Born in Solihull on 9th April 1930, he was educated at Yardley Grammar School, Walters studied at the Birmingham College of Art from 1946. From an early enthusiasm for woodcarving, Walters turned to modelling and was influenced by Jacob Epstein, and others.
Birmingham provided him with a solid grounding in the figurative tradition and, returning to the West Midlands after National Service (1952-54), he took up a lecturer post at the then Stourbridge College of Art, in the sculpture department. From there he moved in 1957 to the Guildford School of Art as a lecturer in sculpture.
Walters’s political activity extended back to the 1945 general election and he appears to have been a member of the Communist Party at times in the ensuing 30-year period. Walters was married several times but his first wife, Sonia, was secretary of the Battersea Communist Party when Walters is believed to have still been a member also.
In the early 1960s he travelled to Yugoslavia to participate in one of Tito’s public sculpture programmes, but it was the 1968 outbreak of student protests which brought together Walters’s political and artistic activities. While siding with the students, Walters rejected the fashionable abstract art espoused by intellectuals, and instead set about developing a powerful style of figurative sculpture intended to speak to a much broader public.
As a teacher for much of the period, he displayed his political instincts in executing a study of Tom Driver, the Communist founder of NATFHE. For the last 20 years of his life, Walters focused on left-wing subjects. He offered his services to the London office of the African National Congress and produced for them a giant bust of Nelson Mandela which, cast in thin resin, was taken to ANC rallies around the time of the 70th anniversary of its foundation in 1912. Subsequently cast in bronze (1985) this has come to rest on the South Bank, London, close to the Royal Festival Hall.
The publicity that this sculpture engendered led to a commission for a life-size, full-length figure of the firebrand socialist politician Fenner Brockway (1888-1988), of which the resin bronze cast was exhibited at the Society of Portrait Sculptors annual exhibition in 1982. This portrait was cast in bronze and set up in Red Lion Square, Holborn, in 1985.
His impressive International Brigade Monument in Jubilee Gardens, on the South Bank, was unveiled in October 1985. His half-length bust of Tony Benn (1987) led to Benn encouraging ed Walter to enter the competition for an over-life-size, full-length figure of Harold Wilson for his home town of Huddersfield, unveiled by Tony Blair in July 1999.
In the meantime, Walters had executed a number of distinguished portrait busts, of Lord Soper and Bishop Trevor Huddleston (casts in Bedford and at South Africa House in London). When Nelson Mandela unveiled the Huddleston bust in Bedford in April 2000, Walters noted the way in which the former South African president addressed the crowds with his arms outstretched to embrace them and the world.
He travelled to South Africa and modelled from life a half-length bust portrait of Mandela at his home. The whole project for the 9ft standing figure of Mandela wearing his distinctive printed "madiba" shirt had orginally been intended for Trafalgar Square but its final location has still not been decided.
Half-length portraits of the fiery Barbara Castle (2003), Jim Callaghan of Cardiff (2003), Arthur Scargill and Michael McGahey followed.
Ian Walters died on 3rd August 2006.
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