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'Monkey and Baby', by Emma Rodgers


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About the artwork

The featured object of the month is the ceramic piece entitled ‘Monkey and Baby’ by the Wirral-based artist, Emma Rodgers.

Emma has been modelling ceramics since the age of ten and concentrating on animal forms since she was 13. Her first piece was a parrot. Emma studied ceramics at school, an opportunity that she feels very lucky for having. She has always concentrated on figures, though at one point she did attempt to try and stop. However, she found that everything she made started to look like a figure. Emma is a good example of how contemporary artists still use animals for subject matter.

Her figures are extraordinary. She has modelled monkeys, hares, cats, birds, dogs, lizards, bulls and human figures. She concentrates on capturing the moment and specifically, the movement of an animal. Emma begins by drawing the creature she plans to make. Sketches are important as the image can be made slightly abstract which she says is a good place to start with a figure. Emma also films and photographs the animals. This way she can isolate a specific moment that can be transferred or developed when she creates a piece. Using these techniques allows her to observe the movement, character and energy that the creature exhibits. She also uses reference books to help determine the correct colours, bone structure and overall forms of the animals. Emma always attempts to concentrate on the strongest elements of a pose. A lot of her pieces show a distorted form and contorted shapes. The pieces are also not solid. She feels that the pieces that are left out help to give the viewer a better experience. They have to imagine those missing areas thus creating a more interactive engagement with the object. Emma is influenced by decaying materials - from animal skeletons and skulls, to deteriorated objects in museums. It is the pieces that are missing which she translates into her work.

The monkey-influenced pieces are probably her best known work. Their poses are designed to show them caught off guard. The relationships between siblings, offspring and groups are all aspects that Emma likes to put into the pieces. Many of her influences come from the monkeys at Chester Zoo, a place which Emma frequently visits. The interactions between individuals are observed, then drawn and then applied to the figures. As with most of the animals she creates and monkeys in particular, it is the ability to transform themselves from a compact mass to an outstretched, elongated form in an instant that Emma likes to capture. On a recent visit to Thailand, she was lucky enough to be able to get up close to some of the monkeys living there. The gibbons in Thailand are quite tame and are particularly keen on being massaged. This allowed Emma to actually study through touch the muscle tone and bone structure of these monkeys. This is very helpful in the construction of a piece.

To start building a figure, Emma begins by making the torso and then moving outwards to the limbs and head. She makes the faces from panels of clay, as it is easier to create an expression with this method. The limbs are jointed, like a skeleton to allow any pose to be attained. Details such as fingers and bones are all points which are very important to the finished piece. A mixture of materials is used when building a figure. The strength of the piece comes from earthstone, while porcelain gives plasticity and translucency. The clays are wedged together, rolled out, then cut and hand formed into the shapes desired by tearing and pinching at the material. Cutting is kept to a minimum to avoid making the finish too precise.

Emma has recently started to experiment with different materials, such as bronze. She has also recently started to make human figurines, that other pieces are added to including feathers and pieces of jewellery to create ‘sassy’ looking women.

Emma also teaches courses both at her home and at a local college. She teaches soft-slab modelling techniques, i.e. the method she uses for her pieces. Soft-slabbing helps to create movement in a piece and creates a less heavy feel to the object.

Emma Rodgers has exhibited at many different places including the Bluecoat Display Centre in Liverpool, Rufford Monastery and Country Park, where she had a residency a few years ago. She also does a show at Hatfield house every year.