I first came across the work of Sophie Wellan when I was asked to judge on the panel of the British Women Artists Competition in 2013. Struck by the power of her work, along with the rest of the panel, Sophie’s installation ‘This Too Shall Pass’ was selected as a judges favourite.
A decision to indulge further in the intrigue evoked in me by Sophie’s work came when Sophie was also chosen by the Sweet ‘Art selection panel for our upcoming show Seams, and a studio visit then felt in order! I now find myself again considering the visceral nature of Sophie’s work and its ability to command the viewer, packing a punch while simultaneously sweetening the blow.
The work itself not only provokes in me a tenacious desire to investigate the found objects themselves, asking questions such as ‘Where did these objects come from?’, ‘How did they come together?’ and ‘What history do they hold?’. I am also left wondering about the artist herself, what part, if any, of the very personal sense I gain from these works is her and how willing would she be to reveal herself through them.
I imagined before our interview that Sophie may respond that she is every bit of the works, yet paradoxically also none of them. With her artist statement reflecting an interest in the metaphysical and “a connection between all things” I wonder if for her, despite the incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail evident in their execution, that they can be both everything and nothing.
This ‘connection’ is something I strongly feel with many of Sophie’s works yet with some this also leaves me feeling uncomfortable. There is something hypnotic, something that is both comforting yet toxic, like a pain that can feel like home.
The clinical nature of ‘This Too Shall Pass’ meets a tension in its seeming desperation to order chaos, to muffle pain and to fix the unfixable. The result is an incredibly moving testament to personal connection and all it can or cannot be, or heal.
I have questions for Sophie that may lead to some answers about her practice but I wonder if for me her works may still remain like ghosts, with there being a strong and often chilling sense of the desire to communicate, yet despite this you are left with a certainty that you may never quite grasp the ungraspable.
How long have you been an artist and what drives your practice?
I have always created, throughout my life, although it is only in the last 17 years I have realised my passion for materials and the language within them. This is what really drives me to make the work that I do. The essence of the material is what I am trying to discover and how it speaks and then how that language might change when one material is juxtaposed with another.
What was the last exhibition you visited by another artist and what were your impressions?
The last exhibition I visited by another artist was by Roseanne Hawksley, a sculptor whose work is often to do with war and death. I love her work as it is not only poetic but also beautifully crafted, she manages to create a great beauty from materials such as animal bones. Roseanne is now in her mid eighties and is still working; that is also really impressive, and how I would like to be.
There is a great spiritual sense in your work, a sense of a communication of the past in the present through the use of found objects. Can you say a bit about that and how it has become important in your work?
I am aware of the sense of the past in the present within my work, and I often wonder where it comes from. All I can think of is that as a child my mother would drag me around museums, especially the British Museum looking at relics from the past. I can only recollect not liking it at the time, but these things stick and come out somewhere (Ironically, the British Museum is one of my favourite places to visit now). It has been suggested in the past that some of my work has the look of something that might have been found in an ancient dig somewhere, with an ancient quality to it. Most if not all of the materials I use have always been part of the natural world so we intrinsically know them and on some level I believe, will feel connected to them. I feel strongly a sense of the spiritual nature within a material. It is the material which evokes, and I think that by putting the materials together to form a symbolic object which speaks of being human (a shoe, a dress or a cloak) it immediately connects us on that level. My favourite book which talks a lot about the spirit within a material is ‘The Nature Of Substance’ by Rudolph Haushka, a beautiful old book for anyone wanting to learn more about this subject.
I find your work incredibly visceral in its ability to emote. How consciously is this an intention in your creative process and do you have a surfaced awareness of your work speaking on many levels?
I guess any art is fundamentally about communication. My most recent work ‘As Above So Below’ series speaks on many levels, with ideas of how everything in the universe is connected from seeds to metals, to crystal formation to star constellations and the energetic pathways in our own bodies. However, I am also trying to describe how I personally feel amongst all of this on a more spiritual level. The work came out of a time in my life when I wasn’t able to sleep and would go into the garden at night and look at the incredible night sky in its vastness, terror and glory. I guess the work is about how it made me feel.
For me your work is interesting because it has such a paradoxical sense of beauty and calm but also feels somewhat uncomfortable to view. Can you say a bit more about this and if it is how you intend the work to be received?
I feel that for me to create a piece of work which I think has succeeded in some way, it needs to possess a dynamic tension. I love to create beautiful things, I am very aware and in awe of the beauty and majesty within the natural world, I am also aware that that is not all there is. The discomfort felt viewing my work might well be touching on a collective angst. My work is a way for me personally to attempt to work out the difficult questions of life . It is always really exciting and reassuring for me when somebody ‘gets’ what I am doing. It reminds me that I am not alone.
You can see two pieces of Sophie Wellan’s work exhibited at Sweet ‘Art’s upcoming show Seams running form the 13th -17th September 2014.