Prepare to be seduced by sculpture this summer with the unmissable Laura Ford: Seen and Unseen exhibition gracing the lawns and interiors at Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House and Abbot Hall Art Gallery, showcasing Ford’s earlier work together with new sculptures.
Laura Ford is one of Britain’s most original sculptors and is well-known for her portrayals of animals, through which she explores aspects of the human condition. Deploying a nightmarish imagination she uses humour and acute observation to engage with social and political issues.
Ford describes her own work as sculptures dressed as people who are dressed as animals.
Laura Ford’s work sits particularly well in domestic interiors and Blackwell’s warm, richly-carved Arts & Crafts rooms and Abbot Hall’s classically-proportioned Georgian galleries provide a similarly perfect foil for Ford’s startling creations.
Artworks include the fur-clad Medieval Cloud Girls, who are stealthily skulking in Abbot Hall’s opulent silk-lined Saloon, creating a curious counterpoint to the dancing children in Romney’s The Gower Family. Meanwhile at Blackwell, the tragic child soldiers, Armour Boys, lie crumpled in the baronial Main Hall and a shaggy bronze beast, Old Nick, plays a devilish tune by the fireplace in the Dining Room.
The cats, prowling in the grounds at Blackwell against the spectacular backdrop of the Coniston fells, generate an atmosphere of courtliness but their featureless faces convey an uncanny blankness onto which we are able to project our own concerns.
Outside, a series of recent bronze sculptures, Days of Judgement, take an early-Renaissance fresco, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio, as their starting point. In Ford’s postlapsarian vision, the characters of Adam and Eve are reconfigured as a group of very tall, skinny cats. Pacing on the south lawn at Blackwell in various states of deep thought, these cats appear like a group of existential poets gripped by their own inner anxieties.
Elsewhere, it might appear that Beatrix Potter’s much-loved Lakeland characters have fallen on hard times, with a Mrs Tiggy-Winkle-like hedgehog transformed into a bronze bag lady, and a badger who has resorted to foraging in dustbins.
The exhibition will also highlight other aspects of Laura Ford’s practice such as her ceramic works, including Bear, In Remembrance and Needy Greedy, along with new ceramics made in direct response to Blackwell which fit brilliantly with Lakeland Arts’ collection of historic and contemporary pottery. This association is taken a step further through the artist’s series of prints inspired by the most celebrated of the Arts & Crafts ceramicists, William De Morgan, whose lustrous tiles adorn many of Blackwell’s fireplaces.
This show will present other graphic works, in which Ford not only explores ideas and variations relating to her sculpture but also allows her imagination to run free, creating delicate line drawings and vivid watercolours that exist as finished artworks in their own right.
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// Laura Ford: Seen and Unseen
Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal from 11 March – 25 June 2016
Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House, Bowness-on-Windermere – interior exhibition from 11 March – 25 June, the exterior sculptures will be in the grounds until 4 September 2016
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