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Brendan Jamison

by Sarah McAvera

January 2012

Brendan Jamison is the Lewis Carroll of the sculpture world. His creations lead you into new worlds and offer you the chance to view your existing world in a new light. Jamison’s sculptural works can be divided into three main categories: Sugar; wax and wool. In addition, he’s experimented with bronze and video works.

Best known for the sugar cube works, it would be easy to dismiss Jamison as a decorative sculptor, but to do so would only indicate a lack of imagination in the critic. Regardless of the medium he is working in, the common thread in Jamison’s works is their appeal to fantasy. A woollen tunnel suggests a literal path to a brighter, warmer world, while bright yellow jcb buckets made of wax make it hard to resist picking them up and playing with them.

Sugar cube sculptures fall into two categories: those created as miniature replicas of real towers and buildings and those created as monuments to Jamison’s imagination. These works have attracted significant press attention and demand for custom-made towers has led to a waiting list of over a year. The interest has not just been from the art world, but also from architectural spheres, most notably from NEO Bankside, Tate Modern's neighbour, who commissioned Jamison to recreate Tate Modern and the four NEO Bankside towers designed by world renowned architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, buildings in carved sugar cubes for the 2010 London Festival of Architecture.

The detail involved in Jamison’s sugar sculptures is amazing. The viewer is left transfixed while trying to assimilate the architectural exactitude with the apparently conflicting choice of medium. Whether creating the fairytale turrets of a castle or the angular lines of the Tate Modern, Jamison manages to entice us into choosing his glistening white version rather than the overpowering colours and textures of reality.

The incongruity of his architectural feats and their media, sugar, wax, wool, is what makes Jamison’s site-specific works so successful and why subsequent exhibition of the works are particularly successful in buildings that themselves display architectural interest. The Tate Modern sculpture went on view at Sotheby’s on New Bond Street London, and four other sugar cube sculptures were included in an exhibition there in October 2010, curated by Janice Blackburn.

In July 2011 Jamison created a gigantic piece for an exhibition curated by Sanna Moore at the Towner Museum in Eastbourne. Jamison’s description of what this piece entails is magical “a 5 metre tall collapsing tower built from giant sugar cubes combined with loose sugar crystals spread across the gallery floor in a sea of sparkles.” Jamison’s success can be attributed to the fact that unlike many artists, he has the ability to think and express himself not just visually, but also in a literary fashion. He writes his own fairytale and then creates it in such a way that it can be shared.

As with all artists who have developed a practice that has become commercially viable, Jamison has had to contend with accusations of making a commercial product rather than art. Born in 1979, Jamison received a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Ulster in 2004. Looking at his back catalogue of works (most of which have now been sold) his determination of vision is evident and a clear progress of works can be seen. For years Jamison supported his practice by working for a large supermarket chain and he credits the business acumen he has learnt along the way to these early years. The tactile nature of his work, the sparkling sugar, the luminescent wax, the indulgent wools and luxuriantly cool bronzes, all demanded a high standard of materials. Jamison has not changed his modus operandi. All of his works, past and present are testament to the fact that the work itself was the achievement, a sale merely a bonus and a method of perpetuating his practice.

Matilda Battersby in The Independent talks about the connection between works made out of edible substances and our senses, describing Jamison’s sugarcube works as “vast fairytale towers, turrets and minarets which sparkle like diamonds and look extremely lickable.” She goes on to quote Jamison as saying “The thing with sugar is that when people look at it they’re not just seeing it, they taste it in their mouth,” I would argue that all of Jamison’s work, edible or not, is an assault on the senses and that it is this ability to make viewers connect with the work at a primal, sensory level that is the key to its success.

While art is usually thought of as a primarily visual medium, it is interesting to hypothesize that Jamison’s works demand to be viewed in terms of our sense of taste or touch. Sculptural works have traditionally been made of beautiful materials, such as marble or bronze, but they have been designed with their medium secondary to the image that they represent. Jamison’s acceptance that his choice of media is made with full awareness of their ability for multi-sensory stimulation suggests that the works are made as a challenge to preconceived notions of visual art as a passive option for the viewer. By stimulating a whole variety of senses, Jamison’s sculptural works provoke a highly personal response that is not always on a wholly conscious level. Connections between reality and fantasy are hard to decipher and childhood memories are alongside structural reality.

At a basic level, Jamison’s works allow us to become caught up in them and for the time we are actively observing them, participating in their world, we are suspended from our own. All definitions of good art are subjective, but if we can agree that good literature, such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, works precisely because it allows us to escape into another world, while bringing a part of ourselves with it, then exactly the same can be said for Brendan Jamison’s sculptural works. Quirky, fun and so full of possibility, Jamison has designed a practice that allows us to escape down the rabbit hole and into a new world.


Sarah McAvera Critico e curatore indipendente, vive a Belfast. Collabora con “Irish Arts Review”, “Circa” e “State of Art”. È Belfast editor di cura.magazine.



McAVERA, SARAH. "Into a New World: Brendan Jamison", cura. [online], Rome, Italy, January 2012









All images © Brendan Jamison 2008-2012