With more than a passing nod towards the upcoming CRUFTS dog show at Birmingham’s NEC 5-8th March, Skelmersdale ceramic artist, Helen Birnbaum, has been putting together her own take on man’s best friend recently – albeit in clay – at Southport Contempopary Arts ‘ClayWorks’ ceramic studio in Southport.
“I make dogs. It’s as simple as that. I like the fun and organic form of dogs’ bodies. I hand build the dogs using cardboard tubes to make the bodies. Once this is leather hard, I build on the legs, heads and tails, and often decorate the pieces with found metal objects. I believe that the old metal objects, often rusty, add a quirkiness and character to the pieces that clay alone could not do. My studio at home is full of boxes of strange metal bits that I always know I’m going to use one day.”
Art aficionados around the region will already be familiar with the thought provoking and humorous ceramics that Helen just can’t stop turning out. Her work continues to win plaudits whenever it is shown. In 2019 alone, her highly individual creative talent was on show at over 10 galleries across the North West.
After graduating in 2014 with an MA in Ceramic Art & Design from the University of Central Lancashire, Helen was then selected as Ceramic Artist in Residence at Liverpool Hope University.
“After my MA I completed an AA2A residency at Liverpool Hope which completely changed my creative life. So many opportunities came my way since that wonderful year when I had the space, time and facilities, to explore and design a large piece of ceramic work. “
In 2018, Terry Bloxham, assistant curator of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, awarded her clay sculpture, “Anticipation”, the V&A Morley Gallery Ceramic Prize that paved the way for its display at the ARTBOX, in Basel, Switzerland.
Her ceramic canines are certainly not anthropomorphized with a Disney or Louis Wain winsome treatment, but have their own curious identities, worked through the clay, to guarantee them “Best in Show”.
Although the origins of the domestic pet are debatable, it was certainly over 10,000 years ago that a canine animal (possibly even the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus) befriended man.
In a celebration of that closest of all relationships, Helen has now conjured from wet clay, dogs that at first, make you smile but also might make you shiver when you look closer.
“I like to make stories in clay. By investigating images and mythologies I explore different aspects of our modern lives and challenge our perception of the world by stimulating our imagination and providing new insights into modern life.”
Helen’s ceramics can always be found around the region ranging from a variety of pop-up craft fairs to galleries, such as the Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk, and are currently on show at Plas Bodfa, Beaumaris.