You’re working with scagliola a lot at the moment. What is it and what is its attraction for you?
The old Italian craft of scagliola is a technique popular with the Georgians to create the decorative marbles within their homes, which is why it’s great to use it in a Georgian property like Weston Park and Berrington Hall. It really suits the aesthetic there. The possibilities are exciting as you have control over form and colour but an end result that is marble-like. When the plaster and pigment are mixed the studio looks like a confectioner’s or baker’s as layers and shapes are carefully folded into the mixture; it is then revealed through days of sanding, oiling and waxing, giving an unnatural yet beautiful finish. Even when stroked, it is seductively smooth, and is difficult to distinguish from marble.
One scagliola piece is currently showing at Weston Park, near Telford.
How does the material relate to its natural setting?
The work at Weston Park is installed in an old orangery in the walled garden of this Georgian property. We have created a work that is somewhere between a bloated maggot, a syphilitic phallus and a giant gourd, evoking feelings of excess, decadence, beauty and desire, something that was at the heart of the Georgian aristocracy. Lolling in the ruined orangery the sculpture’s surface is made of flowing pastels, lined with deeper crimsons and turquoises and flecked with patches of umber, zinc and cadmium, created using traditional pigments from L. Cornellisen and Sons, evoking layers of flesh, thread veins and accumulations of fats.
You’ve taken a pineapple as your inspiration for a pop-up pavilion in the grounds of Berrington Hall. Why?
Our commission Look! Look! Look! is installed in a Capability Brown walled garden in Berrington Hall. We spent last year researching the house and gardens and we were really drawn to the story of the pineapple, particularly when you compare how it is thought of in contemporary society. You can buy a pineapple in Aldi for 59p but in the Georgian period pineapples were sold for thousands of pounds and even rented out to neighbouring estates for table displays. At Berrington Hall there was a pineapple forcing pit in the walled garden. It would have been filled with hot, stinking manure and would have been a great show of gardening knowledge and skill to grow a pineapple in the Herefordshire countryside. Pineapple motifs were carved into the interior of the house and even hand-embroidered in gold thread on clothing. The sculpture draws on this narrative and the also their love of the “eye-catcher” or “outdoor” folly.
In another project, you’re working with students and others at The Hive in Worcester. What is the value to you of working with a community in this way?
It is very hard, if you are an art student, to make work in the public realm and to get real-life experience of working with people. There is simply not the space or the money available. It is also super-risky to do this kind of work without experience. We have worked with students and other communities on most large-scale commissions so that people can have this experience and so that we can understand the context for the work we are making too. I think there are no better conditions for learning and talking then when engaged in making together.
Your homepage is loaded with some great aphorisms about the role of artists. Where do they come from? Why do these things need to be said?
We wanted to acknowledge that artists can work in many ways and that they have a vital role in society. Life feels very unstable at the moment and art is often the only way we can process that volatility, however time and time again it is the first thing that is taken away or deemed superfluous in a community. Art brings meaning, beauty and purpose into everyday life, which we need now more than ever.