North London based artist, Paula Barnard-Groves, doesn’t hide the rollercoaster of her midlife. Scupltor43 is the name of her practise: “it says a lot about my backstory, 43 being an age at which many things happened in my life. You could call it a pivotal point.” Now in her 50s, she has learned to embrace imperfections like those unrefined pieces she carefully selects for her artwork. “Inherent beauty is everywhere – she said- from found metal that shows its journey, to a shiny finish on a new sheet of steel, with its unknown future ahead. My passionate belief is that art should nurture the planet as well as the soul, and my use of materials reflects this.” Lorenza Bacino has met the sculptor who not only makes wonders from both new and reclaimed metal but has also learned how to turn hard-times into a platform for relaunching her successful career.
It’s certainly no quick fix to midlife crisis for sculptor Paula Barnard-Groves.
“It’s a work in progress for me– she said-. At times I’ve felt overwhelmed by the amount of information I’m taking in. I know I haven’t done enough in the day-to-day, but if I take it on and implement the necessary changes, I know that I will have the freedom in other areas of my life“.
She turned 50 earlier this year and an operation on her hand combined with other health issues forced her to take a back seat and reflect upon where she was and where she planned to go in the next decade.
Paula learned how to weld after finishing what, for her, turned out to be a rather underwhelming course in interior design in the late 1980s. “My welding job helped me merge my worlds,” she explains, “I was allowed to use the workshop there and they gave me scrap metals to work with. I blended my creativity and practicality and began making sculptures out of recycled metals”.
That was 30 years ago. Since then she has sold her pieces worldwide but -rather surprisingly- Paula admits she’s not great with money.
“I’ve always struggled financially, and that’s stopped me doing a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do. My misguided money beliefs go back to childhood, and when they began impacting on my sense of self-worth as I got older, I decided to take control and do something about it.”
And this year has certainly changed how Paula views things which has been a very important step in taking control of her life.
My hand took quite a while to heal and I had no choice but to think about my future – she admits-. I knew I needed to reposition myself, to understand why I’m like this. When I began to research and read around people’s relationship with money, I found I wasn’t alone. Many people are stuck in this mindset and I wanted to overcome it. There is only so long you can struggle with something before you realise you need to change and I had reached that point. Turning 50 meant I was also comparing myself with others who seemed better placed than me to enjoy this stage in their lives.
That was the kick start she needed.
Paula began listening to podcasts – she found Art Juice really inspiring -and acting on book recommendations. She attended classes and training on topics that took her out of her comfort zone. At one such seminar, she heard entrepreneur Daniel Priestley speak.
“He really stood out for me over all the other speakers, and I ended up reading his book entitled –Key Person of Influence– which lays out a five-step plan on how to become a highly valued person of influence in your field”.
That was it, she was hooked.
“I’ve been doing the online training course, KPI, for the past few months. You have tasks and goals to reach and work collaboratively in groups, plus monthly masterclasses. We’re also put into ‘accountability’ groups which have been brilliant for ideas and feedback. I feel a bit of an imposter sometimes– she laughs- as mostly it’s business people who attend these sorts of events and do these courses. But it’s been such an eye-opener for me. I’ve learned so much during the last 9 months I’ve been studying and implementing his strategy.”
Today, in spite of feeling swamped, the dust is slowly settling and the way forward is becoming clearer. Her outdoor sculptures continue to evolve as well as her imagination. The most significant impact on her creative practices in recent years? Being connected with like minds.
“We’re all different and we all have to work on our own journey – she said-. For me, it’s about bringing in this new knowledge to expand my practice and get better at what I do. One important project I am formulating in my mind revolves around the money thing. I think financial responsibility needs to be taught in schools – she explains- as part of the national curriculum and I am working on a series of podcasts aimed at dealing with various aspects of money and how it can impact on people’s lives”.
Most of her work is privately commissioned by clients from all walks of life. She has made small interior pieces as family gifts, large-scale outdoor works of art as bigger commemorative pieces, and weighty corporate sculptures – pieces of public art that take into account the surroundings as much as the specific brief and intent.
For Paula, metal has a history and a beauty, a story untold. The starting point to a journey that celebrated an object’s entire life. “I use new as well as used materials to create works to many scales and styles. There is something satisfying about creating beauty from items that would have otherwise been discarded. Placed alongside fresh materials, the story becomes complex, unusual, multi-layered”. Like her fantastic path through the beauty of midlife reinvention.