A floor-based sculpture sports some dissected cucumbers, objects carefully placed and sporting dental-like hues; pale pinks, yellows and the grey of cement. This is the sculpture by Helena de Pulford, BA Fine Art graduate of Central St Martins this year, and winner of the Cass Art Prize.
Helena was awarded £1000 to spend on art supplies for her innovative use of materials in her Degree Show piece. We wanted to find out more about her unsual choice of materials (especially her recurring use of cucumbers and other food stuffs) and what she plans to do after graduating.
Congratulations on winning the Cass Art Prize, Helena! Do you know which art materials you’re going to stock up on with it?
Thank you! My materials are pretty depleted after this year, so there are quite a variety of things that will need re-stocking. The first things that come to mind which are quite urgent are paints and pigments for colouring my sculptural work. I use a lot of colour!
Materials seem integral to your practice – but not in the conventional paint, pencils and paper sense. You used materials like jesmonite and concrete in your degree show piece. What is it that drives you to work with such industrial materials?
Part of the reason for me using concrete is because there is so much concrete visible in the architecture at Central Saint Martins. I felt that I needed to use a material that bridged the work to its context. With jesmonite, I think I find it so appealing to use because it’s incredibly versatile and strong. It's versatility ranges from a marble/skin-like quality to plastic, and for me this kind of material ambiguity is really important for some of the ideas I look into.
Your objects play with the lines of humour, domesticity and sculptural form – but can you describe the intertwining themes and ideas of your practice?
A great deal of my work comes from the transcription of historical artworks through personal experience and key ideas in gender theory. This often involves thinking through how certain sculptural forms, or objects in still life paintings, have traditionally been used in relation to either ‘man’ or ‘woman’. I usually then try to think about ways these relationships are rejigged through personal experience and humour, then translate some of these re-jiggings into sculptural forms.
And can you explain the cucumbers? (Or are they courgettes?)
They are definitely bisected cucumbers! You can actually cut the cucumbers into slices, and the slices end up looking quite similar to fried eggs. The cucumber is quite a literal signifier for gender, often used in advertising and famously part of Sarah Lucas’s vocabulary. For me, the cucumber is a way of leading people into the work. People relate to cucumbers much more quickly than to abstract forms, and hopefully the slapstick use of the egg begins to give an idea of the re-jigging of metaphors - such as cucumbers and eggs- that I’m most interested in.
How has your practice progressed since your first year at Central St Martins?
It’s really strange thinking about this now, because in some ways I have gone full circle. When I finished my foundation course in Canterbury I was doing a lot of drawing and short films that tended to use parts of the body and food items in a kind of blobby mess. After that point I was doing a lot of digital work that got more and more abstract but tended to have this really strong relationship to the body and sexuality. Now, I think my work is starting to make sense of the diversity of the past five years of my practice - but in this really restrained way.
What’s your plan now that graduation is around the corner?
I’m applying for studio spaces in London now, and am going to begin applying for Masters courses in October. I’d really like to continue my art practice, and luckily my rent is pretty cheap so it’s quite likely that I’m going to be able to dedicate some time over the next year to getting things going.
There are also a couple of shows in the pipeline coming up soon, which is really great because I have deadlines to work to.
So finally, if you had one piece of advice for someone starting art school this year, what would it be?
Work really, really hard. That’s pretty much it. Turn up every day and work in your studio, even if no one knows if you are there or not. Because the only way your practice will have any substance is if you put in a load of work and research.
Read our blog on the two winners of the Cass Art Prize this year, including Natalia as the MA winner and Helena de Pulford as the BA winner. You can visit Helena de Pulford's website here.
To find out more about the shows and Central Saint Martins, visit www.csm.arts.ac.uk or tweet about the shows using the hashtag #CSMshows2015.
Use the hashtag #StudentSpotlight to find our other blogs on student degree shows this year.