Tate & Smile: artist sculpts iconic building in sugar

By Nuala McCann
BBC News

Image caption,
Sugar Tate: sculptor Brendan Jamison with his model of the Tate Modern

If you had to classify artist Brendan Jamison, you might say he's a cubist.

His is the school of sugar cubes.

For this Belfast-based artist has taken more than a tonne of sugar lumps and sculpted them into beautiful intricate models that glitter in the daylight, in the way that only pure white sugar can.

He is most proud of his latest commission: the iconic Tate Modern building in London, made to scale, using exactly 71,908 sugar cubes.

"It's easy to count them," he said, "You get 160 cubes in a box." And he has used thousands of boxes.

His Tate Modern sculpture is 2m wide and weighs in at 224kg.

It was commissioned by Native Land and Grosvenor for the 2010 London Festival of Architecture, which runs until 4 July.

He also created a sugar model of NEO Bankside - four apartment pavilions beside the Tate Modern.

Visitors to the festival will be able to see the models, housed in a special pavilion behind glass - so that the sugar models mirror the real buildings behind.

'Labour of love'

For Brendan, 31, the work was a labour of love.

"Aside from the colossal scale of Tate Modern sculpture, I also enjoyed the challenge of constructing and carving the hexagonal towers of Neo Bankside," he said.

Brendan's interest in architecture began in childhood. He was always a 3-D thinker, he said, and there was one toy he loved above all others.

"I was always in my room building Lego models," he said.

"I built spaceships and castles but I never bothered with the instructions... I just built whatever I could think of in my mind."

Throwing away the instructions, he unlocked the key to a creativity which sees the beauty in the ordinary.

Not for him clay, stone or marble, in his years at art school in Belfast and afterwards, he took wool and wax and sugar and created art from them.

He came to sugar after a brief dalliance with Smarties - and was attracted by how he could cut and carve the cubes.

"There was more freedom in working with them," he explained.

"I was attracted by the beautiful sparkles on the sugar cubes. It is a beautiful finish, you can see the fairytale sparkle in the natural light."

In his final year at the University of Ulster, his exhibition featured seven 9ft tall sculptures - they were temples and minarets and giant cacti.

This devil is in the detail.

For buildings, Brendan begins his work by studying intricate architects' plans and works to scale.

Image caption,
Helen's Tower in sugar: © Brendan Jamison

In the case of the Tate Modern, the scale was 1:100 and it took three months to complete, plus another two months to build the NEO Bankside.

Visitors to his exhibitions are always stunned by the intricacy of the models. They worry that sugar will be fragile.

He usually treats them to the "knock" test - to show that the models can take a few knocks. He uses special glue which is absorbed into the sugar to bond the cubes together.

Next spring, with support from the Northern Ireland Arts Council, he will build his tallest and most ambitious sugar model to date - a 5m-high turret from Helen's Tower in Bangor.

Last year, he created a smaller version of the tower with every twist, balcony and casement window fashioned with precision, right down to the chimney of hearts. The new version will be the largest sugar cube construction in the world.

Brendan Jamison's work has been exhibited all over the world - in India, China, Sweden, New Zealand, Germany, France, Canada and the US.

It is a long way from childhood days building Lego on the bedroom floor.

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