’ve suggested it to a couple of people, but no-one’s taken it up.”
“I recently wrote an article for Caroline Mornement’s Crafts Galleries Guide. I wrote that I see galleries as the business and PR side of us craftsmen. It’s a partnership that’s a good blend: galleries don’t want to make, just sell. And we makers don’t want to sell, just make.”
“My work has always brought pleasure to people. It’s nice to see people smile when they see it and stroke it. I’m not trying to shock, or be too profound. My work’s quite naive, like African art. It has no weird names. I’m still enjoying my work and see it going on for ages.”

Paul Caton
T: 01568 770607

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