Meet Aphra: sculptor and artist with big ideas about how to blend industrial and delicate forms. Her work not only explores found objects in their own environments and contexts, but how they exist as works of art outside the context of her studio. She’s faultlessly encouraging and offers a fresh perspective of everyday things (trust us, you’ll never see a paint can the same way again). Get inspired by Aphra, the fourth (and final!) winner of our March Meet Series.
LAB: Could you describe your process and intention behind Parkol Paint Can?
AO: Parkol Paint Can is part of a series of work that explores the Parkol boat building yard in Whitby, North Yorkshire. This sculpture recycles discarded paint cans from the site to create delicate forms. I am interested in drawing attention to the beauty that lies within industrial sites, and modifying discarded objects isolates interesting features about each form in the way it can be bent or cracked.
LAB: How does space affect your work? What dictates the size or scale of a piece you’re working on?
AO: Recently, I research industrial sites and collect materials which dictate the scale of my work. I created the work for my January solo show outside the studio as there wasn’t enough room to work on it inside. If I have an idea that seems difficult, I try to find a way around the problem. Currently I don’t consider the space I work in to dictate the scale of the sculptures.
LAB: Describe your first exhibition. How did you feel? Did the experience match your expectations or change them? What wisdom would you share with other emerging artists who’ve not yet had their first exhibition?
AO: My first exhibition out of the university setting was with Blip Blip Blip gallery in Leeds, and it was a great introduction on how to choose work for shows and how to publicise an event. It wasn’t my best work, having experience in showing work alters how you contextualise it outside of your studio. I would encourage emerging artists to constantly apply to open calls, and if there aren’t any then create your own shows with other artists. It is important to remember not to be discouraged if you are not accepted at first
LAB: What does a typical day of work look like? What do you eat/drink on snack breaks?
AO: No two days are the same because I work on many different sculptures at once. Currently I am creating large ceramic vessels in plaster molds, so I need air hardened clay. I roll out the clay for the next day and leave it to one side, then turn the plaster molds over to see if the clay releases from the mold from the previous day. If it is hard enough to work on, I fill in any gaps and use a rubber kidney to fettle the surface until smooth. I use these ceramic vessels to demonstrate the sinuous lines in the ‘ribcage’ of the boat’s hull, so I use a knife to carve away lines and geometric forms. I normally create some found object or metal-based sculpture in addition to ceramic sculptures so I work on those with spray paint or enamel paint and let them dry while I work on the clay pieces. A lot of pieces require drying time, whether clay or paint, so I manage my time by creating as many pieces in the time I have. I always finish one piece as I start another. I drink far too much coffee throughout the day but also keep lots of water on hand!
LAB: Your parents own an antique shop in Whitby, yes? How has that, if at all, impacted your perspectives of craft, construction, design?
AO: My interaction with antique design has directly influenced the way I capture images in my drawings. I use these drawings as research into industrial sites and the basis for the sculptures I create. Being brought up on interesting design taught me to appreciate the value of objects, how they are created and how they are displayed. I have always been drawn to Memphis design–their use of colour has influenced my colour choices in my own designs.
LAB: What are the key differences – and similarities – between fine art and industrial design? What draws you to each medium and what’s most challenging about finding their shared characteristics?
AO: A key difference is function, which is something I am interested in exploring especially in my ceramic pieces. During my degree I researched the way that art – and, specifically, sculpture – was marketed in the Festival of Britain, and how sculptures came with a manual of how to “correctly” display the work in your home. What I am exploring now is a hybrid of this, and how industrial design can be modified into fine art.
LAB: What stresses you out? (And how do you de-stress? Why is that useful to you?)
AO: I am constantly entering work for open call exhibitions, and I find that deadlines get me stressed. I try to use this stress to motivate me to work harder, and since I started working with ceramics I’ve become much calmer with the outcome of my work because there are so many factors that I cannot control. Some sculptures I made last August involved modifying paint cans by hitting them with a sledge hammer, which turned out to be excellent stress relief!
LAB: What’s your biggest dream as an artist? As a person?
AO: My dreams as an artist and person are intertwined: to create work for a living. I am excited to start the next stage of my career at the Royal College of Art in October (studying Ceramics and Glass). The course will give me access to incredible facilities, which I can see having a great effect on the work I make and how I create it. Currently, I am looking forward to exhibiting new work with Kunsthuis gallery in August.