Moving Darwin

My first solo show – Moving Darwin, is finally opening to the public Monday 26th July – 12th Sept at the Home of Charles Darwin.

It has been quite an journey. From the germ of an idea as a 3rd year student at Central Saint Martins making work for a hypothetical exhibition at Down House, the intensity of making a stop-frame clay animation and series of ceramic works in my final term, the delight when the museum’s curators embraced the idea and invited me to exhibit in 2020, its subsequent cancelation due to COVID, to English Heritage re-kindling the project this spring which presented a new opportunity. It is now installed and ready for the doors to open on Monday.

Excitingly, the work is bang up to date. I have sculpted new pieces to respond to the current pandemic which highlights just how relevant Charles Darwin’s theories about the expression of emotions still are today. Hands up if you are struggling to understand the emotions or ‘read the room’ when staring at zoom in gallery view? Or looking at a face half-obscured by a PPE mask and wondering if that person is sad or angry? Contemporary life is challenging what Darwin knew to be true – that the facial expression of emotions are normally universally understood as they are a core constituent of how we have evolved as a species. They are a pre-linguistic language, one of the reasons we are such a successful species on this planet because we can communicate quickly, silently, and with great sophistication. What happens if we can’t understand each other’s emotions in these current circumstances?

Emotional Field – Wedgwood-inspired emotional portraits

When I first got the invitation to exhibit at Down House, I decided I wanted to develop the work further and make a new version of Emotional Field focusing on a woman. On reflection my degree show installation was completely male dominated. The current Emma Darwin, great great granddaughter to Charles and Emma, and an expert on her family’s history, seemed the obvious choice to ask to sit for me for this update. Emma came to my house in autumn 2019, and I photographed her, taking ‘mug shots’ of her front, left and right views expressing and holding the six emotions that her forebear defined as universally understood whether you life in Pinner or Papua New Guinea: Happiness sadness, fear, surprise, anger and disgust. Since then I have sculpted numerous versions, but it was not until this spring and the prospect of the show was revived that I decided to sculpt these six emotions again, this time in Wedgwood inspired colours, with the added frisson of one Wedgwood Blue head wearing a porcelain white face mask. The Jasperware colours also allowed me to make a strong visual link between the Darwin and Wedgwood family dynasties.

Abstract Fear – an interpretation of what visceral fear feels like in the body.

Another piece I have remade for ‘Moving Darwin’ is Abstract Fear – I wanted to include a gestural piece that showed what the emotions feel like in our bodies. But the only placement possible, on a marble mantle piece against a cream wall, led me to rework the original piece in delicious black clay to add to its visceral sense of menace.

WhyTheFace? Viewing Cabin

Needless to say, my stop-frame clay animation is also on display at Down House. I worked with the wonderful set designer Colin Peters to make this demountable viewing cabin, to create an immersive experience while watching the film, complete with surround sound, and a periscopic side view of the original raw clay head of William Pryor that was used during the making of WhyTheFace?

I will be on site at Down House on the opening day Monday 26th July – running a series of drop in clay emoji workshops. Come along if you can. If not, Down House makes a wonderful summer’s day out of London. You can get there using just an Oyster card, if you don’t have car – via trains to Orpington or Bromley South, and then a bus to Downe Village. Apart from seeing my work, it is fascinating to visit Darwin’s study where he penned The Origin of Species and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, but also roam in his walled garden and green house where he studied plants, insect and animal varieties up close during his scientific research.

And finally if you would like to hear a really generous interview with me by BBC Radio Kent’s wonderful Dominic King the take a listen by clicking on the image below and scrolling to 1hr 12mins in, where I gabble on excitedly for 10 minutes.

Click on image to listen to interview – scrolling to 1hr 12mins in for start of the conversation

A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf understood. I am now in heaven – as my ceramic studio, designed by local architects Edwards Rensen, and constructed at the end of my London garden is now complete. It has taken much longer than anticipated. Seven months instead of the two and half the builder estimated. The pandemic, Brexit and an icy February all took their toll. But I am now in, my creative space is just how I want it, and I can really get to work.

