About the Artist

I began my career working with wood, making elaborate wooden playground equipment, pirate ships and tree houses for children. After injuring my wrist, I scaled down the size of my creations, producing a series of unique Bough House sculptures which were adored by both adults and children and shipped all over the world.

In 2013 a serious accident left me with limited mobility and continuous pain in my right arm. A very dark chapter ensued as I contemplated how I would be able to continue artistically. My thoughts turned to others with more serious life-changing injuries – soldiers returning from conflict with physical wounds, missing limbs and emotional scars – and those who did not return at all. I reflected on the impact of war both on individuals and society, becoming motivated to create something that illustrated both the scale of loss and the individual human impact of conflict. Inspired by one of our bloodiest battles, I embarked on a two-year journey to create a large-scale artwork representing the number of allied forces killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Whilst working on the piece it became clear that it was much more than just a figurative representation of the bodies. Crafting in my small workshop in Somerset with a list of names pinned to the wall, I worked day and night, hand stitching a calico shroud for each figure as I contemplated each name, each person – all with potential unrealised. As they were wrapped, each figure bent into a distinctive shape – some with legs folded, others outstretched – each one as unique as the individual men they represent. Working in these simple conditions of reflection and repetition the figures took on their own significance. I felt individually connected to each name on the list as I crossed them off one by one, transferring this energy to each form.

The Somme 19240 was exhibited in Exeter and Bristol in 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, Armistice Day and the centenary of the end of the battle. Following on from this I embarked on a new project – The Shrouds of the Somme, to represent the 72,396 British servicemen (and South African infantrymen) whose bodies were never recovered. This was exhibited in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to mark the centenary of the end of the war in November 2018.

In addition to The Somme 19240 and The Shrouds of the Somme I have produced The Brick and The Trench which present the figures in a different format. Now that the Shrouds of the Somme project is complete I hope to get back to making Bough Houses again and am working on some new artworks based around memory.

Rob Heard artist
Rob Heard collects
Rob Heard and the Shrouds