People in Chichester can now sit and pass the time of day with John Keats, just yards from where the poet started writing his celebrated work The Eve of St Agnes.
Sculptor Vincent Gray’s depiction of Keats was unveiled at the weekend in Eastgate Square by Chichester-based actress Dame Patricia Routledge.
Now it is up to the people of Chichester to complete the piece – simply by sitting beside Keats on his bench.
Vincent makes the distinction between statues and sculpture. Statues are lofty, remote, untouchable figures on plinths. Sculptures are works which demand and encourage interaction, and it’s definitely a sculpture he has produced.
He wants people to sit next to Keats, sense his presence and follow his eyes as he looks down East Street towards Chichester Cathedral and other Chichester landmarks mentioned in The Eve of St Agnes. Behind him is the building – already commemorated by a plaque – in which he started the poem. Vincent said he felt incredibly honoured and proud and privileged to have brought the project to such a happy conclusion – a major new addition to the streets of his own home city.
From the original conception, the project has taken around three years at a cost of £30,000 to £5,000, originally raised in donations, and then £20,000 released in section 106 agreement money through the district council, with the city council making up the deficit.
“I am absolutely over the moon. Every sculptor is looking for a big important public sculpture and this one is a big important sculpture in my own city of Chichester. I feel very privileged. The day of the unveiling was glorious, beautiful sunshine. The sculpture was enveloped by a crowd of people three or four deep in the dappled shade of the trees, and Dame Patricia Routledge’s speech was very moving. It was an extraordinary day.
“Cynics might say ‘Why Keats in Chichester? He was only here for a brief period.’ But it was here he started writing the poem, and in it he referred to various architectural landmarks in Chichester… which he is looking towards as he sits on his bench. I am really delighted with the way people have responded to it and the interest that people have taken in the whole thing.”
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