If you want to see me live in the studio, pour yourself an aperitivo, and join me on Tuesday 25th May at 6pm, in conversation with Italian tour guide Roberta Faccio of @artwit_london, for one of her on-line Art Cafe talks. To book a place click here. Tickets are free, with a donation if you wish. We will be talking about my practice and contemporary portraiture in clay. I hope to see you there!

Green Room Mud-whispering

So excited to be trying something completely new this Wednesday 21st October live-streaming on YouTube 6.30-7.30pm. I will be taking part in The Green Room with David Pearl, my ever-creative husband’s new talk-show staged at the Kings Place Theatre, and connecting to guests around the world via the web. This week’s experimental show will be discussing creativity, and I will be live-sculpting, or mud-whispering, a response to the conversation.

Other star turns on this week’s Green Room will be the improvising opera crew, Impropera, the wonderful theatre producer and cultural leader David Micklem founder of 64MillionArtists, Mark Lewis, director of Uber-Advertising School, The School of Communication Arts, and Antonia Kihara from the SoulFood Cafe in Nairobi. Join us for the livestream on YouTube (searching for The Green Room with David Pearl) 6.30-7.30pm on Wednesday 21st October. Please Like and Subscribe to the show.


In preparation for this, I staged a rehearsal for my approach to the show. Listening to the latest edition of The Guilty Feminist podcast about the joy and struggles for dealing with change, I sculpted a reaction to what I heard. Here is is a time lapse of what happened over the hour long podcast. Plus some stills of the final result.

A Cri de Coeur

Angry as Hell?

Yesterday was Bastille Day, which got me to pondering – Why is it that the British people seem so bovine and placid in the face of the current political incompetence, corruption, lies and ideological bullying? I’m madder than hell! Are you?

A Call to Action

If your feelings mirror mine, please help me create my next project and put my rage into the clay, by sharing with me photographs of YOU expressing rage. Not smouldering anger but raging fury. The more pronounced the expression the better. Using these images as visual reference material, I am going to attempt to sculpt a 100-strong portrait of Rage. A seething mob made up of my community. I want to feel I am not alone, the empathy of human outrage, the common cause of collective action.

Here’s what to do:

  • Ask a friend or family member to take mugshot photos of you expressing rage from 4 different angles FRONT ON, LEFT SIDE, RIGHT SIDE and the BACK OF THE HEAD. 
  • You may have to brush off your method acting skills, but try and hold the same facial expression in all four directions.  (Obviously, you don’t have to hold it while photographing your back!)
  • To channel your feelings pick a few triggers from the possible motivations listed below.
  • Take the photos in High Definition (if possible) – if you have iPhone use HD mode, better still shoot them with a camera. Ideally I need images of at least 2Mb at 300 dpi. 
  • Take the images in front of a plain, light-coloured background so I can see as much of the shape of your head and hair as possible.
  • If your hair is longer than shoulder-length, please wear it up for the photos. 
  • Email or Wetransfer the images to me at Studio@jopearl.com with the subject line: I’m Enraged!

Left Side

Front View

Right Side

What’s my motivation Ms De Mille?

Take your pick of why you may be enraged: the arrogant incompetence of our government, avoidable COVID deaths, racism, ideological intransigence pushing the UK economy off a No Deal BREXIT cliff,  broken promises to key workers, inadequate action in the face of the climate crisis, voter suppression, political corruption – the list seems endless at the moment.

Email me your mugshots by 30th July for a chance to win this small ceramic cri de coeur I sculpted of me from the photos above.

Commissions Gratefully Received

During lockdown I was fortunate to be commissioned to make a series of emotional portraits of a young brother and sister, for their father’s 60th Birthday. See main picture below. It was a great way to focus my mind, and stop me dwelling on dark thoughts during the height of the pandemic. And frankly fun to sculpt this flock of emotions – Which got me thinking – how it would be to make a crowd / a mob / a riot of individual heads to create a large installation … hence this call for your help – Once more my friends unto the breach! And please do share this with people who you think might enjoy being involved. The more the merrier! Hooray!

