Art & Design blog: Sculpture
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Born in Lancaster, Amy Moffat is a London based artist who studied at Wimbledon College of Art. Since graduating in 2008, Moffat has exhibited across the UK in Berkshire, Liverpool, London and Oxford where she had her first Solo show in 2011. Moffat was also one of the finalists of Saatchi’s 4 New Sensations in 2008 and a short film about her work was made for Channel 4.
At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?
A lot of my earliest memories involve building things and drawing things. I remember helping my dad build our garden wall and garage, I knew what cement was from about the age of 4! I used to draw a lot after school, my brothers are much older than me so I had to occupy myself – drawing engrossed me from a very young age. At first I wanted to be a fashion designer, then a set designer (then a F1 driver!) but after taking a Foundation Course at Blackpool & Fylde College when I was 18, I decided I’d like to keep my options open and ended up doing a Fine Art degree at Wimbledon.
What medium do you most enjoying working in?
Since being at Wimbledon I have used oil on linen and I’ve continued to use these materials predominantly since graduating, although I use them in much different ways now. I became frustrated with painting and with image, mainly with the types of paintings being shown in contemporary galleries in London and the types of images used. As a result I work in a more three-dimensional way but I still remain within the vernacular of painting. I most enjoy drawing though, with anything – pen, pencil, ink, oil, wax.
What’s your favourite colour?
What is your favourite cuisine?
If I had to live off one type of food for the rest of my life it would be Italian food. I love Italy and I don’t think of the place without the food! I also love Japanese food.
Do you listen to music when working and if so what?
Yes, I have a broad taste in music but I tend to listen to techno and electro mainly. I love Four Tet, Dominik Eulberg, John Talabot, Gold Panda. At the minute I’m enjoying a lot of James Blake, The XX and Haim after Glasto! I listen to Radio 6 if I’m in the studio on a weekend; Giles Peterson plays some awesome stuff.
Name three creatives who have inspired you over the past ten years?
The film A Single Man had a great impact on me and my work, it was a right time, right place kind of thing really. Some of the dialogue, of course from Christopher Isherwood’s book, really struck chords with me. Visually it’s a beautifully shot film, so I would have to say Tom Ford for his direction and bringing Christopher Isherwood to my attention.
Norman, my tutor on Foundation course at Blackpool was incredibly enthusiastic about drawing, he taught me a lot about observation. I loved his classes and lectures.
Patti Smith because she’s a true inspiration for anybody dedicated to a creative passion.
Have you got any exciting projects/commissions coming up in the near future?
I’ve just been part of the The Exchange Project at APT in Deptford, curated by Claire Undy as well as the SOLO Award at WW Gallery.
Who would be your ideal client for a future commission?
I’m open to commissions from all sorts of people, but in particular I would love to be involved in set design, whether for visual merchandising, theatre, music events – collaborations between artists and commercial entities, such as the fashion industry and the music industry, are becoming more common and the blurring of the lines between them is an exciting area.
If you weren’t an artist what other career would you have chosen?
I wish I was musically talented! But anything that involves travel and arts is right up my street!
Like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, Jessica Albarn’s insect study drawings juxtapose geometric order with the seemingly arbitrary forms of nature.
Growing up with two artists as parents, and immersed in the culture of ballet and piano at a young age, it’s no wonder that much of her early creative work was focused towards children. ‘Brainbow’, an installation for young children that was “a bit like a multi-sensory flying saucer”, got through to the final of the Inventor of the Year award, and Jess spent time touring it around the country at places such as Brighton Festival and the Museum of Childhood in London. ‘Boy in the Oak’ was a dark fairytale that Jess wrote and illustrated, inspired by her children.
The influence of her father’s body of work on her own is obvious: “We both have a passion for geometry – he on a cerebral level, me on a more intuitive level.” Conversely, it is more through their love of nature that Jess’ work connects to her mother. “I spent a lot of time with my Mum as a child, as she taught me to ride horses and look after farm animals. Looking back, I think I was most happy when drawing or working with them.”
But it is insects, rather than farm animals, that are the subject of Jess’ current studies. It was on a holiday in Majorca that her love affair with insects began, when a friend’s son found a Death’s-head Hawkmoth. “I work with dead things that I find – especially insects – because they hold their form as they dry out, rather than rot away. I’ve amassed a large collection of dead bees to study and draw, but I also work by studying live bees too – usually taking photos of them with my macro lens. I look to draw out the beauty in what I see – the macabre and the alien – and drawing is my way of prolonging something and breathing some life back into it.”
Jess is exhibiting a print of the great yellow bumblebee at the Art Car Boot Fair in Brick Lane this weekend (9 June 2013). “The bee sits on a Flower of Life, which also features the sacred geometry of the Tree of Life. The print will also be part of an exhibition in Scotland for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, who kindly sent me a yellow bumblebee specimen once!”
