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.