Sitting down at the start of this year to discuss a body of work for Autumn at The Merchant’s Table, the Wordsworth Dictionary of Symbols was close to hand.
When bringing together a larger collection of these pieces it can be useful to work to a theme. Something to guide choice, curation and the relationship between pieces. It was the relationship between these pieces and their subsequent associations which piqued my interest whilst flicking through the battered copy of Cultural Icons.
I find the works from this series arrive with numerous connotations, both the personal and those drawn from larger narratives and histories. My interest in a particular fruit or vegetable variety found in the garden is as much about form as it is about the story behind it. Equally, the site they come from is often sought out in the same way and may give context to the produce taken.
Sat altogether in the studio, bronze works half finished or underway, created with a multitude of intentions and reasons, I’m struck by their association with one another and how this transforms their meaning once more.
Compounding and shifting. The algebraic quality of symbol. The pumpkin, the squash, pointing to the harvest. Throw in a mushroom or two and we are at a cauldron and the incantations of All Hallow’s Eve. Add a pumpkin to the bitten apple, they become the icons of fairytales and Brothers Grim. Nibbled figs beside apples, offset by plump pears as lovers’ fruit. Crab and oysters, the sound of the sea. Crab with samphire, now sat across from plums and apricots, and we see an exclusive banquet and late summer indulgence.
This time of year, as evenings stretch and candles appear, it is a time for sitting and being together. How better to pass a dark night but together around a meal? The sum of ingredients, curated culinary specimens. Grouped together for the cooking pot, spread about the kitchen, each specimen brings its own character and quality to the dish when finally combined. Aubergine plus onion multiplied by tomato equals ratatouille - divided by buttered bread. Garlic cloves ∞ please.
And so arriving at this collection, ‘Michaelmas Feasting’, as a celebration of ingredients and of all these individual elements bring to each other.
Sat between the 29th September and the 9th November in the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches respectively, this collection had been compiled and created across the two dates.
Considering all that is taking place in both eastern Europe and to the east of Europe, it seems important to acknowledge all the people and nations whose cultures have been so heavily defined by both of these churches. Originally I’d hoped to open this show as a midway way Michaelmas to symbolise both. A date to bring us together around the same table for feasting during dark times. But I’m rarely on time! Opening instead on the 9th, we hold an Eastern Archangel Feast down the road from Anglican St Mary’s. I hope it brings about the same sentiments of unity.
Another compound of symbols, that ‘feasting’ itself has been the focus of two important commissions within my studio this year. A collection for the Roux’s Waterside Inn in Bray and now a new piece for Gerbou in Dubai opening next year.
Works for these two sites celebrate dedication to place, produce and process. They also create a trio of culinary installations, with ‘pig parts' already in place at The Unruly Pig in nearby Bromeswell. So for me, the symbolism or connotation of ‘feast’ is here extended to growth and development in the studio.
Seeing through symbol, through narrative, leads to a richer life. Leading us around again to Michaelmas - feast of the Saints, rich in their own symbolic language.
Portrait of Alice, by Richard Bloom.