Getting Started - Emma Rodgers
All Creatures Great And Small
Getting started seems to be the vaguest part of this piece, I have been making crafts all my life, drawing, building, and sculpting in materials I shouldn’t have been using, on ‘canvases’ I shouldn’t have used. Selling plaster gnomes I had made aged 11, seems an inauspicious start to an artist’s career.
I was raised by my mother and grandparents, who each had a great influence on my formative years. My Great Grandfather was a missionary in Africa and had collected a vast array of artefacts from his travels, much of which was donated on his death to the Liverpool Museum. I would often wander to the study and rummage through his collections of armadillo shells, fossils and tribal carving.
My Grandmother unfortunately had many operations throughout her life, which meant many visits to the hospital and a growing sense of blasé, about medical conditions, traumas and their consequences, this may have added to my early fascination with our cycles of life.
As an only child I was lucky enough to have lots of pets which fuelled my interest and obsession with animals, this obsession, especially with a Siamese cat, steered me to investigate their distortions of form, from compact masses to long outstretched limbs, this interest in agility, shaped how I would see animals and investigate their forms.
I began working aged 11 in 1985, at Rennie’s Arts and Craft, a local art suppliers, working weekends and holidays. Learning about materials and their use, I also studied Art and Design and Ceramics at GCSE level under Stuart Dimalow. I was immediately aware that this was to be my chosen field. Work experience and a summer job at an industrial ceramics factory, alongside Btec first diploma in art and design, pre foundation and foundation in art and design courses at Wirral Metropolitan College finally cementing my foundation in art.
I graduated from Wolverhampton University in 1998 completing both BA degree and MA courses. Throughout these studies I cannot underestimate the support and guidance given by the lecturers, encouraging us to examine both the physical creation of work and also its marketing and presentation for sale. Various competitions entered during this time including Ceramic Contemporaries 2 at the V&A, the prize being an exhibition at Contempary Ceramics in Marshall Street, gave my work a lot of exposure at an early stage of my career. IVCA purchased work from this exhibition to use as awards, which introduced me to a very diverse market. The BA graduation show at Hatfield Art in Clay was yet another springboard. Notable for his help was David Jones, lecturer and renowned maker who introduced us to both clients and galleries, exposing us early to the business side of art.
Art in Clay has been a major stepping stone in my career, with the help of its organiser Andy McInnes, in placing me in contact with collectors and galleries, without whose help I could not have continued to create work and continually develop ideas and techniques. Also the influence of like minded artists I have befriended at this exhibition has instilled the ethic that, nothing comes without dedication and sacrifice.
In 1997 I returned abruptly to the Wirral finishing my MA on a part time basis, as I needed to help with the rehabilitation of my mother, who was recovering from spinal surgery. In Wolverhampton I had supplemented my studies with exhibitions and part time bar work. I was now working from the family kitchen and carrying figurative pieces, leather hard, to local schools and colleges who had allowed me to fire my work, I am grateful to acknowledge. Once my mother had made a full recovery I was able to once again throw myself into my work. I became an artist in residence at Wirral Met and they also offered me some teaching, which I did for six years, this helped tremendously with my work flow.
Being back on Merseyside, I was able to exhibit at The Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool, with the kind help of Maureen Bampton, curator, who secured shows in prestige galleries both nationally and internationally and through whose introduction I met and worked closely with The Walker Art Gallery where I am currently showing in The Rise of Women Artists exhibition.
Many influences shape the work I now create, from Gaccometti, Naum Gabo, Egon Schiele and Frink. I also extract experiences from travelling, searching out ideas from both ancient cultures and contemporary art to melt into my current résumé. I have tried to approach my sculptures without sentimentality aiming for an immediate response, welcoming both admiration and revulsion to my art equally. Energy plays a huge part in my work; I aim to depict subjects in their most raw state. The use of sketches, rapid, fluid images trying to capture the essence of subject’s energy, is then hopefully transferred to clay, tears and gouges in the clay bodies echoing movement and endeavouring not to lose the spirit of the beast.
Once a body of sketches, using quick ink mark making, charcoals, photographs and film has been produced, paying particular attention to joints and movement and the finer details of a subject such as face, digits and in some cases behaviour, I can continue to make the piece. Greater understanding of animal anatomy, other than visual documentary, has been achieved by attending animal autopsies.
Whilst at Wolves we were introduced to many different techniques: throwing, printing, casting and hand building, In the first year I had decided to abstain from figurative work in order to broaden my repertoire, this had limited success, my teapot based on motorbike parts seemed to develop arms or legs. I returned to figurative and began to develop techniques which could convey agility and latent energy.
In my previous college I had been constructing animals very literally and detailed alongside abstract simple slab work heavily influenced by Naum Gabo’s heads, his use of line to indicate form was beautiful.
My two styles finally started to merge at Wolves. I began to focus on translating the drawn line into clay and omitting areas to indicate form, adding found objects into the clay and experimenting with glazes, slips and oxides, only applying them where needed and I have aimed to continue and develop in this approach to the clay.
I start with simple clay bodies (Audrey Blackman porcelain mixed loosely with Earthstone 40) rolled into slab forms, then tear away sections to give an indication of bone the beneath. I construct, from the torso of a subject out, adding limbs only where the joints would naturally fall. I construct the head, which I build from small plates from the back of the skull forwards focussing on the muscle structure and omitting much of the detail, this forces the viewer to reconstruct the full image themselves. Finally details such as shards of crockery may replace a hare’s jaw or bird’s wing and a tack or nail replace a beak or claw.
Firing is to 1140°C with a soak of 20 minutes. The firings are repeated to add strength to the piece without danger of warping.
When sculpting in bronze, I have tried to replicate these techniques, cutting all my own waxes and personally patinating each piece with the same brush marks I would use with glaze.
Having experimented with clay it became important to stretch the imagination with bronze. I have tried to bring movement into a medium which is essentially cold. Clock parts have been cast on to figures to exaggerate joints. Fabric has been woven on to bronze figures to create interest.
The construction of bronze puppets with articulating joints to illustrate movement and the cantilevering of hares in aggressive poses, impossible with clay, express I hope, the strength of the subjects through the strength of the bronze.
By trying to continually push the boundaries of ideas and materials I hope I can maintain a fresh approach to my work.