Art & Design blog

Sculpture by Anna Gillespie

Artist / designer:   Anna Gillespie
Article author:   Ricky Thakrar
Published:   Sun, 22 Jan 2017

Dappled Sleep. Acorn cups, acorns, twigs and galls

Dappled Sleep. Acorn cups, acorns, twigs and galls

XETH: You often work with found organic matter – what drew you to using this as a material for sculpture?

Anna Gillespie: I used acorn cups and other found tree materials almost exclusively for a period of about eight years – I think I found working with it deeply soothing.  Each tiny piece is beautiful and beautifully engineered in its own right.  Every bit free, and yet hard-won by grueling hours of collecting.  And every bit challenging common traditions of what is valuable.

In many cases, I was trying to recreate a feeling – that I seem to get only in nature – of being at one with the earth and therefore with oneself.  In a political sense, I was also trying to draw attention to the beauty of nature, in the hope that we would care for it more, collectively.

Beech nuts on beech tree. Photographer: Ricky Thakrar

Beech nuts on beech tree. Photographer: Ricky Thakrar

XETH: I was particularly moved by one of your pieces at Burghley House and Sculpture Garden, made of beech nuts, and fixed to a beech tree.  Was this a gesture, of sorts, to retain the link between the medium and its source?

AG: The beech nut piece at Burghley was typical of my work with organic matter, in that I hoped to draw attention to the beauty of the tiny beech nuts that we just walk over without thinking about most of the time.  It was an attempt to honor the tree – both as an individual, and more generally.  So yes, there was a very direct – and one could say political – reason behind linking the material with its source.

XETH: What are you up to at the moment?

At the moment, I’m enjoying plaster a bit more, because working in it allows me to take risks in how I make life size figures – bronze is very expensive, of course, so the one problem with it is that it can lead to a tendency to cast ‘safe’ pieces that one knows one can get ones money back on.

XETH: Is making your figures life size important to you?

I’m beginning to think that pieces either have to be life size (I have no desire to make humans bigger than they already are, except by a fraction to bring them up to apparent life size), or really quite small so that one almost has to peer in – to project oneself into them.

Alderney Man, 2014, mixed media including cable drums on a former WWII bunker

Alderney Man, 2014, mixed media including cable drums on a former WWII bunker

XETH: Your work has been exhibited in many different settings – do you prefer creating for a particular context?

AG: Most of my work is bought by private individuals, whether that be for their house or their garden.  But the pieces that I’ve got most of a kick out of seeing installed are definitely the ones in public settings.  Unfortunately, most have those have been temporary opportunities, such as at festivals or exhibitions in larger spaces.

I’m also experimenting with coating plaster in resin so I can get this new work outdoors, although I think resin is probably my least favorite material to actually work with – the toxicity, both to oneself and to the environment, is worrying.

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Handcart, 2016, mixed media. Photographer: Colin Hawkins

XETH: Some of your pieces have a feeling of being associated with the afterlife – is this intentional?

AG: No, it’s not intentional but there does seem to be some association… quite a few people have become really attached to a particular piece of work, and then gone on to buy it when they are dealing with a bereavement.  I’m not quite sure what is going on here, but I do have a repeat experience, when confronted with supreme beauty, that it would be ok to die.  Perhaps some of this sense of meeting the sublime comes through in some of the work.

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What It Takes, 2016, mixed media. Photographer: Colin Hawins, 2016

XETH: Your pieces that feature a crowd of people seem to be more loosely formed than those featuring a solitary individual – does this apparent trend hold any weight or meaning?

AG: That’s an interesting observation.  I hate to say it, but on a very practical level, perhaps some of that is due to necessity – the time allowed.

That said, I do find that it’s all too easy for us to see a ‘mass’, rather than see many individuals together.  I am particularly interested in this in relation to the images in the media of refugees coming to Europe in recent years.  The title of a recent piece of eleven walking life size figures, inspired by photographs of refugees walking, was ‘What It Takes’ – I am interested in ‘what it takes’ to recognize a fellow human being.  One just sees a mass of people, in a walking column, or on a boat…  then, there is an interview with one person – just a few seconds for them to say their name, tell their story – and suddenly we see an individual human being, someone who could be us.

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