A proposed new Chichester sculpture will allow people to sit and chat with the great poet John Keats close to where he started writing his celebrated work The Eve of St Agnes.
Sculptor Vincent Gray makes the distinction between statues and sculpture. Statues are lofty, remote, untouchable figures on plinths. Sculptures are works which demand and encourage interaction, and it’s definitely a sculpture he is proposing. Vincent’s work will depict Keats on a bench, and the idea is that people will be able to sit next to him, sense his presence and follow his eyes as he looks towards Chichester Cathedral.
The sculpture is intended for Eastgate Square, just outside Carluccio’s. Keats will be looking to his left towards the city centre. Behind him will be the building – already commemorated by a plaque – in which he started his poem.
Vincent has already secured planning permission. Now the big task which remains is to fund the project. Vincent estimates he will need to raise £30, 000, an investment which he believes will be richly rewarded in terms of the interest the sculpture will create as a genuine tourist attraction in its own right. Vincent predicts the piece will also play its part in the ongoing regeneration of the Eastgate Square area.
Vincent believes it will also raise cultural awareness on an inter- and cross-community level and provide access to the arts for all. Plus it will celebrate and interact with Chichester’s rich heritage; it will also produce a positive image of Chichester at local, national and international level. But above all, it will celebrate Keats –to whom Chichester hasn’t yet given his due, Vincent feels.
“I did a little bit of research in general and wanted to get inspiration for potential artworks, and I learned that Keats had lived in Chichester for a short time. He had stayed in Eastgate Square. I believe he was there for three months, and it was there he started to write The Eve of St Agnes. I started thinking ‘So why isn’t he represented in the form of a portrait or sculpture in Chichester?’ I felt it was important he should be. I decided to make a maquette (of the possible sculpture) and present it to various people to see if there was the interest to take the project forward.”
To have had Keats actually facing the building he stayed in could have forced viewers out into the road. Instead the building will be behind him as he looks to his left towards the Crypt and the Cathedral, places with which he was also associated. The only problem is the clock is now ticking. The planning permission is valid for another 18 months, by which time work needs to have started – though as Vincent says, production of the maquette is in itself a start to the work. But Vincent knows he needs to get the money coming in. He was delighted to receive a £2,500 boost to the project from the Earl of March. He is hoping to raise the bulk through www.shareagift.com/Pages/14594.
Vincent has now produced a number of maquettes, which he intends to tour to various locations in the hope of widening interest. Each will come with a collecting box/coin slot.
Cheques should be made payable to Vincent Gray – Keats Sculpture, care of City Centre Partnership, BID office, First Floor, 82 North Street, Chichester, West Sussex.