You can get a crash course in Nick Hornby’s work in an hour’s walk in London. The artist has three permanent sculptures installed throughout the city, metallic silhouettes that start out familiar but change depending on your vantage point. In St. James, his conquering horseman, modeled after Richard I, becomes an amorphous squiggle as you circle; while at Kensington, his take on Caspar David Friedrich’s wander become abstract; and a bust of Nefertiti doubles as the Albert Memorial.
Raising questions about power and the role of the monument, the trio is a clever combination of craft and concept. These are also features of digital innovation. Equestrian, for example, started as a digital model scripted in Python. It is then expanded into individual components that are laser cut from metal, then assembled by fabricators. “It’s a beautiful, seamless relationship between concept, digital processes, and mechanics—about 165 pieces manipulated by six and a half tons of stuff,” Hornby said from his northwest studio. in London. “But when people look at it, they don’t really see it.”
“I like to think that one of the unique aspects of my work is its ambition to capture the imagination of anyone, not limited to the art world; to try to solve complex ideas in plain English. Anyone can recognize the horse-man troop and have a reaction to how I maneuver it.”
This kind of technical-conceptual wizardry is Hornby’s calling card. Favoring the screen over the sketchpad, he uses 3D modeling as the foundation for abstract sculptures that reference the art-historical canon and challenge notions of authorship—contorted mashups of works by Hepworth, Brancusi, Rodin, and others; Michelangelo’s profile David extruded to a point, can only be read from above.
He started young, creating life-size terracotta figures at school while his classmates worked on simpler pots. “But then I went to art school, and it was like, I don’t want to paste Rodin. I want to be a part of the future. I want to be innovative,” he said. “That’s why I jumped into technology.”
At the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he enrolled in the late 1990s, Hornby flourished in the new. There are video forays; a semester at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he joined the artist-hacker collective Radical Software/Critical Artware; and musical experiments with MAX MSP, the object-oriented programming language used by Radiohead in the early 2000s. But it was only after pursuing a master’s in his thirties that his career took shape today.
“I had a radical sea change in my relationship with technology,” he says. “I’m really disappointed with the people who say, ‘Wow, that’s great. How did you do it?’ because that question is so boring to me. I’m more interested in the question, ‘What does this mean?’” So, in the last decade Hornby has eliminated “any kind of human subjectivity,” he says. Wires and screens are hidden, rough edges are erased with laser precision. All the better to invite questions about the matter rather than the process.