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Kathy Dalwood Sculptures


As a child, when her mother thought she was off at a ballet lesson, in fact she was tucked away in the local library thumbing through books on interior design and architecture – subjects which have continued to fascinate her ever since. She may have deviated along the way through teaching, designing furniture and interior design but for the past 15 years or so she’s has worked solely on sculpture which has included large scale public sculptures, friezes for private clients and her current collection of plaster busts.

Previously Kathy’s early works included using materials like wrought iron, concrete and flocking- a process which adheres small bits of fibre to a surface- which at the time was revolutionary (remember this was in the mid 90s). As Kathy explains, ‘What I’ve ended up doing is exactly what I should have done in the first place – instead of deviating through other design fields – I have the same visual interests now as in my childhood”. In retrospect she realises that furniture was a way of making sculpture.

It unravels back to modernist architecture and using relief sculpture then moving onto baroque imagery of portals and 18thC doorways that inspired her. Walking around cities and admiring grand figurative sculptures and detailing in architecture is what caught her eye. It wasn’t the statues themselves it was the figurative imagery of the swags, the garlands that surround them and the fruits they were holding. What interested Kathy was the way the clothes and cloth were rendered. It was how Rodin’s sculptures rendered a silk bodice giving it the feeling of movement out of a material that was totally solid and impassive. This incredible transformation from fluid material into an impassive material like stone or bronze and the way the statues were rendered and expressed into a three dimensional form is what interested her.

Inspired by figurative sculpture Kathy start making concrete figurines. She sourced vintage plaster or porcelain figurines and took moulds from them and then cast them in very rough dark black concrete leaving the seam line visible - it was a complete transformation. This use of industrial fabrication methods featuring rough uneven surfaces underpinned the collection which was received really well - but she needed more. Instead of re-casting already existing sculptures she wanted to create her own figurative pieces and it was seeing a glass case of miniature plaster busts at the Sir John Soane Museum which provided the inspiration for her current Plaster Bust Collection.

To make the busts she first creates an original sculpture from which a mould is then taken. The first bust she made was successful from a technical point of view but as Kathy explains, “It worked really well but it looked too much like an ordinary bust, like something you'd buy in a shop”. It was while she was researching costumes that she had her ‘Eureka’ moment. She came across an illustration of Marie Antoinette showing her wearing a hat adorned with a giant ship in full sail and decided “ Ok, so that’s what I’ll do - I’m going to subvert the traditional plaster bust by creating outlandish costumes and headgear.”

Kathy continues to develop the themes and methods which she adopted when first beginning to create cast concrete and plaster sculpture – namely direct casting from real objects and materials. She adopted this technique after – as she says - failing spectacularly at sculpting in clay from life “It was a complete nightmare. Impossible. It felt like I hadn’t had one second art training in my life”. So she had the idea of casting directly from the actual materials and at the same time continued to look at the way sculptors historically portrayed real materials such as fabric, leather and braid and incorporates these elements - among many others – into her busts and relief sculptures.

Initially, when Kathy embarked on the bust collection the costume references were mostly historic but gradually she began looking at contemporary fashion designers with a particularly sculptural bent such as Junya Watanabe and McQueen and sometimes introduced elements of their designs. At the same time she moved away from using fabrics and haberdashery in the initial sculptures to everyday materials such as discarded packaging, crushed papers, plumbing and electrical parts and all kinds of low-key humdrum material. “Crush paper into a ball then open it out. Make it into a collar then cast from it. The silicon cast picks up every single tiny relief detail, as does the plaster, so you now have transformed this crushed paper into solid plaster while still retaining the unique characteristics of paper”. Not obvious at first but all the heads are from the same mould Kathy changes angles and plays with scale to giving a different expression for each.

Kathy pieces are social comments, summarising war or a city. She sees beauty in the ordinary and mundane. The busts reference a cultural attitude; the crushed paper about recycled or Lego bricks for a bricklayer. “it’s about the intrinsic quality of material, crushed paper is actually a beautiful thing if you look at it as a sculpture surface. I like making something look incredibly glamorous when in actual fact the object consists of pieces from charity shops or boxes covered in plaster.

Looking back Kathy realises it was her brilliant foundation course that was the beginning. “It made us think about the intrinsic quality of items. To see the quality in something that isn't interesting”. When she was a teacher, the homework to students was to draw from life. She would get them to sit in the bath and draw the taps instead of choosing ornaments that are already ’pretty’ and intrinsically interesting.

Kathy perceives architecture as sculpture, “I found a quote by Brancusi who said, Architecture is inhabited sculpture', that’s exactly how I see it. In reducing the size of the Eiffel tower or the Arc de Triomphe to the size of a tourist souvenir it stops being something you can walk into and explore, and turns it into a sculptural object.” The hat on Miss London Town is decorated with every iconic three-dimensional London structure from telephone and pillar boxes to Big Ben and the London Eye – all of them sourced in the souvenir shops dotted around Piccadilly Circus.

Kathy says her recent exhibition ‘The Secret Society’ at Pitzhanger Manor in London marked a natural pause in the evolution of the collection and she’s now thinking about how it might continue to develop. Not drawn to any one style and type of architecture, among other things she hopes in the future to collaborate with a 3D model maker and construct her own buildings. “I'm very interested in vernacular architecture which it’s are often bizarre structures people built to fulfil various functions but never consciously ‘designed’. I like the idea of creating my own ‘vernacular architecture’ ”.

From a technical point of view there are a lot of issues when you work with moulds. “I was used to working in relief but not to creating free-standing sculptures. I’ve learnt as I went along the way, it’s been a challenge, but by the 32nd bust ! I’d pushed the technique and I’m now more in control of and ambitious in what I make.” She acknowledges her father Hubert Dalwood, himself a famous sculpture and artist, has influenced her work but not consciously.

The plaster busts look glamorous and luxurious but the materials from which she constructs the original sculptures are far from that. Kathy’s message throughout this collection is that “low key is the new luxe.” Looking at Kathy’s pieces it makes you look again at the mundane, the texture, the form and the 3 dimensional shape of everyday items. You don’t look at objects the same way again. As she says “I hope that my Plaster Bust Collection will steer people’s interest towards figurative sculpture in general, of which there are so many – at times overlooked – diverse and captivating examples in the cities, parks, palaces, cathedrals and museums of the world.”


Text: Melinda Ashton Turner

Still Photography: Grant Turner


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