Digger talked to
sculptor Laura Lian who has created memorable
and highly-valued images of some of pop culture's greatest icons,
including The Eagles, U2, The Beatles and George Best.
with John Lennon sculpture
Can you tell us a brief bit about you background?
Laura: I was born in Cambridge, raised in Canada and lived back here
for my mature years.
Digger: You look young in the photos.
Laura: That's what everybody says.
Digger: And you don't sound how you look.
Laura: Yes, somebody recently rang me up from a gallery and when I
met him he said "Gosh, I thought you'd be really tall!"
Digger: I don't hear tall, at all (Laughs)
Laura: I'm only five foot four and a half. And when people meet me
they go "Uh?" The good news is most people think I'm about
ten years younger than I am, which is 58.
Digger: Are you nostalgic-minded?
Laura: Yes, I am in that if I hear a Beatles song it sends me right
back to my youthful days. It's a heart thing. When you're young you
fall in love and life's exciting and romantic and I'm a child
of the sixties and went to all the pop concerts.
Digger: Where were you?
Laura: In my teens, I was in Toronto and The Beatles didn't come
over until I was about twelve or thirteen. I first saw them
on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Digger: Did you feel British or Canadian?
Laura: I always felt British in my heart. Even though I was brought
up as a Canadian. And I did come back and live here when I was 21.
My sister was two years older and into The Beatles big time . I was
influenced a bit by her . She went out and bought all the albums. My
first album was Revolver and I loved George Harrison. He was
actually my favourite until John Lennon left the group. I
liked John because of what he stood for. And what he stood for was
peace and love. And because I was a child of the sixties that's what
I was into. Sadly, I never saw them as a group. I did see John
Lennon and Yoko Ono in a pop concert in Canada. There were big names
like Jim Morrison there. It was a big concert and Alice Cooper was
there with all the chickens!
Digger: So it was the merging of Hippiedom with Glam Rock.
Laura: The punk thing didn't happen in Canada as big as here and we
didn't have things like the Mods. In Toronto we had greasers with
their slicked-back hair and hippies. I was a hippy chick with
bell-bottomed blue jeans. I felt there was more to life than 3D
reality and having kids and a marriage and a home and following that
suburban dream, which to me was a nightmare. I didn't want to take
that route. I just loved The Beatles and retro.and many other 60's
I never liked 'Glam' rock. It felt really superficial to me and this
was a British thing.
Although, let me ask you, what does retro actually mean?
Digger: Not meaning to sound glib, it means different things to
different people. I would say that the term retro relates to
anything that is 20th century popular culture fashion or style.
Which could be 20s flappers or 30s deco or 40s movies or 50s
furnishings or 60s pop or 70s Glam and Punk or 80s brick mobile
phones and Sinclair C5s. But retro can also technically mean
anything from the past, like Robin Hood, dinosaurs, Victoriana or
Stonehenge. Although I don't think it can ever relate to the decade
we are in or maybe the decade that preceded the one we're in.
Actually, it's a bit like trying to explain the off-side rule!
Laura: So John Lennon was inspirational to me - a leader who was
anti-establishment and I didn't like authority or anyone
telling me what to do. This attitude is probably because of my dad.
It didn't break my heart when they broke up as a band because he
went on creating and George and Paul did too. Even
though, as a group, I would say personally, The Beatles have got to
be the best creative group from the last century. Because they kept
fresh ideas going and every album was different . I got
involved with the Hard Day's Night Hotel in 2008 where they
commissioned me to do their logo in 3D form. I love the hotel and
what it stands for. I went on the Liverpool tour, have you been on
at the Hard Day's Night Hotel,
Liverpool with her logo
Digger: Yes, I certainly have. I went on one with the Fab Four
Taxis and it was really good value. It was about £40 for four of us
and it lasted about three hours or more. We saw everything.
Laura: They very kindly gave me a freebie and I met the guys running
the tour and what amazed me, absolutely floored me was the places
they pointed out where The Beatles got inspiration for their songs,
like Penny Lane. There's a picture of me there on my website.
Digger: Yes, I've seen that, in the rain.
Laura: And there's the Sergeant Pepper's cafe and I thought "My
God, these guys were geniuses because you'd expect Penny Lane to be
the most amazing street with lots of things going on and it is just
an ordinary street." It could be any street anywhere.
Digger: And Strawberry Fields is tiny.
Laura: Yes, and I thought these guys must have been really observant
and sensitive to be inspired by ordinary, everyday things and to
make the songs they did out of them was phenomenal.
Digger: Did you go over to see the Eleanor Rigby grave?
Laura: I think so, but I can't remember everything on the tour.
Digger: It's over the road from where they first played skiffle
as The Quarrymen in about '58.
Laura: We did stop at the houses where some of them lived.
For these guys, that came from such simple backgrounds, they wrote
such brilliant, imaginative, creative songs, not just the music but
the words. How many bands do that nowadays? Not many. Okay, so they
had George Martin.
Digger: Who they called the fifth Beatle.
Digger: You met George Martin?
Laura: Nordorf Robbins commissioned me to do the U2 band portrait
which I did to raise money for their charity . And it was really
amazing that it sold at auction for £22,000.00. I was very pleased
with that result. And that's how I met George Martin and had my
picture taken with him. I also met Bono there as well and managed to
grab him and get a photo taken before he bolted.
with Bono and George Martin
Digger: He didn't know who you were?
