You can get a crash course in Nick Hornby’s work over the course of an hour-long walk around London. The artist has three permanent sculptures installed throughout the city, metal silhouettes that start out familiar but transform depending on your point of view. In St. James, his conquering horse, inspired by Richard I, turns into an amorphous squiggle as you turn; while he was in Kensington, his version of Caspar David Friedrich’s work Homeless it becomes abstract; and a bust of Nefertiti serves as the Albert Memorial.
Raising questions about the power and role of the monument, the trio is a clever combination of craft and concept. They are also feats of digital innovation. Horseback riding, for example, began as a digital model written in Python. It was then unrolled into individual components to be laser cut into metal and then assembled by manufacturers. “It was a lovely, fluid relationship between concept, digital processes and mechanical fabrications: 165 pieces manipulated into a six-and-a-half-ton object,” Hornby says from his studio in northwest London. “But when people look at it, they don’t see that at all.”
“I like to think that one of the distinctive features of my work is its ambition to capture the imagination of anyone, not limited to the art world; try to address complicated ideas in simple English. “Anyone will recognize the trope of the man on horseback and react to how I have manipulated it.”
This kind of technical-conceptual magic is Hornby’s calling card. Preferring the screen to the sketchpad, he uses 3D modeling as a basis for abstract sculptures that reference the art historical canon and challenge notions of authorship: twisted combinations of works by Hepworth, Brancusi, Rodin and more; michael angel profile David extruded in a single point, readable only from above.
He started young, creating life-size terracotta figures at school while his classmates worked on simpler vessels. “But then I went to art school and I thought I didn’t want to make a Rodin pastiche. I wanted to be part of the future. I wanted to be innovative,” he says. “So I jumped into technology.”
At the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he enrolled in the late 1990s, Hornby thrived on the new. There were forays into video; a semester at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she joined the artist-hacker collective Radical Software/Critical Artware; and musical experiments with MAX MSP, the object-oriented programming language employed by Radiohead in the early 2000s. But it was only after completing a master’s degree when she was thirty that her career took its current form.
“I actually had a pretty radical sea change in my relationship with technology,” he says. “I got quite frustrated when people said, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ How did you do it?’ because I find that question really boring. “I’m much more interested in the question, ‘What does this mean?’” That’s why, over the last decade, Hornby has eliminated “any form of human subjectivity,” he says. Cables and screens were blacked out and rough edges erased with laser precision. It is much better to invite questions of substance rather than questions of process.