Being Human at Thrown Contemporary

When I was invited by the Thrown Contemporary Gallery in Highgate to take part in its Spring 2020 group show, Being Human, I was predictably thrilled. The exhibition brings together a collection celebrating the human figure, human emotions and how we make sense of who we are. My work is showing along side that of Tom Kemp, Diane Griffin, Tom Crew, Russell Heron, Carolyn Tripp, Karina Smagulova and Unit 89. It opened on 6th March, and although the gallery’s doors have closed temporarily in response to COVID social distancing, the exhibition has entered the online realm, thanks to Thrown’s new presence on the international gallery platform Artsy. So if you fancy, you can buy pieces from Being Human, including a number of mine, or browse Artsy more widely for work by luminaries such Grayson Perry or Edmund de Waal. While it is very sad that you can’t visit the gallery in person at the moment, it’s a bit of a blast for my work to be rubbing shoulders with ‘the big boys’ online. If you do get a moment to check it out, please remember to click on the follow button under my name – every little helps to up my digital profile!

Thrown Contemporary has been amazing. Not only pulling together this lovely body of work, ducking and diving with promotional interviews, but also producing a gorgeous catalogue of the show – shown in extract here.

Lasting Impressions at the Crypt Gallery

It was very interesting to remount WhyTheFace? at the Crypt Gallery during the London Design Festival in September. Recent graduates from Central Saint Martin’s 2019 BA and MA Ceramics programmes came together for Lasting Impressions, a group exhibition, showing a broad church of work. And how appropriate is that? The wonderfully atmospheric brick vaults of St Pancras parish church on Euston Road were a great backdrop for our work. Contemporary ceramics set against subterranean London Clay brick walls.

Click below for a walk through of my installation. The clay stop-frame animated film was projected on bare walls, sculpture dotted around the gallery space on stone stairs, and various metal and wooden plinths. It was great to see the film projected on such a large scale, filling the wall. The whole work took on a superhuman feel, resonating with my thesis work on the monstrous golem.

The exhibition had a nice write up in Domus, the Italian design magazine too. Click here to view. Or below are a few other images of my work at the show.

Here are some images from my fellow exhibitors work too..

Funerary Urn For a Top Cat

Our beautiful cat, Emily, companion of 14 years, sadly passed away this week. The days blurred into one, as her condition gradually worsened, loosing her sense of balance and appetite. Yesterday, we had to allow her to drift into the Big Sleep. We will miss her terribly.

Thank goodness I was consoled by my wonderful friend, artist and ceramics mentor Stephanie Buttle over a drink a few nights before. A true creative, she reminded me to put the sadness into the clay. Steph suggested I make a funerary urn to place Emily’s ashes in. What could be more fitting? And another great excuse to work with unfired clay, that would allow Emily and the urn to melt back into feline Mother Earth.

Yesterday afternoon I did just that, and spent a perfect couple of hours with my daughter, who came home for the weekend to nest, condole and recooperate from the excesses of Uni. The stars seemed to be aligned as I went down into my basement to retrieve a bag of terracotta, only to uncover some forgotten clay with the perfect provenance – dug up from a depth of 25m from a construction site opposite our house a few years ago. This ‘home grown’ clay was a deep deep grey, very sticky, tricky to work with and cold to the touch. From that depth, drilled up by piling machines, it would not have seen the light of day for about 20,000 years. Primeval stuff.

The whole process felt very ancient too, linking back to the some of the earliest ceramics of human civilisation, where the passing of loved ones involved making effigies, and funerary urns to carry them back to Mother Earth or into the afterlife.

I’m not used to making ‘functional’ ware. We rolled the clay to make the base and sides of the urn, trying to ‘do a good job’ using wooden battens so that the clay was even, using a prosaic Vanish plastic tub as the form to wrap the slabs of clay around. Miscalculating the dimensions of the sides, a disconcerting, gapping hole stood there slightly accusingly. Instead of starting again to make the ‘perfect’ pot, I filled the gap with an extra slab of clay, pushing the two sides together roughly with my thumbs. The junction resembled the backbones of a spine. Uncanny.