Jess has done a lot of work supporting bees both for charity as well as her own personal study, and hopes that her work will connect people with the subject of bee and butterfly decline. “What’s happening with the bees and the decline in butterflies and other species of wildlife is something that is happening at an alarming rate. We have made some small progress with the bees recently with the ban on pesticides, but I have just come back from 10 days in Devon deep in the countryside, full of flowers, and I only saw two or three butterflies.”
XETH: What finally convinced you to take the leap into studying Ceramics at age 34, having spent many years a toolmaker and engineer?
Pierre Williams: From an early age, I spent my spare time painting and working with materials that were accessible to me. But in the environment I grew up in, you didn’t go to university – let alone study art – and nobody suggested I could do otherwise, so I went into engineering.
To this day I’m not sure why I became a toolmaker – I didn’t even know what one was when I got the job. Eventually, I reached a point where I was totally depressed with my life, and decided to try and pursue my dreams, as life is too short not to.
At the age of 34, my only responsibility was a mortgage… but I was used to having regular wages, so the precarious lifestyle of an artist was still difficult for me. I’ll only really know whether this as been a wise move when I look back at my life in old age, but I’ve had some incredible experiences already, so if you measure success this way then it’s been great so far.
XETH: Would you describe yourself as a sculptor, artist or craftsman?
PW: What I produce in ceramics I think of as art, but the skills you need to realise a piece from idea to the finished article requires the skill and knowledge of the craft. Overall, I just think of myself as an artist – I’ll still dabble with paint, print and other ways of working 2D when I get time.
XETH: You have said in the past that you’re influenced by Rodin, as well as Gormley – who depicts similarly faceless characters. What is it about these two artists that you are particularly inspired by?
PW: When I view these pieces it wouldn’t surprise me if they were to get up and walk away – either because of the the realism of Rodin’s work or the humanity which comes from Gormley’s work, due to his process of making casts from human forms. If I look at one of my pieces and get that feeling that I wouldn’t be too surprised if it left the plinth for a stretch and a walk around, then I’m pleased.
Some of the environments where Gormley puts his work have also inspired some of my pieces. And yes, the anonymity of my figures, created by not giving any eyes, is inspired by Gormley’s featureless casts.
XETH: Do you use life models to help you with that realism of poses and proportions?
PW: The only model I can afford is myself, so all the male figures are based loosely on myself – I’ll use a mirror to see how the body changes in different poses and by using myself it has led on to some of the ideas being auto-biographical.
XETH: Your portfolio seems rather broad… scenes ranging from solo figures to groups of characters interacting; poses ranging from relaxed to Olympian domination. Do you have any preferences?
PW: I explore all things human – solitude and interacting groups are both normal for all of us. I love classical sculpture, but I love studying people doing everyday things.
I have a personal code that I work by, and that is: “I want to make what I like, not like what I make”, which means to me that the more skills and knowledge I have, the more I can push the materials, process and my imagination. I now have a solid foundation in the way I’ve been working so it allows me to explore different issues that crop up from time to time such as the ‘Pugilist and the Swift’, ‘The Letter Series’ and Angels.
I always prefer the work I’ve just finished, whilst knowing I wont like it as much as the next lot.
XETH: Similarly, your figures are presented on anything from austere classical columns to modern plinths. What drives the choice for each piece?
PW: The plinths can sometimes be equally as important as the figures, because the work may be a study of the interaction of the figure with the form it is placed on. In other pieces, the plinth may be used just to project the figure.
XETH: Your early white and blue tin-glazes remind me of the Ancient Chinese tradition, in contrast to later pieces richly coloured with 20th century floral patterns and gold leaf. Is this a developmental direction?
PW: I started with blue and white because this gives more options for decorating, as cobalt can be put under a tin-glaze and it will come through. Different colours have gradually come through – when I placed all the work from my last firing on the tables in the studio, it reminded me of walking into a museum’s antique collection where there are lots of colours, shine and gold. This is another source of inspiration which drives my work. I think I will continue with all these, and I’m also producing some unglazed pieces at the moment.
The ‘Precious Series’, revealing a golden layer under a ceramic skin, has a dual meaning. Precious as in, ceramics in this country doesn’t have the status as other materials such as bronze. But also, it’s a metaphor for being able to love yourself and discovering your own self worth, which is the reason I’m working as an artist.
XETH: What do you see as the future direction of your work? Would you like to increase the scale of your work – an ‘Angel of the North’ by Williams, perhaps?
PW: I suppose what I do in the future will be decided by what happens with this work, but I’d love to produce some bronzes, other castable metals… and yes, to go large scale would be exciting!
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