Katie Cuddon's sculptures are known for their clotted, restless surfaces which are modelled in clay and then painted, sometimes in a uniform colour or multiple layers of paint - applied, rubbed of and reapplied. The focus on surface is important – it is specific and allusive and creates images apparently recognizable as anthropomorphic, symbolic, but unfamiliar so they rapidly withdraw to a level of abstraction that’s hard to capture with language.
Language, its slipperiness and significance, is central to whatever Cuddon makes. Words are given a platform in her titles and feature prominently in her drawings as patterned blocks of text. But this suspicion and submission to text is also evident in the display of the sculptures where ceramic forms, wooden frames, plaster bats and perhaps an interloping prop organize themselves into something with a definite syntax despite their physical elusiveness.
Her recent practice brings together work completed as part of the inaugural ceramics fellowship at Camden Art Centre (2011), as the Sainsbury Scholar in Sculpture and Drawing at the British School at Rome (2008/9) and as the Norma Lipman Research Fellow at Newcastle University (2008).
Hunger Woman, 2007. Painted ceramic, wood
In ‘Overshoot and Collapse’ Cuddon creates a series of sculptural images using skins of clay that explore surface as a vehicle for conveying gesture and expression. Developed during a year-long fellowship, the research constituted a body of chiefly figurative ceramic works.
Using thin skins of clay 'wrapped' into ‘semi-articulated’ forms, Cuddon’s sculptures propose a series of (often seemingly provisional) 'impressions' rather than attempting resolved renderings of a given form or image. Concerned with questioning orthodoxies that have traditionally underpinned much figurative sculpture made in clay, e.g. the need to ‘be true’ to an underlying structure, where works are built up over an interior armature akin to the skeletal structure of the human body, Cuddon hand-models (through a process of pummelling, fingering and cajoling) the clay, gradually building, without the use of supports, an image that is then fired.
Other means of treating the surface (e.g. punching holes through the surface of the clay or applying a uniform layer of white emulsion paint) neutralize or rupture, paradoxically heightening the emotional force of the sculptures and emphasizing particular qualities.
A series of sculptures presented in the solo exhibition, 'Overshoot and Collapse' at Globe Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne (June-July 2008). The work was also presented in two group exhibitions: 'Present Volume', including Claire Strand and J.Noi at The Space, Deutsche Bank, London (September 2008 – January 2009) and ‘The Painting Room’ at Transition Gallery, London (January 2008 – February 2008).
Marking the beginning of Cuddon’s interest in an opposing relationship between image and object, ‘I No Longer Know What The Money Is’ is a series of sculptures and drawings developed during a 12-month fellowship at The British School at Rome as the Sainsbury Scholar in Sculpture and Drawing and subsequently in the studio in Newcastle.
Untitled Sculpture, 2009. Pencil on paper, plaster
In the work, Cuddon explores what parallels can be elucidated between two distinct art-making processes: building up a sculptural image with clay and drawing using pen, pencil, paint, and how the qualities we anticipate these processes might create might be inversed.
As part of this process, an ‘image’ is formed by working out thin skins of clay into sculptures that reference figurative forms (e.g. a beached seal, an open mouth). Image 5 here (detail from “I no longer know what the money is”, 2010) The surface of the clay is intensively worked (e.g. pushing from the ‘inside’ or pummelled back from the outside), to achieve what has been described as a surface ‘clotted with the accumulated trace of the artist’s fingers…the pummelling and cajoling of the clay transforms it into a sculptural surface of disclosure.’
The drawings parallel this approach, exploring how an image of an (often indeterminate) physical object can be described by building up heavily worked surfaces composed of superimposed layers of marks and patterns.
Writing on Wanting, 2010. Pencil, pen on paper
Informed by the study of Etruscan ceramics and wall drawing, notably the relief drawings of objects and symbolic forms in the tombs at Tarquinia, and hand-modeled terracotta sculptures in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco Roma.
Etruscan Tomb, Tarquinia. Photo by Fernando Maquieira, 2009
Cuddon’s solo exhibition, ‘I No Longer Know What The Money Is’, was presented at Alma Enterprises Gallery, London (29.01.2010 – 28.03.2010). It was further shown at Simon Oldfield Gallery as part of the group exhibition ‘New Symphony’, including Sam Plagerston, Douglas White and Tim Ellis (03.06.2010 – 03.07.2010).
The relationship between image and object was explored further within a 96-page artist’s book, Without a Sentence, Without a Name (see current work).
A group of ten sculptures produced whilst the inaugural ceramics fellowship at Camden Arts Centre, ‘Spanish Lobe’ extended Cuddon’s experiments into the nature of surface in sculpture.
Poker, 2011. Glazed ceramic
Refining certain manual approaches to achieve an ‘intensified’ surface (e.g. pummelling, kneading, fingering the clay and treating warping and cracking during drying as a semi-orchestrated part of the making process). Cuddon also mixed clay bodies, applied glaze materials and progressively built up and rubbed back layers of acrylic and emulsion paint once the work was fired.
Vital Imposter, 2011-13. Glazed and painted ceramic, black clay, wood
These methods, rooted in painting, gradually, and iteratively, produced various surfaces (e.g. velvety, metallic or patinated) which occlude the spectator’s encounter with the surface of the work; distracting the gaze from an unmediated encounter with each finger-printed, pushed or prodded facet of the surface.
Goodbye Torrelodones, 2011. Painted ceramic, plaster, wood, paper
Cuddon also used three-dimensional wooden frames that either surround (frame) or support the work, introducing a precise grammar to the display in contrast to the gauche ceramic element.
Spanish Lobe, 2011. Black clay, paint, wood
The research was developed whilst Cuddon undertook the inaugural and year-long ceramics fellowship at Camden Art Centre, a position awarded through invited competition by selectors Richard Slee and Jenni Lomax. The work was exhibited at the Camden Arts Centre (22/7/11 – 21/8/11) and then later at ‘Waiting for the Cue’ at Simon Oldfield Gallery (18/11/11 – 31/1/12) and Studio Voltaire Members Show 2012.
Cuddon’s recent publication Without a Sentence Without a Name presents new work by the artist together with a selection of poems and short stories by Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, Martha Ronk and Diane Williams. The relationship between Cuddon’s sculptures and drawings/collages and the work of these writers is explored in an essay by artist and writer, Elizabeth Manchester. Disrupted by different voices and dramatic shifts in syntax, Manchester’s essay teases out the close associations between, Cuddon’s work and language/text; its mutual alliance and denial.
A Problem of Departure, 2013. Painted ceramic, a pillow
Cuddon is also currently working towards an exhibition at Cell Project Space, London in the spring of 2014 which will be a collaboration with the painter Celia Hempton.
Katie Cuddon, (2008) was published by Art Editions North and funded by Arts Council England, Lipman Trust and Newcastle University Research Fund. It contains essays by Sally O'Reilly and Paul Usherwood and an introduction by Katherine Stout. (ISBN: 978 0 9557478 4 7) Distributed by Cornerhouse
Without a Sentence, Without a Name (2013) was published by Art Editions North and funded by Newcastle University Research Fund. It contains prose and poetry by Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, Martha Ronk and Diane Williams and an essay by Elizabeth Manchester. (ISBN: 978-1-906832-12-4) Distributed by Cornerhouse – http://www.cornerhouse.org/bookstore/product/without-a-sentence-without-a-name
For more information on Cuddon’s practice and on the exhibitions mentioned above, visit: