Artist profile - Poppy Field
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 May 2020
Trained in London and Florence, young figurative sculptor Poppy Field is creating outstanding works from her Much Hadham studio that reflect our age
Walking into the Much Hadham studio of sculptor Poppy Field (yes, that is her real name), is to encounter a buzz of energy. At her ground floor hub in the Warren Park Heritage and Craft Centre, skylights and a north facing window let in the perfect quality of light, maquettes fill shelves and a self-made ceramic heater – for the comfort of life models – all indicate a professional environment. Which is what you might expect given that this 26-year-old is now producing work for the largest of audiences, the public.
‘I’ve always worked with my hands,’ says the Florence Academy of Art trained figurative artist. ‘When my father, who is a surgeon, had a summer holiday I’d help him with projects such as building treehouses, so I’m comfortable thinking in three dimensions. Both my parents (her mother is a teacher) come home every day feeling pleased with what they do with their time, how they contribute to society. I used to wonder how I could do that with art. Now my driving force is to put sculptures into public places.’
Public works of art, Poppy continues, are time capsules of events, of ideologies, and therefore own an important place in society. Time spent watching how others interact with them in public spaces is, for her, both a source of fascination and inspiration.
‘Monuments are there if you want or need them, but they don’t demand anything,’ she says.
As she demonstrates the use of modelling tools to sculpt her clay figures – an extension of finger and thumb with one finger placed on top - and discusses the role of emery boards in filing wooden tools to the required shape, Poppy explains that her training began at the Courtauld Institute of Art where she read history of art. A successful application to the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust then resulted in a move to Florence, a life-changing experience.
Coming from London she ‘was used to seeing art all around me,’ but in the Italian city, there was a major difference. ‘In England we have a lot of war monuments and keep our nudes inside but in Florence there are rippling torsos, peachy buttocks and strong thighs everywhere.’
With the environment informing her studies, Poppy’s days revolved around eight-hour sessions working with life models. In her fourth and final year she was awarded the academy’s inaugural Graduate in Residence prize for sculpture.
Since graduating in 2018, Poppy has been awarded the Tiranti Prize for best exhibit by a sculptor under 30 at The Society of Portrait Sculptors’ Annual Exhibition. Then in March last year the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust sold one of her sculptures. The resulting nest egg allowed Poppy to set up her Hertfordshire studio, from which she also teaches, a few months later. She revels in the luxury of having her own space among a community of craftspeople. And it is here that she is continuing a sculptural series of young women from different backgrounds.
‘The first one, Everything is Now, ties in with gathering strength from within, understanding that you’re being looked at and choosing not to engage,’ Poppy explains. ‘Tip of the Iceberg is the second. I sculpted her over the course of a year during the fall out after Me Too. All those women had come forward and I wanted to create some form of emblematic to embody their strength.’
Currently working on the third in the series, Poppy reveals this is still in its embryonic stage though she assures me it will be ‘the most authoritative yet’. A fourth is planned for next year. Meanwhile a privately commissioned bust of artist Ziggy Attias is almost finished in the foundry and will soon be sent to the subject’s home in France.
Responding to my intrigue about the nature of her model’s poses, not to mention their ability to retain sometimes challenging shapes and balance, I learn that these positions are the result of a blend of her own ideas as well as those from experienced models who are capable of holding difficult positions over a long period of time.
Each life-size sculpture begins with a metal armature, built by Poppy. Galvanised wire, wrapped around aluminium wire allows the clay, which needs to be kept moist and wrapped in plastic to prevent cracking, something to ‘bite on to’ as the figure is created. When finished, a silicone mould is made from the clay model. Once the mould is removed, the clay is sent for recycling while the mould goes to a foundry where the sculpture is cast in bronze. ‘Then,’ smiles Poppy, ‘you are reacquainted with your work.’
Poppy Field’s gentle nature belies an underlying determination. Her long-term goal to put her works in spaces that we pass through in daily life, rather than galleries, is firmly in place and while she recognises the need to earn her stripes, her growing portfolio of work illustrates she is on the right path – a very public one.