In the latest Spotlight On series, Woodingdean in Business met Eve Shepherd, a sculptor based in Woodingdean.
I didn’t particularly enjoy school but I always loved art. I really wanted to do special effects in films so I went to college to do a BTEC National. While I was there I got signposted through many different routes to Anthony Bennett. He is an amazing animal sculptor and I was lucky enough to work as his apprentice for a few months in Sheffield. He introduced me to sculpting and obviously saw something in me, so after a few months passed me on to a big, international company in York, where I ended up becoming head of department and looking after sculptors twice my age!
Being a young, female artist poses challenges in the art world. Young women are held back big time, so I endeavoured to get a degree in order to be taken seriously. But the tutors encouraged artists to employ other people to make their work, and they would merely design it. Some third year sculptor students didn’t even know what clay was and that stunned me. I left college and carried on with my own commercial and commissioned work.
The currency I work in is emotion and psychology and so by that it is timeless and inclusive – you don’t need a degree to understand it. The thing about figurative art is that it is accessible for everybody; it carries such a strong message in any language and it is very powerful. A lot of the messages in my work are autobiographical. It is about encapsulating the artist and emotion into the piece, so it is essential for me to use something that is pliable, that allows the work and message to evolve; hence clay is the perfect medium.
Through my work I seek to shock and make people challenge their own perceptions. My piece ‘Dignified’ is all about ageing and challenging our perceptions of beauty and it really divides people. I put it forward for a plinth that is being built in Hove but they didn’t dare to display it because it is so controversial. Through the media, society leads us to hold certain beliefs which are not necessarily ours. My art places subjects like depression, anxiety and grief – things that are an intrinsic part of being human but that we don’t like to acknowledge– on the surface, in order to break the boundaries of social acceptance.
We are bombarded in our society with a lot that makes us feel inadequate. We have become slaves to technology and we are gradually moving away from what it means to be human. That’s why a lot of my art places figures in foetal positions, because it takes you back to nature and reminds us where we came from. A lot of my work comes from a spiritual or a political place.
I sculpted Stephen Hawking and for me that piece was about his amazing story of surviving against all the odds. If we’re really honest, people who look and act different are judged and we can’t get around that because that is the reality. This piece was about acknowledging that he is different and that he is so worthwhile, and that’s why it was so important to me to sculpt a full body portrait, including his wheelchair. With his amazing spirit he has defied science and challenged the system in every way – he challenges the disease, perceptions of disabled people, he challenges life. He challenges and I think he is a phenomenal man.
What’s great about Woodingdean is the Artists Open House which is really nice to be able to bring that kind of quality of art to, and it’s nice to bring that aspect of difference into the community. A lot of people in Brighton don’t even know where Woodingdean is, so I’m a real advocate for Woodingdean and I think there are more artists that are moving up here which is great. People in Woodingdean are really friendly and there is a real community feel here.
Woodingdean in Business has been brilliant. I needed someone to help me with my books and I looked on the Woodingdean in Business website and found Stephen Roke and he’s been great. He’s written to Bill Gates about my Stephen Hawking project, he’s written to the National Portrait Gallery – all of the stuff that I don’t have time to do, so that’s the great connection it’s made for me.
It’s great to be able to give back to the community through my art. One of my sculptures ‘The Sleeper and the Sweeper,’ which portrays a homeless person, was auctioned off for £500 to raise funds for Worthing Churches Homeless Project. They provide a variety of services and work with over 500 people each year to enable them to live independently once again. For more information visit: https://www.wchp.org.uk/
You have to absolutely love what you are doing as an artist. You don’t get paid a huge amount so you have to enjoy it and see the longevity in it. You have to learn your craft and once you have spent years refining it you become fluent at it, and that fluidity allows you to say what you want to say articulately in your specialised medium. You never stop developing as an artist.
I’m also a mum now, so balancing the two together is difficult. You have to keep it going, but also have some time for reflection and family.
To find out more about Eve’s work visit:
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Eve spoke to Siobhan Wight.
You can read other Spotlights here.