Chiseled doric columns, ornate arches, vaulted ceilings, staircases, and tiny sculptures within a sculpture—all of this fits into miniature architectural spaces that resemble ancient and medieval ruins and sacred architecture carved into raw marble and stone. These historical sculptures are brought to life by an internationally acclaimed British sculptor, Matthew Simmonds (previously here on Bored Panda), who currently lives and works in Denmark.
His intricate three-dimensional interiors look very real from up close until you see that they are sculptures that are often less than a foot wide. In his work, Simmonds draws inspiration from real historical buildings, but most of his works are not reproductions and offer his own take and expertise on classic architecture.
Check out the amazing gallery of some of the best works that Simmonds has sculpted since 1999 when he gained his first recognition.
"Making a play of architectural spaces on a small scale, the solid stone into which the sculptures are carved is opened up to reveal intricate internal worlds in which the changing viewpoint and light play a strong role in defining the sculptures," the artist writes in his artistic statement. These impressively detailed works explore positive and negative forms, light and darkness, the contrast between designs and the raw surface of his medium, and the relationship between nature and humans.
We contacted Simmonds and he agreed to share his story and experience with Bored Panda. The artist started off by telling us about how his artistic journey began.
"I have always had a passion and interest in historical stone buildings, leading me to study medieval art and architecture at university. I didn't think about working stone practically myself until many years later. On a visit to Chichester Cathedral in the South of England in 1990, I saw a display about the work of the stonemasons restoring the cathedral and, in a sort of epiphany, knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. This was at first as a craftsperson rather than as an artist. It was after transferring to Pietrasanta, Italy, which is home and workplace to a lot of sculptors, that I began to think of what I wanted to express in stone in terms of my own art."
Simmonds said that his main inspiration is rooted in historical architecture and its sculpture, particularly from ancient and medieval times.
"I'm mostly interested in religious architecture, and the sense of sacred spaces that this can invoke. I have always been more inspired by common heritage than the work of individual artists. I am also inspired by the qualities of the material itself, and the potential that exists in a solid, often once living, material where the creative process involves only the removal of material."
Simmonds shared the idea behind creating miniature architectural spaces carved into marble and stone: "I have always been fascinated with interior spaces. As a child, I was enamoured by the dioramas of the children’s gallery in the Science Museum, London (now sadly gone), which depicted small worlds within a frame that you could imagine continued forever out of site. I try to create my spaces as worlds set apart from everyday life, where the viewer can feel a one-to-one connection to the inner world they are visually entering into. I also want to express the relationship between the things created from stone and the material itself, by contrasting the natural and worked surfaces, and drawing attention to the idea that there are potentially worlds inside the stone already."
The artist walked us through the meticulous process of bringing his ideas to life and they are not always clear until the art piece is done.
"The first step is usually to select a piece of natural stone that I feel is right for a sculpture. Sometimes instead I cut a squared stone to a size that fits an idea I have. Usually, I don't have a completely clear idea when I start.
For example, in Tetraconch II I decided to make a centralised domed space but I wasn’t sure of the final form. In this piece, I started by carving out the dome with a cylindrical space underneath. The new surface I created then served as a canvas to elaborate the space step by step. It’s very difficult to visualise precisely what any stage in the work will look like beforehand, particularly the shape of the line created where the natural stone meets the worked surface in the early stages of the work, so it helps to have certain flexibility in the working process.
I use a lot of hand-held pneumatic and electric tools in the early stages—grinders and disc-cutters as well as a pneumatic hammer and chisels, which are very effective in roughing out the spaces. As the work progresses I prefer to use more traditional hand tools on a lot of the finer detailing."
We asked about the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of Simmonds' job.
"The most challenging is probably the technical aspect of removing stone in internal spaces. The most rewarding is seeing an artwork realised in real physical form, and to feel the life that it has. A lot of creative energy is put into any artistic endeavour, which is then given back many times over to the artist by the finished work."
"I’ve always been drawn to medieval architecture, where interior spaces and light are often used to express the Divine," the artist said about his favorite subject to sculpt. "This is the period of historical architecture that I’m most knowledgeable about and feel the greatest affinity for. In many ways, medieval church architecture can be defined by its characteristic of drawing a lot of complex spaces together into a unified single space. This is something I like to explore, particularly the common ties between the styles of different places and times. Recently, I have found myself drawn to exploring the more centrally planned Eastern church architecture of Armenia and the Byzantine Empire."
Simmonds highlighted the completion of Windows 2017, which he calls "a mammoth undertaking," and winning the prize at Cavaion Veronese in 1999 as the proudest moments of his career, but claims that he's his own worst critic.
"I’m always very happy when the work is recognised. Like a lot of artists I’m often my own worst critic, and getting feedback from people who the work has meant something to is a valuable form of support. I remember winning first prize at the Cavaion Veronese sculpture symposium in 1999. I was quite unsure about the piece I chose to make beforehand, and also if I could make it in the allotted time, but it proved to be the initial starting point for most of my work over the years. The fact that it was well-received by the judges and a lot of people in the town I think played a large part in giving me confidence to pursue this path."
Note: this post originally had 60 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.