Fragile Nature: from control to freedom

29 June – 15 September 2019

Elspeth Owen, Paca Sanchez, Lotte Scott, Emma Howell

Four women artists of different generations featured in this exhibition. All of them attempted the expression of deep and quite original relationships with nature. French artist Paca Sanchez contributed work about the manipulation of nature itself. She makes direct use of plants, seeds, twigs to create poetic new order. In contrast, Lotte Scott creates free forms from unpredictable watery suspensions of peat, and sculpture from the disintegrated forms of burnt basketry. Elspeth Owen is a radical, entirely original ceramic artist. Her practice plays with contrasts of fragility and strength, paralleled with a feminist’s interpretation of nature, community and ritual. And Emma Howell, creates art in recovery from grief, dedicated to her dead father. His loss brought her to a positive new creativity and fresh relationship with colour and form.

Fragile Nature: Paca Sanchez and Elspeth Owen
Paca Sanchez, left and Elspeth Owen meeting in Elspeth’s studio, summer 2018, and realising they are the same age.

A lyrical and controlled use of plants in her work…

Fragile Nature: Paca Sanchez studio
Paca Sanchez studio, Southern France.

Paca Sanchez’s work forms the nucleus of this show. She is a modernist with plants, making precise and controlled art from formal arrangements of leaves, seeds, flowers, stems, twigs. Paca orders and composes nature from her southern French studio, carefully selecting from her vast collection of dried specimens. She works in formalised patterns, straight lines, grids, diagonal lines, sweeping curves. However, she always allows the properties of the plants to dictate their form in the images.  Like herman de vries, who showed here in 2017, she is a kind of natural scientist with an uncompromising European modernist character. She has a commitment to restraint and simplicity, an extreme economy of means. However, she was the first to use plants directly, and her work is distinctively lyrical. She describes it as poetic calligraphy.

Living in France, but of Spanish extraction, she came to be an artist in the late 1980s, after another career. This was her first exhibition in the UK, but she is well known in France. There she has had some 40 exhibitions of her work, 14 of them solo, and 10 residencies.

Fragile Nature: Paca Sanches a work in progress
Paca Sanchez, a work in progress. Paca Sanchez is a modernist. She organises plants, flowers, seeds, grasses in lines, grid-like formal arrangements, geometric patterns. There is a very satisfying strength and order to her work, yet it demonstrates above all how the properties of natural materials are dominated by their fragility.
Paca Sanchez

‘A Lyrical sabotage of the conventional’

Elspeth Owen lives and works in Grantchester near Cambridge in the former village cricket pavilion. She came to pottery via evening classes in the mid-seventies having studied history at Oxford University and worked as an academic, a social worker and a teacher.  She says that in place of an art school training she taught on Simon Nicholson’s legendary Open University course Art and Environment.

‘I have been a feminist since the time when it was called being a member of the Women’s Liberation Movement and a peace protester since the Aldermarston Marches and Greenham Common.’

Elspeth Owen
Fragile Nature: Elspeth Owen's studio in Granchester
Elspeth Owen’s Studio in Granchester

Elspeth makes the most egg-shell thin ceramic vessels. They are often part of installations which celebrate natural materials, journeys, women’s ways of life. Her work has been shown in Britain and in Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and USA.

 Elspeth Owen, Spoons
Elspeth Owen, Spooning

She quotes essays from a book about her pots, coming round again (1998), designed in collaboration with her nephew, Webster Wickham. They call her ceramic work ‘odd…yet enjoyable, exhilarating, and contemplative’ (Gillian Beer), ‘more anarchic and rougher’ (Tanya Harrod) and ‘a lyrical sabotage of the conventional’ (Edmund de Waal).

A colourful affinity towards nature

 Emma Howell and Amy McGregor selecting work in 2018
Emma Howell and Amy McGregor selecting work in 2018

Gloucestershire-based artist Emma Howell explores and reveals new methods of sensation and perception. She’s nurturing a new relationship with the world; a world that – after her father’s death – she had deemed tiresome and melancholic.

 Emma Howell, work in Progress
Emma Howell, work in Progress

Emma’s encounter with grief compelled her to build a deeper appreciation and more colourful affinity towards nature, society and culture. Now, she pursues her life and art as an active adventurer and explorer, and through it has found a combination of tenderness and strength. She has found the means to be grounded. Her work hovers between structure and fragility. She dedicates all of her work to her Dad. His loss taught her how to embrace the adventure that life can offer.

Natural materials used in an experimental way

Lotte Scott making a work
Lotte Scott making a work for an exhibition in Cambridge at Anglia Ruskin, curated by Harriet Lofler, 2018.

Characteristically, Lotte Scott’s work crosses categories as much through materials as definitions. Land becomes liquid, solid becomes fluid, hilly becomes flat, drips are horizontal or vertical. While everything is manipulated nothing is controlled – all is allowed its freedom

 Lotte Scott, a work from an exhibition in Cambridge at Anglia Ruskin, curated by Harriet Lofler, 2018.

Towards a feminist geography

Lotte’s work uses natural materials, such as charcoal, lime, soil, in a highly experimental way, enabling them to flow and express their properties freely, finding their paths in the gallery.

Lotte Scott’s artwork explores place, time and material. For the last five years her practice has focused on the peat moors of the Somerset Levels.

An interest in archaeology and local distinctiveness also informs her work. She creates a balance in her work between nature and artifice. To some extent nature makes her forms. But then, she faciltates their journey, enabling her materials to take their course

 Lotte Scott giving a talk in her exhibition ‘The Fields Are Seas’ at Norwich Outpost Gallery, 2018.
Lotte Scott giving a talk in her exhibition ‘The Fields Are Seas’ at Norwich Outpost Gallery, 2018.

Lotte Scott is featured elsewhere on this site in the artist section.