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Exhibition for renowned Norfolk sculptor about to celebrate 80th birthday

PUBLISHED: 10:12 16 February 2019

Ros Newman and her exhibit for the 2005 Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail.
  Photo: Simon Finlay

Ros Newman and her exhibit for the 2005 Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail. Photo: Simon Finlay

Archant © 2005

Fifty years after her first exhibition, Ros Newman is sharing her life's work in a new show.

Sculptor Ros Newman first exhibited her work in 1969. Exactly 50 years on the Norwich artist has a new solo show.

Ros is renowned for her flights of metal doves, for figures of horses and cheetahs which seem to flow through air, and for sculptures of women which combine the fluidity of a sketch with the sheen and permanence of steel.

An exhibition of her work, spanning her entire sculpting career, opens at the Fairhurst Gallery, Bedford Street, Norwich, on Tuesday, February 19 and runs until March 30.

It includes her first ever sculpture, a soldier, made as a student from off-cuts of metal foraged from bins in the college welding department. The exhibition takes viewers through her career via sequences of sinuous steel sculptures of people and animals. It also includes some of the metal “sketches” Ros created before embarking upon each piece. Now nearing 80, Ros has stopped work and dismantled her studio. “I have had my day, and enjoyed every single second of it!” she said. “I can look back at an incredibly rich, exciting and rewarding career. Steel found me and I embraced her with all my passion.”

From her Norwich home she explained how she tries to lead the viewer into seeing more than the metal lines of the sculpture, so that an undulating line through forehead, nose and mouth becomes a whole face and the silhouette of a bird, curved and polished, takes flight. “The brain fills in the parts that are not there,” she said.

Ros grew up in London surrounded by art and artists. An uncle was director of the Tate from 1938-1964 and her artist grandfather was principal of the Royal College of Art in the 1920s and 1930s where he mentored Henry Moore. His friends included HG Wells, Degas and Rodin, more than 200 of his paintings are in the National Portrait Gallery and he helped develop the concept of war artists.

Ros went to art school at 16, but left for jobs including teaching woodwork at a progressive school and making guitars before returning to study at another college – where she discovered a passion for welding. “I found myself where they had welding equipment and I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said.

Picking up discarded scraps of metal she began developing her own way of using steel, and an oxyacetylene welding torch, to create sculptures. She bought her first roll of metal from a business making shop security shutters and transformed it into people, birds and animals. The tension between the solidity of the cold metal and flowing lines created by the heat of her welding torch, give each piece a sense of speed and movement.

When every piece in her first solo show sold, in the early 1970s, she used the money to a barn in Stibbard, near Fakenham. Here she and her husband created a house and studio. For the past 40 years Ros has lived and worked in Norwich, setting up her studio and donning thick leather gloves and goggles to continue shaping sheets of metal into fabulously fluid figures.

Alongside her sculpture she has taught evening classes and made props for Anglia Television’s Tales of the Unexpected series. One of her dramatic Flight of Birds sculptures is on permanent display at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, thanks to funds raised by the Norwich Contemporary Art Society, and Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham, has another.

Fairhurst Gallery director Dulcie Humphrey was just nine when she first met Ros, who became a family friend. “I would spend time with Ros making jewellery and was fascinated by her workshop and sculptures,” said Dulcie.

“So, for me now, it is the highest of honours to celebrate Ros’ life’s work within the gallery.”

Woman of Steel, a retrospective of the life and works of sculptor Ros Newman, runs from Tuesday, February 19 to March 30 at the Fairhurst Gallery, Bedford Street, Norwich. fairhurstgallery.co.uk

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