Since I can remember art has been central to my daily activity and thought. My parents sponsored and curated an atmosphere of active artistic creation within our family life. My mother often told me that I could hold a pencil before I could hold a spoon. My father was a painter, sculptor and tableaux maker, amongst many other things. My mother constantly conjured clothes she had designed and made for my elder sister, my brother and myself to wear, as well as animal heads for us and our school friends to terrify and astound in. She painted scenery and made props for innumerable school plays as well as making earthenware dishes and bowls at her pottery class that we used around the house.
Art was something you ‘do now’ in my family home, as was active involvement in the community around us. I loved drawing and painting with water colours, as well as digging up clay from the garden to make things with like tiny pots and cups. Once, when I was about eight or nine years old, I collected fragments of china and beautiful spiral snail shells from our garden and the nearby river and used them to create an owl picture. This collage had pride of place on my bedroom wall. One day a few months later, as spring was arriving that year, some of the snails began to awaken and crawl around on the wall. It was my first experience that art, or in this case the ingredients of art, had a life of its own. This was quite a shock for me as a young girl, as parts of my lovely creation were now moving about the place regardless of my intention that they should stay where I put them; but at the same time, I was fascinated and awed by this strange event. My mother decided that living wall-sized gastropod dance pieces were not to be entertained in the house at the moment, so my lovely collection of found objects was duly returned to the garden and nature. I never forgot this unexpected happening and its implications have stayed with me.
I vividly remember my grandmother teaching me how to crotchet. Using the skills my mother and grandmother imparted to me I cut out patterns and designed and made all my own clothes. I became fascinated by beadwork and appliqué and started making necklaces, bracelets and pieces to sow onto jackets. Later I restored an elaborate Victorian ceiling in the hall of my first house which I hand painted and I also hand painted the wallpaper.
Throughout my subsequent careers art remained at the core of my existence, but it wasn’t until I moved to West Wales over twenty years ago that it finally took over my life.
I acquired a hand operated machine that made logs out of waste paper for burning on the fire. The log making process involved ripping up the paper and soaking it overnight in water, loading the resultant pulp into the machine, squeezing the water back out of it, and leaving the log to dry. I quickly discovered that magazines etc. were no good for this process. Neighbours and my local community heard of this curious activity of mine, and began bringing bundles of newspaper to my door for me to use and recycle for them in this way. Back then recycling was considered a rather strange and outré thing, so there were no Council or other facilities that I or anyone else could use for that purpose. I was soon overwhelmed with stacks of newspaper and damp and drying ‘logs’. Somewhere in this process I suddenly realised that I was making papiér mâché, and a whole new world of making opened up to me.
The snails were moving about on the wall again. I began hunting down everything I could find on the subject and experimenting with different ingredients and mixes. As the world of papiér mâché and its ancient traditions began to reveal itself to me, I was struck by the medium’s wonderful versatility and adaptability and I began to understand that I could make almost anything with it. Shapes, creatures, objects, beings, animals were all calling to be brought forth from this pulp. I was hooked and I have been ever since.
As an artist and maker I discover that my experience is not separate from the world in which I find myself. My ground is the ecstatically beautiful and constantly amazing natural creation of this fragile earth upon which we stand. From a bee’s wing to a boulder, papiér mâché guides and instructs me in how to visualise and proceed with my making. Technical challenges are all part and parcel of the creating process; I revel in them as I tear my hair out! Ambiguity fascinates me, as does seeing something from a different point of viewing. Things are not always just as they seem at first glance. Humour is an essential ingredient of the creation, subsequently we find it everywhere. It can illustrate a serious point I’m trying to indicate in a piece, conversely seriousness can bring out mirth in another work. One of the wonders of working with papiér mâché is that it can seem as if I am making something out of nothing – a bucket of pulp becomes a pair of boxing hares.
But in reality it isn’t a free ride. I’m using the products, albeit recycled, of forests I have never seen or set foot in. I try to remain mindful of this when I work and throughout my life. At my home I feel graced to have care and custodianship of a couple of acres of native Welsh woodland, which I endeavour to maintain and preserve along with all the indigenous species which have it as their home. I hope that I am somehow repaying some part of the debt to nature that being here using stuff incurs.
I hope that you like my work.