Moving Darwin

My first solo show – Moving Darwin, is finally opening to the public Monday 26th July – 5th 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.

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 ….