Man’s relationship with the horse has inspired a talented North Yorkshire-based sculptor, as HELEN MEAD discovers.

IN A small housing development in Edinburgh’s New Town, a horse cranes its neck towards the sky.

Expertly cast in bronze, on its back sits a rider his arms held aloft, holding an eagle, wings outstretched, about to take off.

A short walk across the city, a second horse makes a dramatic mark on the street scene – its head thrust backwards, held in a seemingly tortuous position by its rider.

The roots of these intriguing, much-admired sculptures lie in a small studio behind a busy high street in Selby.

Here, on every available surface, are horses – leaping, bowing, grazing, galloping. Horses neighing high into the air, horses falling, bending, even doing handstands. Atop of each of these magnificent equines is a figure, each in a different pose: sitting, standing, stretching, crouching, reaching for the heavens.

These stunning ceramics are brought into being by the masterful hands of artist Eoghan Bridge, whose base is a stone’s throw from Selby’s main shopping thoroughfare.

Edinburgh-born Eoghan’s fascination with the age-old relationship between horse and rider inspires his work. “I have no background involving horses and I don’t ride,” he says, “But the horse has such a strong history in art, and its role in building and transport has been fundamental to civilisation.”

He adds: “I find the combination of horse and figure fascinating – it is the subtle composition, almost intuitive. I can express any feeling of emotion through the horse and rider.”

The distinctive ceramic horses crafted during the Chinese Tang Dynasty heavily influence his sculptures.

His Rotund Horse and Rider – the round-bellied horse featuring regularly in his work – brings a new perspective to form and shape.

His first edition of 15 was an instant success, and he has since sold hundreds.

“It is playing with form and composition,” he says. “Someone once told me it looked like a pig, but it has been the most successful piece of sculpture I have ever made.”

Standing on its head, his Crazy Horse and Rider has met with similar success. “I first made it in 1987, and I’m still making it now.”

Eoghan’s early work featuring male and female riders, has given way to predominantly female, reflecting man’s changing relationship with the animal. “Women are not dominating and controlling as men used to be, but react more sensitively, displaying more empathy towards the horse.”

Individual ceramic figures are a feature of Eoghan’s work. They strike myriad poses in the studio, where scalpels, scrapers and other simple clay-working tools sit on benches and works-in-progress rest on the floor. Warmed by a wood-burning stove, the space is cosy and restful.

“This is my sanctuary,” he says.

Other works that catch the eye of the visitor include bulls, compact and sturdy, influenced by Spanish culture.

The artist models his pieces in clay, making a plaster mould before pouring liquid clay known as slip into it, pouring out the excess and leaving it for several days to partially dry. He remodels the object before it is fired. Depending upon the size, a piece of work can take from a week to many months.

He is passionate about preserving the integrity of his work and strives to stay true to himself. “I never wanted it to be like a production line.” His creative output, he says, ‘is not about popularity but integrity.’

For many years, and despite his father, Tom, being a sculptor, his artistic talents lay hidden. Moving from Scotland to Yorkshire aged eight, he did not do well at school. “I flunked all academic subjects,” he says. “I didn’t study art, but was told that I could stay on if I took art A-level. It was down to the art teacher – she liked the fact I was a rebel and saw it as a challenge.”

He specialised in sculpture, working with wood and clay, and did well, even making an appearance in the school magazine. “I had a natural feel for it, I think this was due to having grown up with all the materials around me,” he says, adding that his father Tom Bridge, often worked from home.

A foundation course at Harrogate College of Art followed, then, failing to secure a place on a fine art degree course, he began studying furniture design at Leeds Polytechnic, now Leeds Metropolitan University. “It was a disaster – I knew straight away that I could not sit behind a desk drawing all day,” he says.

He managed to transfer to fine art, finding his niche. “After my degree I sold a lot of work,” he says. Duncalfe Galleries in Harrogate funded his pieces to be cast in bronze and invited the well-known art critic Brian Sewell to open an exhibition. He bought two pieces, and, during a talk about Eoghan’s work, said he had not seen such innovative work from a young sculptor.

An invitation from a London gallery followed, and lead to his work being shown in the capital.

He has since exhibited widely across the UK, to much acclaim and has produced commissioned work for clients across the UK, Europe, the USA, Australia and the Far East.

Eoghan lives with his wife Angela and children Torran, 11, Hayden, ten, and eight-year-old Sophie.

His work has helped him through personal trauma – the death of his two sisters, one in tragic circumstances, the other from a brain haemorrhage two weeks after giving birth. His mother did not recover from her losses and died a week after the birth of Hayden.

“I’ve had to endure these things, which have been so devastating. It has been hard to go on and work, but I see what I am doing as a tribute – their memory lives on in my work and I feel comfortable with that.”

More recent work has included a statue of a cat, Gordon, the most recent of a number of feline sculptures that make up York’s famous Cat Trail. Sporting an eye patch to reflect an injury, he sits above the entrance to a shop in Stonegate, York.

Last year Eoghan worked day and night for six months to produce what he describes as his “most significant” piece of work. He produced more than 70 figures, photographed them and added music. Called ‘Soul Fields’, he describes the thought-provoking work as “a very powerful awakening of aspects of humanity.” Soul Fields draws upon his life experiences – the making of it led to him feeling cleansed of emotional burdens. “It blew away all the cobwebs,” he says. He posted the piece on YouTube, where it has sparked much interest.

A skilled draughtsman, Eoghan has over the years produced more than 1,500 drawings, from imagination rather than life, which he hopes to one day exhibit alongside his sculptures. “Drawing is a more instant way of expressing yourself, and I find myself doing it more often,” he adds.