Sculptor Neil Lawson Baker wants to put Chichester on the map

Neil with the maquette for 'Nurture'

Neil with the maquette for 'Nurture' - Credit: Archant

Sculptor Neil Lawson Baker moved to West Ashling near Chichester 25 years ago. He wants Chichester to become known internationally as a city of the arts, and jointly led the city into the 2013 City of Culture bid


Sterling - Credit: Archant

When I ask Neil Lawson Baker whether he always wanted to be a sculptor, his answer comes as something of a surprise. “No,” he says, “other than for the fact that I made pots at school and spent a lot of time with my dad learning how to develop and print photographs in his darkroom.” So was his father his artistic inspiration? “He was a good amateur photographer,” he responds, “but actually, I steered myself into medicine.”


Nurture - Credit: Archant

Neil qualified as a Dental Surgeon, and then studied for a degree in Medicine and Surgery. He worked in medicine for 40 years, starting with registrarships in ENT, Plastic Surgery and Radiotherapy, before becoming senior partner in a dental surgery in Belgravia, London. But fate intervened…

“After falling ill from an injury at work I had to spend four months at home, and I started sculpting,” he says. “I had a needle stick injury through my glove while operating, and that particular patient was later discovered to have been carrying Hepatitis B. Three months later I was very seriously ill and had to cease practice. We had over 8,000 patients to look after in London and I eventually had four months off work to fully recover. With the threat of not being able to practise surgery if I remained as a carrier hanging over me, I started sculpting in my bedroom while in solitary confinement.”

These days, Neil is a self-taught sculptor, who also works in paint and photography. He has created many high profile pieces, which are on display all over the world, the largest of which is The Keris, created for the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia. By contrast, the smallest is about 5” high, a work called Sterling (right), which depicts Sterling and the ECU (European Community Unit which pre-empted the EURO) in direct opposition. “Lady Thatcher used my maquette as a paperweight on her parliamentary desk!” He remembers fondly. “Another fun commission was dedicated by HM The Queen to the opening of the English end of the Channel Tunnel in 1994.”

With great works like these to his name, it is difficult to imagine what might be next for Neil, but unsurprisingly, he has a plan up his sleeve. “I have been asked to submit 15 photographic works for The Royal Photographic Society and I am casting some fairly major bronzes too.” And if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Neil is also the CEO of The National Open Art Competition. Now in its 18th year, National Open Art attracts over 3,500 entries annually. This year’s exhibition showcasing the winners will open at London’s Somerset House, before touring to The Minerva in Chichester, and then to Pallant House Gallery.

“We reach 30,000 visitors in person,” says Neil of the competition. “We give £60,000 in prizes and National Open Art is highly regarded as the best open art competition in the UK – it is a joy to help emerging and established artists by getting their work shown, and often sold, at major venues. It’s great to be a little bit useful, nurturing creativity and furthering careers.”

The National Open has a small, dedicated team here in Chichester, supporting artists across the UK. “With £60,000 of prize money we are proud that this Sussex enterprise is now spoken of as the best open art competition in the UK,” he says of the venture ( still continues to sculpt, with most of his work now coming through commissions. His work will be part of the Chichester Art Trail in May, and the National Open Art Exhibition opens at Somerset House on 18 September. It will then show at Minerva Theatre and Pallant House Gallery in November and December. Neil Lawson Baker, West Ashling, Chichester; 01243 576 082; 07802 896073;