Laura: No, you don't get any status even if you've contributed a
sculpture. Anyway, I thought I had to grab him and I pushed myself,
even though I don't like having to do it, and I'd already asked this
couple to stand by with my camera and when I grabbed him I had his
arm and he looked at me rather indignantly and I told him I was the
sculptor that made the portrait of them and then he mellowed
and said "Oh, are you?" and asked me if he looked
like what I thought etc. He was very nice and obliging and so was
Digger: Who commissions your stuff and who buys it?
Laura: Nordorf Robbins commissioned me to do their U2 and Eagles art
to help raise money for their music therapy. So it can be
businesses, corporates, charities and, of course, individuals. The
David Seaman was commissioned by Cancer Research, George Best I did
myself because I actually met George once in London at Tramps and I
liked him a lot. For some reason I wanted to do him as he was part
of that sixties scene.
Digger: He was also called the fifth Beatle.
Laura: Yes. Of course, I wasn't living in this country in the 60's
so I didn't have a clue who George was till I came back here to
live. I gave one to the George Best trust as a donation.
Digger: I know you're very keen on the charities, but it must be
an occupational hazard that a lot of the people who contact you are
after charitable donations. But you need to make a living.
Laura: A few times I have given something away as a full donation
but I can't do that often as I simply can't afford it. I have
done deals where I get my reserve and I lower the price a bit so it
gives them a chance to make more money. In the heydays before the
credit crunch where money was easy for everybody it was going really
well and I would put my artwork in for charity auctions and it would
sell for a lot of money. Anything from £5,000 - £10,000 and Upto
£22,000. And the John Lennon went for £9,600 to Sharon Osbourne I
forget what year that was but it was the same year that The Eagles
sculpture also went for £6,000. If we'd had their signatures then
it would have gone for a lot more, like the U2, but we couldn't get
them for some reason. That could have gone for £10,000, £15,000 or
maybe even £20,000 with signatures. I've recently been commissioned
to do Paul McCartney by a private collector who has bought the John
Lennon NY tee-shirt bronze.
Digger: Does that mean that other icons might be in the pipeline
Laura: There's talk of maybe doing a bronze sculpture portrait
bust of Simon Cowell, possibly, but nothing is fixed. Ideally I like
to meet the person I'm to do if they are alive because to work from
pictures is really, really difficult. It takes hours and hours of
trawling through images and finding the right angles etc.
Digger: You've got a good connection now though because you've done
some work for Sharon Osbourne.
Laura: For the Paul McCartney, I'm not going to even try to get a
hold of him. Anyway, he's older now and I'm doing a younger version,
so there's no point. I'm sure that the Hard Day's Night Hotel
would be interested in a Paul McCartney sculpture too. There is a
client/friend who bought one of the early New York T-shirt editions
of the John Lennon about three years ago for himself in New York.
We got chatting on the 'phone a few times and we both felt New York
should have an enlarged version of John Lennon as a memorial
sculpture portrait bust. He decided to champion the idea of
this and God (Laughs) it's been really difficult. Yoko's lawyers or
managers are hard to get to and he tried many, many angles. He
recently managed to get hold of Sid Bernstein, who, of course, you
did an interview with, who really feels it's a great idea and allows
us to use his name in this connection. Sid, was a big fan of John
Lennon. There is of course the memorial mosaic in Central Park
which is all very nice, but we're trying to get an 'image' of John
for the next generation who at least can see what he looked like to
hold the memory.
Digger: Somewhere between Central Park and the Dakota building out
on a plinth in the open air?
Laura: Yes, it needs to be somewhere where John Lennon haunted
and where his energy was around and that means something. But
apparently getting permission for any public artwork in New York is
attached to long realms of red-tape. So that's still in the pipeline
and we haven't given up. Spain and Cuba have sculptures of John
Lennon, for heaven's sake. Not to have one in New York seems weird,
where he lived and died.
Digger: We're not good at that over here either, because one of the
things we do really well is pop culture yet they don't celebrate it
very well with sculptures and memorials to these significant people.
It takes forever to get these things done.
and in progress
I have tried to have one of my Buddha bronzes enlarged and
placed somewhere, maybe in London. I got some interest but
didn't seem to go any where so I've put it on hold and get on with
other work . it takes a lot of energy to get something like that
going. You may have seen on the website Tony Benn saying don't give
up because it took ten years to have the Nelson Mandela sculpture in
Trafalgar Square. These things do take time and two years is
Digger: It's so appropriate the Nelson Mandela being there
because when I worked in London in the 80s I would walk past South
Africa House twice a day and there would be a crowd of
anti-apartheid, pro-Mandela protesters there with their placards
every day without fail. And nobody would have imagined that a few
years later it would go full circle and that a statue of Mandela
would be outside.
Laura: People who inspire should be commemorated. George Harrison
was the spiritual, mystical Beatle and I loved him. And he was very
Digger: Well, I'll take your word for that.
Laura: He was just gorgeous. I just loved his big dark eyes and soft
ways . I have to say when I was modeling him I was referring to lots
of pictures and I had to almost obsess myself and listen to the
music and look at the pictures.
Digger: And falling in love with him again as you were doing it?
Laura: Yeah, yeah. yeah. I was so into the whole thing and I had a
dream that I was being kissed by him!
Digger: Well, thanks for that Laura. That was most enlightening
and best of luck with your future projects.
Laura: Thank you.
in Liverpool with John Lennon statue
Laura's work and for more
information go to: