The path of least resistance is a central part of the way that our minds are designed to take decisions forward, Beth Cullen Kerridge’s onset with art undertook a route governed by her personal experiences.
“My father was a painter, and I always thought ‘no, I won’t do that – I actually need money to live’ so I sort of fought against [art] for a long time. But as I grew older, I just couldn’t help myself, I ended up at art college and studied painting.” Such is the case on the path of least resistance, we instantly categorise every situation we see based on our previous experiences.
“But my paintings used to come out of the wall, and they started to evolve into sculpture. One day my painting tutor said “I think you’re in the wrong department love!” Her passions unveiled themselves later unyieldingly as often is the case with all truths – her calling was sculpture: “I fought against it, but I couldn’t help myself.”
Her career unfolded successfully as a foundry assistant producing works for the likes of Paolozzi, Frink, and notably Anthony Caro. Hailed for his contribution to sculpture, Caro was often at his best when he stopped trying and let passion take over, a trait very much mirrored in Beth’s aesthetic. As personal history undoubtably works its way into any artist’s practice, Beth reveals lessons learnt from Caro were “much more about how to be. He always said it’s about being a more well rounded person than just making a good sculpture.” Audiences are often sympathetic to the lines crossed between the artist as an individual and their art. We’ve all faced the poll of good art vs. not so good person – some of us may have also experienced the dread of meeting an artist who’s work resonated deeply, but left disappointed when the spirit of their personality wasn’t as engaging or powerful as their work. I am a firm believer of just how ennobling it can be to experience at face-value the reach of an artist beyond their craft and talent.
“He spent the first half of his day being nice to people, writing and responding to letters, then he’d get stuck into work. He also always said: ‘if you want to change your work, change your life.’ He was always enthusiastic about anything creative.”
“We’d have tea breaks at 11 and 4, and I think that kept him young! He used to say at those times that there were many people along the way who were much better sculptors than he thought he was, but because he saw the whole picture, rather than just the sculpture, that that was why he was probably a little more successful.”
Tony, as Beth refers to him endearingly, was also a master of producing works that felt like an adventure. “He could ask the materials to do more.” Beth tells me “He wasn’t worried about how they would fit together, that was your problem. He pushed the envelope with the materials more than most people would, because he didn’t care whether it would take you three days to do.” Beth’s pieces present equally strong concepts, similarly – she finds herself more concerned with the idea being physical, than the difficulty endured in reproducing the images or concepts she sees in her head accurately into sculpture.
“I’m confident with the material – I’m already thinking in the zone of the making, and because I did do the ground-work for Tony, I don’t question how it’s done, I just do it. I think of the image, it sifts through after a few fleets and then I just go for it. It doesn’t really matter how it’s made, it’s just a natural process because I’ve already done it in my head.”
The ease with which she describes the process begs the question of just how simple it really is to work with the material. “It’s not hard,” she tells me “…though stone is the most difficult medium to move, because you have the constant battle with the strength of the material. It’s so hard, it’s physically demanding rather than mentally and physically demanding. It has made me cry! When you’re walking cripple into your bed because you’ve been at it hard or working with your body in a funny angle.”
Her sculptures command a strong presence often associated with macho-scale artists like Richard Serra and James Turrell, be it because of her choice in medium, or perhaps even the force of reality depicted in her sculptures. Her commentary on the nature of power and the signifier of the suit as predominantly male marks Beth as a riveting rival against the dominant market trends and gender cliches, where men will produce monumentally-scaled sculptures, and the women will make cute, smaller pieces.
“I’ve never really thought about the gender issue – apart from the fact that I’m not as strong as the fellas, though I am a strong woman. The guys in the stone-yard in Carrara in Italy that I worked with were artisans, they did the job 24/7, I don’t know how they did it, but they would say ‘It’s in the mind! It’s not the size of the man, it’s the strength in his mind.’”
“I just want to make things that I can treasure, whether they be man-sized or tiny. It doesn’t matter what it is, how it evolves or whether I’m a man or a woman.”
Short-term thrills or fads often trump long-term value in the contemporary world. Just as craft is often overlooked in Fine Art, conceptualisation easily reigns. A fine tooth comb in many contemporary art galleries today will tell the tale of a steady decline in durable labour and developing ones craft. Though every work of art is birthed from both concept and material, as a general definition – conceptual art is art in which the idea is more important than other aesthetic or material concerns. Beth’s work embodies a whole: where the concept, idea and principle total the equivalent in precision of craft and material. Where every medium carries it’s own meaning, her sculptures never lose sight of their raw material, but instead, transform into a state that appears simultaneously new and yet recognisable from their original.
“I just love them. It’s also the craftsmanship that makes me want to have one. If you’ve got something that’s beautifully made, you want to keep it and treasure it. I want something to treasure and I love the craft. I love things to reveal themselves, which is probably why I can tackle some of the more trickier issues. This exhibition is quite cheeky, there are nooses and gallows in this one, which are quite horrible symbols if you think about them. Butt because they’re made beautifully and because they’re shiny, you reconsider. You might say “oh that’s really beautiful!” It lets me attack uglier issues with a beautiful medium.”
The uglier issues to which she refers marked the genesis of ‘Supersuits.’ As the wife and business partner of celebrated Chef, Tom Kerridge, the couple faced several difficulties in shaping their vision for the two-Michelin starred pub and restaurant The Hand and Flowers. On presenting their business plan and intention to develop their establishment to investors and bankers, Beth and Tom were surprised to be met with ridicule and cynicism.
“I don’t know if it’s about power or inferiority, it’s infuriating and people do try and beat the success out of people. I’ve always been renegade, I’m not the kind of person who sits back and lets things happen, I’m quite proactive with people prodding me at the point of it happening, I don’t let it build up to a tipping point.”
She explains the experience presented her with the energy and inspiration to move forward, “A lot of ideas came out of it. A tipping point would probably be time, I could’ve made it as we were going along if I had the time whilst we were building The Hand and Flowers.”
“But there were great people, we always focus on the negative because it’s the block on the landscape. I gave it a positive outlet and collected some beautiful people of a much bigger team who are amazing.”
An accumulation of adversity manifested itself into agreement – this is precisely the reaction reaped in all viewers of Beth’s sculptures. “They’ve all met that person, or they may recognise themselves in what they see, whether that may be Super or Empty, and I love the fact that everybody agrees with the concept.”
“They’ve enjoyed it because it’s a little more cheeky, and they see that cheekiness reflected in me. I haven’t been quite so conservative. I’m trying to use the Suit as something that doesn’t intimidate the every-man, to understand, or just to lead them into sculpture without them being intimidated. It’s amazing how many people you wouldn’t expect to enjoy sculpture, end up doing so and appreciating the work.”
‘Supersuits’ presented by Beautiful Crime runs until 5pm, 31st October at Gallery Different, 14 Percy Street
For a further collection of Beth’s work, visit www.beautifulcrime.com
Luciana Garbarni (@LucPierra)