The urn would need a lid. Why not decorate it with an Emily? We sat sculpting, trying to capture the form of Emily’s body. Together Elsa and I reminisced about Emily and then our making went very quiet. I based my little figure on a photo of the last time that she had sat drinking from her water bowl. It felt like we were making manifest our feline friend, and really conjuring her into, perhaps not life, but into existence. It was one of those beautiful moments, when a sense of peacefulness and purposefulness came together. Prrrr.

WhyTheFace? at The Central St Martins Degree Show 19-23rd June

WhyTheFace? my graduating project is finished and ready to be seen. After 10 weeks of work, today is the final day of installing the Central St Martins Degree Show. The official Private View takes place on Tuesday 18th June, and it is open to the general public Wednesday – Saturday 19-21 June from 12-8pm and on Sunday 22 June 12-6pm. Please do pop into the show to see it. Or you can click on the Vimeo link below to see an excerpt from the stop frame clay animation, with a sequence expressing fear.

What’s it all about?

WhyTheFace? is a study of what emotions look like and feel like. A personal taxonomy inspired by Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking publication The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals in which he defined six emotions as fundamental to human evolution and universally understood, whether you live in Pinner or Papual New Guinea: Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Fear, Anger and Disgust.

This exploration is both figurative and abstract. 

An animated stop-motion portrait of William Pryor, Darwin’s Great Great Grandson, is interspersed with abstracted versions of the same emotions. Some of these gestural interpretations have been fired and are placed in the installation. 

The portrait of Pryor, whose expression was changed over 200 times during the shooting of the film is left as raw clay, kept damp under a glass dome in suspended animation ready to be brought back to life. Condensation on the inside of the glass begs the question: Is he still breathing? 

A cluster of fired specimens on the shelf capture other examples of the six emotions. 

The work is a response to emerging scientific evidence that young toddlers are arriving in nursery with a delayed understanding of the facial expressions of emotions. This is linked to too much time spent on flat screen devices rather than in-the-flesh interactions with their care-givers.  

The installation’s specimen shelf includes a ceramic ‘brain’ representing Digital Dementia, where the right side of the brain associated with mood control and empathy is underdeveloped, in comparison with the left.

Viewers are invited to enter my world. Both as a maker-space where I have created this work, but also as conceptual field. 

The installation is designed to evoke a whispered message from Charles Darwin on the importance of empathy and understanding emotions. In today’s fast-paced, digitally obsessed world, the viewer is given permission to slow down and stare at the flesh of emotions. In this oneiric space they might catch a glimpse of themselves mirroring the expressions on display, emotional contagion – a shared experience of empathy. 

The Golem Returns

Last Friday, my ceramic study of The Golem, took its next BIG steps.

Bin There, Done That

Having moulded the human-scale skeletal body parts during my month-long residency with Collective Matter in Bermondsey last October, I then smoke fired the work in a series of bin-firings over the following months.

The Big Reveal at London Craft Week 2019

The wonderful Collective Matter are now giving me the opportunity to exhibit this work at the Potting Shed, their collaborative space at Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer near Slough. The piece will be on show to visitors during London Craft Week on 8th May at CSF. I will also be running a workshop that day, co-creating with visitors a reclining clay Golem. This will culminate in us ‘planting’ the figure in the sculpture park’s woods, and sewing the raw clay golem with woodland wild flower seeds – clay is just as much a growing as sculpting medium, after all! To book tickets for this tour and workshop, which includes travel arrangements to and from the venue, nibbles and a glass of something sparkly, click here.

A Hanging Matter

Meanwhile, last week, my husband David and I, joined George Marsh, the sculpture park’s wonderful director, to hang my Golemic shadow puppet. Here are some pictures of how we got on. It was intense work, connecting and cinching wires so that the human scale marionette limbs could move. We deliberately put its arms and legs in tension so that the figure appears mid-stride, in suspended animation.

What will free the golem from this suspended animation? Who knows but we must be careful what we wish for ….

It’s a wrap and many thanks!

Here are a few highlights from the Degree Show, the last day of term and my subsequent graduation. I was so pleased to be awarded my degree with First Class Honours. It made the graduation celebration all the more sweet this week with my lovely Mud friends and family. Thanks to all those who have helped me on this journey. It has been very special.