The above photo is how I came to know Laura Ellen Bacon – an exhibition at Derby Museum called Into the Weave in 2010. I had gone to the museum to have a quiet walk around in some spare time and I literally walked into this exhibition – a whole room within a room with simple willow sticks bound and woven together. I didn’t have my camera that day but have got with very kind and direct permission from Laura to reproduce this image from her website and also to use my own photographs of her sculptures. I do at this point thank Laura so much for her permission and for speaking to me this week.
Laura’s work is deceptively simple but uses traditional and ancient techniques to produce something that is beautiful and yet reassuring too. When I walked into that room that day I walked into an experience that had a familiar and enticing atmosphere – it drew you in because of its uniqueness yet with that reassuring familiarity that you didn’t expect … it was fascinating, intriguing and almost womb like and despite the simplicity you could happily spend time there just looking and enjoying the work (I believe it took about 3 weeks to do the whole structure).
I have since also come to love Laura’s work through her installation at the Royal Derby Hospital where I have regular check ups – her nesting sculptures that are placed in courtyards that can be viewed from many different angles and floors of the hospital and that as each year goes by are now almost evolving as the plants grow around them or are pruned.
So who is this artist I admire so much? Laura Ellen Bacon was born in 1976 and raised on her parents farm near Matlock in Derbyshire where she spent her childhood building dens and tree houses nearby. She later took a Foundation Studies in Art and Design at Chesterfield College and followed this by a Masters degree in Applied Arts at University of Derby graduating in 2001.
I spoke to Laura this week and asked her what made her decide to use willow and she replied that she had tried working with different materials during her study but none really worked for her until she tried willow – at that point everything she had learned made sense. However despite this being a traditional and sustainable material Laura really didn’t want to go down a traditional route with basket making or fences and instead developed her nest or cocoon like structures which cling to buildings or trees in much the same way as birds nests or animal dens do – her work is very organic and sinuous and some of the spaces within can be seen from the outside and yet some are only known to Laura herself. Her work has evolved from working on dry stone walls to other structures and is very intuitive as she builds to fit the site – her work is organic and always unique and evolves as each willow is woven into place.
Reading an article on line about Laura I realised that what drew me to her work so much was in fact something that she herself really liked – linear or line drawings. I love her work because it is very linear – I love Van Gogh’s reed pen and pencil drawings more than his coloured paintings even though some of the former became coloured because of their deceptive simplicity and this is what draws me so much to these nests and cocoons that Laura creates although in reality they are far from simplistic but complex and intriguing structures. Laura is especially a fan of architectural line drawings and again that is something that fascinates me – a simple drawing of something that becomes so much more.
The willow sculptures are not timeless due to the fact that the willow will rot and disintegrate and again this for me is what also appeals – the sculpture is almost a living creation and many do require some maintenance over time if they are of a permanent or semi permanent nature.
Some of Laura’s work has also involved other materials such as light installations along the same lines – these have a fascination in that they are man made objects with a very natural and again nest line form.
Laura has over the years since her graduation done many exhibitions and commissions and is now starting to become known in Europe too – her work is justifiably admired.
In reality I find it hard to put a finger on exactly why I do admire these sculptures so much – is it the familiarity of a nest or cocoon? is the fact that with some you can see inside and yet some you know the space is hidden or sealed? is it the linear qualities or the deceptive simpleness of the structure when you know it is far from it? is it the fact that each piece seems to have a life of its own? is it because each piece flows over whatever it is built on as if it has always been there? or is it simply because you describe what each piece means unless you experience it for yourself? in truth probably all of the above.
I look forward to seeing how Laura’s work evolves in the coming years and also my next check up to see the structures at my local hospital again!
Archant Community Media Ltd. 2017 (updated). Willow Sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015 and updated January 2017]. Available from: http://www.derbyshirelife.co.uk/people/willow_sculptor_laura_ellen_bacon_1_1570830
Laura Ellen Bacon. (date unknown). Laura Ellen Bacon sculptor [online]. [Date Accessed: February 2015]. Available from: http://lauraellenbacon.com/