Art: Holly Bendall

From the adrenaline rush of action sports to the thrill of creating life-size sculptures, we chat to artist Holly Bendall on how she’s found her work-life balance

By Glorious

From skating and snowboarding to BMX riding and surfing, there’s no doubt Holly Bendall is attracted to action sports. However, the Cornwall based artist now believes that she has found the perfect mix, combining sport with sculpting. Having studied Sustainable Product Design at Falmouth University, a diverse career followed for Holly, working in design, sustainability and sports marketing for Rapha, Red Bull and Cannondale, alongside being a stunt double in TV commercials and doing sports modelling on the side. Then in 2021, Holly decided to join Newlyn Art School for a year of ’defining practice’ and has been carving her own creative path ever since.

Holly Bendall. Photography by David Wren

Glorious: From a young age you loved action sports and initially became a BMX star. What attracted you to this sport and tell us about some of your best experiences?

Holly Bendall: I’ve always loved action sports, I was into skating and snowboarding first and then when I was about 14 years-old I broke my shoulder snowboarding. I remember watching the X Games BMX park and obsessing over so many BMX videos when I couldn’t do anything for a few months, so I decided to get a BMX once I’d healed and fell in love with it. My best experiences were definitely the early days at my local park with the crew. We’d always go on road trips to other parks with the older guys that could drive, and my sister’s boyfriend at the time was a rider so they’d come too. I think that helped, as my parents were totally cool with me going off on trips with them, so I’m grateful for that freedom. I always loved filming clips and working on edits when I had sponsors, travelling to Europe to ride – I preferred the more creative side of riding interesting spots and filming as opposed to competing.

Holly: "I’ve had some really spiritual experiences with marine life in the water recently." Photography by Paul Calver

Glorious: Charlotte Worthington and Beth Shriever put women’s BMX in the spotlight at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. What do you think of today’s BMX scene in particular for female riders, do you think they are still under-represented?

Holly Bendall: They were absolutely incredible to watch at the Olympics. The standard is so high now and it’s amazing for Charlotte and Beth to inspire the next generations on such a global stage. I wouldn’t say I know too much about the BMX scene anymore, but I’ve seen some really young girls coming up that are insane. I do follow The Bloom BMX, founded by Angie Marino and Beatrice Trang, which is a platform dedicated to showcasing women’s BMX and it’s so good to see what they’re doing for the sport. I saw they did a road trip across California with Vans recently which looked really cool. I’d say that women’s BMX has come such a long way but there is still under-representation. I know Nina Buitrago and Angie Marino have been trying to get a women’s competition at X Games instead of just the demos for years, but I don’t know how that’s progressing.

Holly: "I've always loved actions sports." Photography by Jojo Harper

Glorious: Do you regularly BMX now, or has your interest for surfing and sculpture taken the front seat now?

Holly Bendall: I don’t really ride BMX anymore, I ride MTB more as I like being in the woods or on the coast paths instead of the park. I definitely spend most of my time in the water surfing when I’m not drawing or sculpting.

Glorious: Would you have liked to have taken BMX to another level and pursued biking as a career, or did you always have artistic talents and wanted to become a sculptor?

Holly Bendall: It would’ve been amazing to have made biking a career, but it wasn’t an option ten years ago. The TV commercials and sports modelling helped fund my riding for a while, but I then focused on pursuing a career in design. I’ve always been really creative but I never thought I would be an artist either.

The unveiling of 'Waiting for Fish' aka Dave and Bird. Photography by James Warbey


Holly: "I like my work to have purpose, impact, storytelling and influence in a positive way."

Glorious: Tell us about your sculpting journey and what have been your highlights to date?

Holly Bendall: I loved making sculptures at school, but I only got back into it a few years ago when I met a sculptor called Clare Trenchard who lives near my parents in Dorset, and Claire took me on as her assistant when I was in between jobs. The biggest highlight would have to be the unveiling of my first life-size piece made in bronze as a public sculpture looking out to sea. Watching people connect to the piece and hearing how it has reminded them of someone they know, or inspired them on their own creative journey is such an incredible feeling.

The moulding process at the foundry

Glorious: What is the creative process and how long does it take?

Holly Bendall: My process starts by following something that I’m interested in. I do lots of drawings first and tend to get a feeling from one, or if I can visualise how they’d look as a sculpture, then I start making them and see how they feel once they exist in the world. I make smaller maquettes in wire, wax or clay, and for the life-size pieces I’m currently working in plaster. They can take around 6 weeks, and if they’re then going to be moulded and cast in bronze, that takes an extra 3 months at the foundry.

‘Waiting for Fish’ is based on a man and a bird that Holly saw and sketched as they were both waiting for fishermen to come back in. Photography by James Warbey
Bird in bronze

Glorious: Are you inspired by any other sculpture artists?

Holly Bendall: Antony Gormley for his figures in the landscape, Noguchi for his contoured playground and playscapes

Glorious: Tell us the backstory behind the recent sculpture you worked on, Waiting for Fish?

Holly Bendall: Waiting for Fish is a life-size piece based on a man (called Dave) and a bird that I saw and sketched as we were both waiting for the local fishermen to come back in. I spent a couple of weeks sketching and learning from the local fishermen in Cadgwith in Cornwall about the small boat fishing community. The piece is now permanently installed in Porthleven Harbour and highlights the importance of keeping the local tradition of small boat fishing alive and aims to question where our fish comes from.

Holly's process begins with lots of drawings to see if she can get a feeling from one

Glorious: As a sculptor for public display, do you intend for your work to have relevance to wider social political issues?

Holly Bendall: Yes, I’m really passionate about public sculpture as it’s a really powerful way of communicating and connecting on a deeper level. It’s outside of a gallery, it’s accessible to anyone and people can connect with the work who may not have thought they even like or understand art. I like my work to have purpose, impact, storytelling and influence in a positive way. Someone told me recently that my work brings them so much joy and that was really nice to hear.

Glorious: What sculpting projects are you working on next?

Holly Bendall: A private commission for an outdoor piece and some more personal projects that I’m developing

Holly believes mixing action sports with drawing and sculpting feed into each other as part of the creative process. Photography by Amelia Pemberton

Glorious: Compared with action sports, sculpting would appear to be at a much slower pace. Do you feel the sculpture calms your life down from all the energy of the sports you do?

Holly Bendall: I feel I’ve finally found the perfect balance, mixing action sports with drawing and sculpting, they really feed into each other as part of the creative process.

Glorious: When you’re not sculpting, you now spend time surfing. Have you always enjoyed water sports, did surfing come naturally to you?

Holly Bendall: I’ve always loved water sports. I used to sail dinghies and windsurf before I got into BMX. I started beach lifeguarding for the RNLI around the same time I started surfing. This helped so much for fitness and reading the conditions, which is a huge part of surfing. There were definitely some transferable skills from the other board sports too.

'Summit' is a new series in progress

Glorious: If you had to pick one sport and recommend it – skateboarding, biking or surfing, which one would you describe as your favourite and why?

Holly Bendall: It’s so hard to choose just one.. snowboarding is up there too, but it would probably have to be surfing as I’ve had some really spiritual experiences with marine life in the water recently.

Glorious: Are there other sports that you intend to try?

Holly Bendall: I’d love to get into Splitboarding and spend some more time in the mountains.

"I’ve always loved water sports. I used to sail dinghies and windsurf before I got into BMX." Photography by Paul Calver

Editorial Design by this is root

Title Image by Paul Calver

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