Stradling the A286 Chichester to Midhurst road as well as the South Downs Way, Cocking in West Sussex may be small but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in interest. Turning down a narrow track from the main road, you come to an 11th century church, parts of which date back to Saxon times and the main body of which is Norman. It’s home to some medieval wall paintings but its small graveyard is what intrigued me the most as it gives way to some very mysterious views.
Sculptor Philip Jackson’s well-known works include Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother Memorial, St Richard outside Chichester Cathedral, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial in Parliament Square, Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium, Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, Jersey Liberation Sculpture in Liberation Square, St Helier, Jersey … and a wealth of other well known and loved landmarks.
More recently, Jackson was commissioned to create the “999 Cenotaph”, a work that will include six 8ft figures of frontline workers and a service dog which it is hoped will be completed this year and will find a home in Westminster.
And as fortune would have it, Jackson’s workshop, gallery and garden are in Cocking with a large number of his pieces currently on display in his stunning and evocative private gardens.
A unique theatre of arts
The garden is surely one of the most beautiful, mesmerising and unusual places in Sussex. The lawns and lakes are tranquility itself and as you descend down floral fringed steps, with views across the fields and the South Downs in front of you, it feels like being caught somewhere between Monet’s gardens, Alice in Wonderland and a Venetian masked ball or an extravagant Italian opera. It’s magical and yet a little unnerving, complex and yet simplicity.
The positioning of each work enhances its surroundings and yet draws upon them too. As you walk around, you feel like you’re part of a surreal celestial play in which you have no part but to observe. It’s hushed, as you don’t want to disturb these silent players.
With emphasis on form, these works seem to speak of texture, detail, emotion, drama, reflection and simplicity. The detail is in the hands and masks but the emotion is in every smooth line, every rough surface, every curve.
As you walk around the lakes and through the trees, you come across unsuspecting players in this theatre. They are both tactile and feel alive, and you apologise quietly for interrupting their day and their private moment. It feels intimate and personal.
Sussex sculpture at its very best
A wander around the gardens is a profound experience. It’s thought-provoking, fun, uplifting with just the right dose of surreal. Of all the gardens and all the sculptures I’ve seen this summer, this has to be the most unusual and the most compelling, and if you get a chance to visit, grab it with both hands.
Sculptures in the Garden is open to the public until 1 September 2022 and visitors can also visit the Studio Gallery and a display of his smaller maquettes. Viewings are by appointment only.
Viewings by appointment only. Opening times 9.30 am – 4.30 pm Monday to Friday. You can find out more at: Philip Jackson.
If you enjoy Sussex sculpture, you may also like: