Meet Oxfordshire’s Laura Jane Wylder whose figurative sculpture for the home and garden graces the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time this year.
‘As a child I wasn’t particularly arty – I pushed myself at the more traditional subjects at school as that was what the world seemed to me to value most – and my passion outside of school was dancing. I was always dancing! From the time I was tiny I took classes in tap, modern and contemporary dance, and ballet which was my favourite! Dancing was fun and it made me feel liberated. I found it almost meditative because when I was dancing I became totally absorbed in the moment. Everything else fell away. It was almost as if I was flying above the world and it was the most wonderful feeling,’ begins Laura Jane.
‘As a dancer you have an incredible mental and physical awareness of every movement you make, and you’re aware of the energy flowing through each part of your body with every step. Ballet is incredibly precise although it looks so quietly elegant and relaxed,’ she continues, and it’s exactly this feeling that Laura Jane portrays with her figurative sculptures. They look wonderfully natural and yet it was, she explains laughingly, her academic grounding in maths and physics made her very exact and analytical, perfectionist qualities that one needs to apply in three dimensions as a sculptor!
‘Although set on a career in ballet at 18, a serious injury suddenly prevented it and so I went into marketing. I enjoyed it enough but it didn’t capture my heart as dancing had done. And then when I met my now husband and business partner, Seb, everything changed again in a moment! We fell in love in about five minutes, and found a forever home halfway where we could follow our dreams together.’
‘Seb is a mould-maker: his trade is facilitating sculptors to make their pieces through the making of the moulds they use for their casts. Interested, I began creating simple sculptural form for Seb to mould and cast in stone. and I found I had unexpected legs as an artist! Career-wise it was a bold step, but felt natural. Amazingly, I discovered that when I am sculpting I am full of the freedom and joy I once felt dancing.’
‘I was eager to make beautiful pieces,’ explains Laura Jane, ‘that would appeal to everybody. They are characters with gently-softened features so that rather than being an exact likeness of any individual they instead represent the best of humanity in general. First I made a single lady, sitting twenty centimetres tall, and then – because she looked a bit lonely – I made her a companion, a male figures to sit alongside her. Although it wasn’t intentional, now I think of them as Seb and I! As a pair they are called ‘Together’ and they’ve have become my iconic piece. I have created a number of life-size pairs as well as the original table-top series.’
Although Laura Jane’s work is predominantly figurative, she does also create faces and animals too. ‘I rather fancy making a Red Kite next,’ she muses.
Laura Jane begins each of her pieces by shaping wet clay into the figure she is happy with. Seb then begins the transformation of these final shapes into durable sculptures for the home and garden by coating the clay in high-grade silicon rubber which becomes the first layer of the mould. Once that has dried, he repeats the process with several more layers until the silicon forms a thick jacket around Laura Jane’s form. He then wraps this with fibreglass to give a rigid outer shell – which may be in several pieces, seamed together. The finished mould can then be used in one of three ways: ‘cold-casting’ for which Seb mixes bronze metal powder with resin which sets to give the appearance of solid metal; ‘lost wax casting’ for which we send the mould to a specialist foundry where molten metal is poured into the mould; or occasionally using architectural masonry methodology we cast a piece in stone. For this, Seb hand-beats dry stone powder into the mould to simulate a porous natural-cut stone finish.
‘I finish the bronzes by adding a patina, applying different chemicals onto the metal and reheating them,’ explains Laura. ‘This can give an array of colours and textures. My favourite is probably the mottled teal “antique bronze”. It’s a tranquil finish that’s almost other-worldly.’
‘We spent a year in a remote part of Ibiza (which isn’t all about the party). It’s actually a very spiritual, creative island and living there was a truly grounding experience. It was so much easier to appreciate nature, life and the universe in that environment. Being outside more made me feel closer to nature, and gave me an understanding of the importance of one’s environment. For example with the darker sky, I would always know what phase the moon was in and that’s the magic I’m trying to encapsulate with my sculpture.’
‘In Ibiza I was I particularly taken with the hardy Rosemary bush – which grows wild in hedgerows. It is nicknamed rather charmingly as “dew from the seas” because it was first discovered growing along hillsides close to the ocean. It has the most delicate and pretty periwinkle-blue flowers in the spring, and yet the plant itself is super-strong and resilient – like a ballerina! It also has powerful healing properties, just as dancing lifts your soul,’ she grins.
‘The grace of the body moving on stage mirrors the elegance of organic shapes and curves of flowers and plants in the breeze,’ continues Laura Jane, ‘and so I was delighted to be chosen for an artisan studio at RHS Chelsea Flower Show and I’ve designed the space in the studio to capture this a “minimal bohemian Ibizan vibe”, to encourage both creativity and contemplation.’
‘Inside there’ll be a table-top sculpture a handspan high set amongst herbs and books, and I’ll be outside working on a large sculpture on the small veranda space. I hope the little lady inside and the large piece in progress, both set against the nature in their respective indoor and exterior settings, will offer the viewer a sense of perspective, and serve as a reminder to appreciate and revel in the wonderful world around us.’
‘I’m also showing my whole collection in Watlington during from 11th-19th May as part of Oxfordshire Artweeks (venue 290).’
Visit www.artweeks.org to see the other places you can visit from 4th-27th May during Oxforrdshire Artweeks, as hundreds of artists open their studios to the public or host pop-up exhibitions in interesting spaces giving you the chance to pick up something unique to add a touch of style to your home.