Following her recent talk at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, internationally acclaimed artist and sculptor Sophie Ryder is currently exhibiting at Wetpaint Gallery until 29th October. Her new book, A Life in Sculpture is a sumptuous and weighty tome dedicated to her craft and lifelong passion for artistic endeavour – it is available to buy for £25, along with mugs and tote bags for a special keepsake or Christmas gift.
Following her hugely successful solo exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral in July this year, her work has become more recognisable and sought after than ever. Her monumental pieces, some life size, some as big as a house,drew crowds to the grounds of the equally impressive cathedral and spire. “I get a thrill from working ‘big' " the artist says, often working in the open air from dawn until dusk.
Ryder is best known for her wire sculptures of mythical creatures, hares and hybrid beings sculpted in affectionate poses, often hugging and bound together. They are imaginary, magical and often humorous depictions of relationships and emotions. If you are a local, you may be familiar with The Hare and the Minotaur that stands on Cheltenham Promenade and Paintpots outside the New Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester. Although her signature Lady-Hares tower over public spaces in Chicago, Vancouver and Palm Desert, she is a Cotswolds artist, and we have claimed her as our own!
What a joy, then, to find her work at Wetpaint Gallery in Chalford. Her work is so immediately appealing – her figures half human, half ‘being’, loveable, huggable, vulnerable creatures that you want to take home and care for. Giclee prints start at a very reasonable £180 and are surely a shrewd investment (I am tempted) whilst larger pieces such as Rising – a gorgeous, crouching hare with a rust patina, are ‘price on application’. There are plenty of loveable hounds to see – animals have been central to Sophie’s life from her earliest childhood memories, indeed she has five lurchers of her own. Me and my Five Babies a lanky lurcher with five baby minotaurs on his back, Pedro a dog sculpted from steel wire and Sitting Horse Miniature bronze, are full of character, about to run out of the gallery and across the open fields.
This exhibition shows the extensive range of her work, the breadth of materials she uses and the varied scale of her work. Peak inside a cabinet and admire a collection of adorable bronze miniatures (starting at £540), marvel at her ‘wire drawings’ that at once look like charcoal sketches and relief sculpture, enamel paintings onto stone, wire sculpture, charcoal and pastel drawings on a large scale Hugging on Top, giclee prints - Three Blue Egyptian Ladies catches my eye, bronze plaques and a series of more colourful prints depicting The Lovers priced at £250.
How clever that she has created a signature theme that runs throughout her distinctive work – instantly recognisable and covetable. “As a child I loved Picasso’s Minotaurs, but I developed mine to be a partner to the Lady-Hare, so he’s less sexually threatening. Mine is strong, loving and protective, and can even be a bit camp.” The human part of Lady Hare is based on Sophie’s own form. More recent wire sculptures include huge clasped hands and feet thrusting skywards.
Sophie is one of the leading female artists of our time and the youngest student to be accepted to the Royal Academy Schools since Turner. She came to early prominence in 1984 when she exhibited at Christie’s Pick of New Graduate Art Show, and began working at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in ’86 – a pivotal moment in her career. She admired Henry Moore’s monumental bronzes in the landscape itself, the work of Barbara Hepworth and Frink’s striding figures – it helped her to understand and experiment with scale.
Landscape and nature became so important that she relocated to Gloucestershire and has since spent her career exploring different media; print, drawing, tapestry, wire mesh with wet plaster embossed with machinery parts, sheet steel, stained glass and even old toys.
Visitors can enjoy an insight into the creative process of this artist through her book and exhibited work. Seemingly indifferent to market trends, she continues to be prolific in her work. For Sophie, making art is less of a profession and more of a compulsion. Luckily for us, she shows no signs of slowing down, so we can look forward to many more exhibitions!
The exhibition runs until Sat 29th October, visit wetpaintgalleryonline.com for further info. Sophie will also be doing a book signing at Waterstones in Cirencester on Thursday 17th November at 7pm. Tickets available directly from Waterstones on 01285 658998.
Sarah Edmonds is an Italian graduate from University College London, where she also studied History of Art and a short course at Slade School of Fine Art. She's been a tour guide in Tuscany and now works in marketing for Authentic Adventures, a travel company based in Stonehouse that specialises in painting holidays.