Sculptor Max Bainbridge runs a studio practice with his partner Abigail called Forest + Found. They both have individual disciplines, but will often exhibit and curate their work together. Max predominantly produces sculptured wood vessels that are turned and then hand carved. We met him at his studio in East London.

We asked…

How did Forest + Found start and how did you learn to wood turn?

We both studied Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art. We shared a studio space in our 3rd year and realised there was quite a lot of similarities in our approach to making. The work we were producing was different, but the conversation and ideas were pretty similar. When we graduated, we set up a studio practice together from a workshop in my garden so that we could continue to make and produce work. The nucleus of the workshop is a 10×10 shed that I’d been given for my 20th Birthday. It’s evolved and extended over time with Abigail and I now having separate workspaces. It’s pretty small, but it makes us tidy!

When it comes to woodturning, I’m completely self-taught. I’ve got a couple of books that have been really useful with the basics, and YouTube has been amazing! It has so many people putting hours and hours of time into making videos in such detail showing you how to do stuff. We also spent a month off-grid in France. There was an old sewing machine where we were staying for Abigail to work on and I took the lathe. The whole month was about learning those processes. What’s been nice about having no formal training is the naivety I’ve had with my turning, I’ve learned so much from my mistakes.

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What was the first thing you made?

The first thing I made was a bowl and I still have it somewhere. Well, it isn’t exactly a bowl, but it was the first thing I turned. I basically butchered a small piece of silver birch with a dull roughing gouge. But it was the first thing that sparked an interest and it gave me the initial understanding of profile and shape.

How would you describe your style of work?

I’m coming at it from an artist and sculptor point of view, rather than a pure woodworking one, with much of my inspiration taken from ceramics from different cultures and times. I guess my signature is in the foot of the vessel and that sense of elevation I achieve. All of my work tends to have quite a small foot compared to the actual size of the bowl or vessel. It makes them look far lighter than they are, which surprises people when they pick them up!

Where do you get the wood for your work?

We work closely with the Forestry Commission in Epping Forest, an amazing resource we’re lucky to have on our doorstep. They’re currently undertaking massive regeneration projects with 5, 10 and 20-year plans. So they’re opening up quite a bit of the forest and, in doing so, are taking some big stuff down. Much of it is processed into firewood, but they keep a certain amount of it back for artists and craftsman. It’s really great to be able to call them up and just ask what’s available. They’re super keen to work with us.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

With many of my pieces being quite large, the making of them can be hard work. There is a real physical exertion of turning and hollowing something that deep. I’m having to prop the hollowing tool right under my arm, levering my entire body weight, which can leave me black and blue after but I love it. It’s a really fun way to work!

large vessel in front of tapestry in exhibition

What are you working on right now?

We’re working on a really exciting project at the moment. We were awarded a place on the Jerwood Makers Open, where we have 6 months to create a body of work that will be exhibited in the Jerwood gallery, before going on tour. Usually, we curate together, but both have separate practices. With this project, there is a lot of crossover with materials and process, which has been really exciting.

exhibition shot of wood turned and sculptured bowls and tapestry

We’ve been using cedar and charcoal firing it to produce cedar tar for us both to use. The charcoal that is produced from that process will be ground up into a pigment and applied to the surface of my vessels. Abigail uses it to apply to her cloth. It’s a time where we can experiment and play. Because we have a dedicated amount of time we can explore the materials we are working with. From a turning perspective, I’ll be creating some of the biggest vessels I’ve ever made.

What tools do you use?

Obviously, the lathes are a big part, I couldn’t do what I do without them. The first lathe I bought was from a college. It was quite small and didn’t have a lot of power, making it quite a contrast to the new one we have. We’ve been amazed at how much power the Axminster AT350WL has considering its compact size. It’s so easy to move around the workshop and the addition of the stand means it can be taken practically anywhere. That level of portability is really important to me. Being able to put the lathe and stand in the boot of the car has opened up a new flexibility in the way I work and means I now have the ability to turn whilst away on artist residencies.

It’s really nice to have three lathes in the workshop. There’s an Evolution chuck on each so I can have them set up for different jobs. The gripping power on those is incredible, which is especially useful on my larger vessels. I have lots of turning tools, many of which are at the end of their life but are just the right size to perform certain applications, where newer tools can’t. The Tormek and Axminster grinders are essential to keep the tools working exactly how I need them to.

Who are any makers and artists that inspire you?

There are big names like David Nash, he’s an amazing sculptor. He’s still working now and really quite inspirational. There’s also Barbara Hepworth. We went down to St Ives last year to see her studio, it was amazing to see. Then there are many of our contemporaries, and not just people working with wood, we are really inspired by ceramics too.

sculptor max woodturning on his lathe in the workshop

What’s the future for Forest + Found?

It’s really exciting with the Jerwood Project. It’s one of the biggest projects we’ve been involved with. It has quite a public platform and it’s really exciting that the exhibition is to go touring around the UK for 2 years. We’d love to do more public installations and things where there’s a real engagement with a public audience.

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