The precarious nature of being

Rosie McLay studioEntering Rosie McLay’s studio at The Island is like gaining admittance to a secret cave. Light floods from on high as rain tumults against windows set into the eaves, while every other surface jostles with art. Breasts cast in copper, resin and coal extend like stalactites from the walls, and etchings of gigantic wasps, octopi tentacles plus a hedgehog who might just savage you, leer from shadowy corners. Mirrors are reverse etched with paint scratched away to reveal negative sketches, proving that Rosie has a view of the world that is entirely her own.

Hedgehog print by Rosie McLay

Hedgehog print by Rosie McLay

It’s not entirely surprising when you consider Rosie’s upbringing. “I come from a family of creatives,” she says. “Dad is a joiner, making bespoke designer furniture, so I was always around the smell of sawdust and stacks of wood waiting to be transformed into other things. Mum was a photographer and film maker as well as doing embroidery and other things. She was always finding old things and turning them into new things.”

Rosie McLayIt was through this that Rosie’s own early artistic explorations began. “We were all encouraged to see the potential in everything, patch things up and reinvent them.”

Rosie graduated with a BA in Drawing and Applied Arts from UWE in 2014. While still on the course she began running makers’ fairs and has been creating and selling her work ever since.

A love of materials has been key to the direction her art has taken. “I love working with copper, but part of that is the machines. I love using those big Victorian presses.” Rosie is a member of Spike Print Studio, an open access organisation that offers technical support and courses, as well as allowing use of a varied selection of presses and other equipment.

Her most recent fascination is with glass. “It feels so clean and fragile. Working with it is quite spontaneous – you apply the paint and cast a blade and needles across it to etch away the layers you don’t want.”

The slipperiness of the surface is part of the attraction. “It feels so clean, far more so that drawing a pencil nib across rough paper. Working on glass makes me calm.”

If she wants to let out a more vigorous emotion, she says, she’ll turn to woodcuts or copper, “carving, shaping or puncturing holes.”

Wasp sculpture by Rosie McLay

Wasp sculpture by Rosie McLay

The fragility of glass is also appealing. “Glass is slightly dangerous – I like the sense that it can shatter. There’s an element of unpredictability. The material has a say in how the final piece will look.”

Rosie’s approach means that even the mistakes are welcomed, and even encouraged. She points out a beautiful etching on the wall that seems blotched with light. “I think I was a bit careless when preparing it, so it’s got my fingerprints on it and I smudged it with the heel of my hand. When it came out of the press, I thought, well, that’s a day’s work wasted, but now I can see that those marks make it a really interesting piece.”

Breast series by Rosie McLay

Breast series by Rosie McLay

For her latest exhibition, Rosie is toying with the idea of inviting viewer to touch her creations. “Despite the ‘do not touch’ signs at my previous exhibitions, my casts ended up with loads of finger marks all over them, most notably my copper breast where the marks became darkly tarnished over the days. All the fingerprints were in exactly the same place, everyone touched the breast in the same way. It’s as though it’s instinctive.”

Copper breast by Rosie McLay

Copper breast by Rosie McLay

The current exhibition, Body, Material, Change, focuses on Rosie’s thoughts about decay and regeneration – how all of us eventually die, and our bodies break down, often with assistance from the woodland creatures and insects she loves to draw.

Heart etching by Rosie McLay

Heart etching by Rosie McLay

“I want to explore our relationship to our bodies,” she says. “I find it very strange that I don’t really know what my organs look like. A lot of the time, we’re very separate to our bodies – it’s as though it’s just a vessel, a vehicle to take us through life.”

She adds with a grin: “I find it a miracle that I even exist. Every part of us is a mass of clever calculations and gungy stuff. I want to appreciate that more. It feels like a miracle to even be born.”

Rosie will be exhibiting at The Station, Silver Street, Bristol BS1 2AG, from 7-28th May. The gallery will be open from 11-8pm Mon-Sat. Find details at

Find Rosie at, RosieMcLay on Twitter and Rosie McLay Art on Facebook.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Let’s talk about death, baby

Death the human experienceWhat are your thoughts about death? Do you think of it freely, with curiosity or turn from it with dread? The current exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery invites us to face our fears and explore the myths and realities surrounding our eventual expiration.

death: the human experience is an unexpectedly beautiful, contemplative exhibition, displaying archaic associations with death (from an exquisite death’s head hawk moth to a Victorian mourning dress. There are insights into burial practices across the world, including a piece on ‘sky burials’, examples of items left at gravesides and buried with the deceased, and a cheeringly rambunctious Ghanaian coffin shaped like a lion.

You can listen to funeral and mourning songs from a variety of cultures, admire memorials intended to honour the dead or display how well they were loved, and perhaps reconsider or identify your own attitudes to these rituals, and what’s important to you personally.

The subject matter is handled sensitively and thought-provokingly, with special separate sections where you can consider darker aspects such as infant mortality and cannibalism, with small doors to open on exhibits that may be especially distressing. For me the mortuary table from a former Bristol hospital was a more sobering sight – something about its clinical contours just seemed very cold. There are also videos of commentaries for and against assisted suicide, which tackles the important issue of quality of life.

Whatever your feelings on death when you enter, I think you’ll emerge able to speak about death more readily – this is an aspect of life we’ll all experience at some point, whether as the deceased or as a mourner, and being able to talk about it can only help.

As the Mark Twain quote emblazoned on one wall states: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

What a curiously comforting idea.

death: the human experience runs at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 13 March 2016. Visitors are invited to pay what they feel the exhibition is worth.

To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

All At Sea

Mary Lang on one the last merchant sailing ships cr Anne Spencer and Sue Vader

Mary Lang on one the last merchant sailing ships © Anne Spencer and Sue Vader

I’ve recently been researching women aviators from the past century, so an exhibition currently on at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall caught my eye.

