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Steuart Padwick opens up about his monumental mental health awareness sculpture, Head Above Water

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Steuart Padwick, Daniel Shearing, Ramboll/Stora Enso

Back in 2014, designer Steuart Padwick flew to Maine for a residency at the Haystack Mountain Craft College. While there he worked on an installation that was, in his words, “a self-portrait about my own battles with my own demons I had had all my life. I had not realised till then that my head was above water, life had turned for the better for me.” The experience was both profound and cathartic.

His most recent project is currently one of the most visible pieces of public artwork in London. Head Above Water — an nine-metre high sculpture which proudly resides on the Southbank, is a big, bold, powerful bit of work. Just 16 weeks ago now, Steuart and his team were offered a space Queen’s Stone Jetty (aka Gabriel’s Pier) as part of the 2018 London Design Festival. He decided to think on a grand scale.

Created in support of mental health campaign Time to Change, the sculpture is an attempt to broaden conversations around mental health, and to hopefully bring around what Steuart describes as “the stigma of mental health issues.” It is, he says, “a symbol of hope, looking out to the future.”

Thinking back to the genesis of the project, he says, “Maine was my journey and I wanted to create this one to benefit others.” So he set to work on a clay head that was gender, race, and age neutral. This became the wooden sliced version which is now visible to the city’s hordes of commuters, tourists, and residents, all of whom amble down the Southbank taking in one of London’s best free gifts — the incredible view of the capital glowering over the other side of the Thames.

When it comes to mental health, Steuart notes that as one in four of us is statistically likely to be affected by issues each and every year. Do you think the arts, in general, does enough to foster beneficial conversations around mental wellbeing? “It is our collective responsibility to create an environment where people feel comfortable to talk, to ask, to share and where we are able to listen and willing to help.”

On view for the duration of the festival, Steuart feels that Head Above Water “seems to have connected with so many people already – there seems the will for it to have a permanent home in London.” He admits that the time frame is tight, but hopes that one day the city will find space for the sculpture to live forevermore.

You can now watch a short documentary about the installation below.

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Steuart Padwick, Daniel Shearing, Ramboll/Stora Enso

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Steuart Padwick, Daniel Shearing, Ramboll/Stora Enso