Sarah Villeneau


Sarah has a dual practice of vessel-based work and sculpture. In 2018 Sarah was elected to the Royal Society of Sculptors. A maker for over 30 years, it was her Masters in Studio Ceramics at Loughbrough 2012 – 2104 that set her on a path towards ceramic sculpture, stretching the idea of the vessel almost to its breaking point and developing a portfolio of abstract sculptures referencing, and questioning our relationship to the soft vulnerable flesh of the human body. These sit alongside her vessel forms which are more pared back whilst still referencing the body. As a woman of a certain age, clear themes of ageing, change, illness, mortality, and the cycle of life had begun to emerge in her work. Struggling with the male gaze as a young woman, maturity and age allows her to look back on that with a clinical eye whilst also facing up to the changes in the body and the sudden imminence and reality of death. The work challenges the invisibility of the older woman, critiques the male gaze and idealisation of the female body and the preoccupation with (surface) perfection in art as in life by metaphorically opening up the body to scrutiny, revealing it in all its messy visceral materiality which speaks of both life and death. She draws inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s studies in anatomy and physiology and from his idea of the body as the universe in microcosm as a levelling of human perspective to see ourselves as one part of the natural world, not separate and superior – particularly relevant in modern times. The aim is to make the sculptures effortlessly organic, as if sprung from nature, suggestive and ambiguous, not quite identifiable, but which conjure up the softness and vulnerability of flesh. Not an idealised version of flesh, but flesh that is on the one hand lived in, scarred, saggy, marching towards death like an unflinching self-portrait by Rembrandt and, on the other hand, pulsing with the rhythms of life. It would be apt to say that both the sculptures and the vessel forms can be unsettling but are yet beautiful. Sarah enjoys experimentation and is currently investigating the idea of resonance and sound within the work and has exhibited interactive installations where spectators can touch and handle the pieces and listen to the resonant sounds they make. This sensory experience is an essential aspect of the work. The work is handbuilt high-fired ceramic with occasional inclusion of both fired and unfired metal elements and other “alien” materials.

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