Mermaids: Women at Sea is all about female mariners who challenged the preconceptions of a male-dominated world by taking to the high seas.

Through first-hand accounts, film, photography and artefacts, you can gain an insight into the achievements of extraordinary individuals including Mary Lang (pictured left – what a stunning image!), who joined a crew on the last of the merchant sailing ships to journey from South Australia to Cornwall in the 1930s, and sailing legend Dame Ellen MacArthur who became the fastest woman ever to circumnavigate the globe in 2005.

Mermaids represents a key moment for the Maritime Museum as it develops its interpretation and presentation of maritime heritage in non-traditional areas of the field by publicly addressing the hidden histories of women sailors, not because they are women but because their stories are just as fascinating and stimulating as those of men and therefore worthy of preserving and presenting to our visitors,” says Tehmina Goskar, Senior Curator at the Maritime Museum.

Glad to hear it!

Intriguingly, the exhibition includes an examination of the superstitions about women and the sea, from the myths of mermaids luring sailors to watery graves to the idea that a woman aboard a ship was meant to bring ill fortune to the voyage and crew.

The exhibition is supported by the Hypatia Trust, a Penzance-based charity that celebrates and promotes the study and achievements of women.

Mermaids: Women at Sea runs until 21st February 2016 at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth.

Glorious decrepitude with Ros Paton

Lino Sunset by Ros Paton

Lino Sunset by Ros Paton

A love of decrepitude drives Australian artist Ros Paton’s work. As a small child, scribbling on walls on furniture frequently got her in trouble, but meant that when she left school she knew wanted to go to art college. “I imagined creating enormous ceramics,” she recalls, “but I was an utter failure at it. At the end of the semester they gave me a terminal pass, which means they’ll pass you if you’ll promise never to do that subject again – sort of like paying a busker to take their music elsewhere!”

It was at this point that Ros picked up painting, and discovered she really enjoyed it.

One of the most important things she learnt at art college, she admits, was a tiny percentage. “We were told that just 4% of us would make it as professional artists – I was determined to be in that 4%.”

As a result, she launched her business Just Laughing in the late 1980s, painting murals, TV sets and other large-scale artworks – a natural combination of her childhood tendencies combined with her extraordinary painting skills. The business still exists, though these days she only takes commissions that really interest her, allowing plenty of time for her own art work.

Paintings for meditation studio by Ros Paton

Paintings for meditation studio by Ros Paton

“Things reached a head when I accepted a contract to project manage the painting of murals at twenty stations for Queensland Rail, as part of an effort to minimise graffiti. I wasn’t able to do anything else in that time, so since then I’ve concentrated more on my own work.”

Ros’ fascination with disrepair and destruction took hold in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1989.

“I arrived the day after the quake and it was terrible. Lots of buildings – the fronts had just fallen off. Chimneys had collapsed. They have these buildings on stilts that had been picked up by the tremors, turned slightly and dropped back down, just balancing there on the stumps.”

It fired up an urge in Ros to explore ideas around impermanency. “Nothing lasts forever, not even, or especially not, our homes.”

Ros gained her masters in painting, while investigating and recording scenes of demolition at sites such as the State Library of Brisbane Queensland, part of which was torn down to make way for the new Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.

But after a while, Ros found her attention attracted by the more gradual natural dereliction of places. “I love the Ovid quote ‘all things human hang by a slender thread,’” she says. “I still relish the built environment, but I’m intrigued in the way places degrade and fall into ruin. I like to notice the paving everyone ignores, and the tiles that are hard, but fragile.”

Hang by a Slender Thread cr Ros Paton

Hang by a Slender Thread © Ros Paton

It’s an interest that has led to a series of works based on the house next door to her Brisbane home. “Percy and his family lived there for at least sixty years, and covered the floors with linoleum. As it wore out in the areas most walked on, they’d simply put down more, so in some places there were 12 layers – all different, and all reflecting the era in which they were laid.”

Ros photographed these layers and set about painting pictures of them. “I’ve painted mostly to scale, some deliberately aged and others as new,” she explains. “People recognise them – they’re reminded of the décor of places they rented as students or grew up in as kids. They feel a connection to these designs.”

As well as having shows in Australia, previously Ros has held exhibitions of her work in Florence and Brussels, but is only now exhibiting in the UK.

“I arrived in England in May 2015, just in time for a group exhibition with the Leyden Gallery in London.”

Aldgate East Griffin cr Ros Paton

While in London, Ros became entranced by the tiling in many of the Tube stations, including the vibrant Eduardo Paolozzi mosaics of Tottenham Court Road, the elegant relief tiles (above) at Aldgate East, and Annabel Grey’s mosaic balloons on the walls of the southbound Piccadilly line platform at Finsbury Park. “They’re artwork we pass everyday, but rarely take the time to look at. The friend I was staying with in London took me to Finsbury Park Station but had never even noticed the lovely balloons before!”

Since arriving in Bristol, where she’s taken a space at Easton’s Mivart Studios, Ros has been drawn to capture rooftops, gates and doorways, taking delight in the fact nothing stands entirely straight, and nature is quietly reclaiming disused areas. “They’re the kind of strange details you probably wouldn’t be that aware of, but coming from elsewhere, I find them really beguiling!”

dont walk just eat cr Ros Paton

The three different subjects come together as a triptych celebrating our impermanence – as spaces shift, take on new personalities and roles within our cities, never settling as one thing for more than a limited period. It’s a visual story of change and possibility, and a subtle reminder to relish the time we have.

Ros’ next exhibition, Lamina, will be at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bristol from 5 September until 3 October 2015. You can find more of her work at

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)