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REAL LIFE: Meet the alternative artist

PUBLISHED: 16:09 15 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:44 02 July 2010

Artist Louise Richardson in her Norwich home. PHOTO: SIMON FINLAY

Artist Louise Richardson in her Norwich home. PHOTO: SIMON FINLAY

Louise Richardson makes objects with an ethereal quality that hint at the fact she almost became a ballerina. The Norwich-based artist tells LIZ BESTIC how she creates her strange and beautiful works.

Louise Richardson makes objects with an ethereal quality that hint at the fact she almost became a ballerina. The Norwich-based artist tells LIZ BESTIC how she creates her strange and beautiful works.

When I arrive at Louise Richardson's house in Norwich there is a bit of a drama unfolding. Apparently the family bulldog has chewed up Louise's two-year-old's glasses and is now firmly in the dog house. Louise, being a bit of a softie however, caves in after five minutes and the dog, relishing its new lease of life and deeply contrite, bounds through into the kitchen. The atmosphere in this arty household is one of happy chaos. Louise's mum - also an artist - sweeps in and scoops up the two-year-old and shoos the dog back into the front room.

It's difficult to know what to call Louise - she is more of an object maker than a straightforward artist. Her work has been described variously as dark, morbid, macabre even, and sitting opposite Settle, the piece of work which recently had pride of place at the Forum in Norwich, I can understand why. It's a frock made from delicate muslin which is stained and muddied. The bodice is covered in butterflies which look as if they have crash landed onto the fabric. The frock is pinned as if crucified behind glass and inside a white frame.

“I love the notion of the dirty angel - the kind of dark and light you get in fairytales. A lot of my work seems really beautiful but something much darker lurks beneath,” she says.

She almost became a ballerina - she was offered a ballet scholarship in Manchester but turned it down to do Fine Art - yet she has that ethereal quality ballet dancers seem to have.

Although she studied Fine Art at Norwich, painting was not for her. “Somehow the brush created too much distance between me and the canvas. And painting is very flat. I needed to get much closer to what I was doing. I wanted to make objects which exist in the real world rather than making a copy of something,” she explains.

Louise uses heavy materials, especially lead which features in a lot of her work. “I think there is a strange magical quality about lead because it has its own history. If you are dealing with lead over a period of days it scratches and gets marked. I love the weight of it. It's amazing because even though it is heavy, it is like fabric, so you can stitch it. I began to print images into the lead and use lead alongside more delicate materials so you get this amazing sort of alchemy going on,” she says.

It's impossible to pigeonhole her work. Everything has a hand-made quality where the boundaries between textiles and sculpture seem to constantly collide. And there is a melancholy quality to Richardson's work which invites the viewer to take a closer look at their own emotions and feelings. She shows me a dress hanging in a glass case looking every bit as if it is made of fur. “In fact it is constructed of inch-and-a-half nails pushed through muslin. The nails have gone rusty and have been painted with white emulsion mixed with vinegar giving it the effect of an animal's pelt,” she explains.

Nowadays Louise combines making things with teaching textiles at Norwich Art School where her husband, sculptor Andrew Campbell, also works. “I think I am perceived as this maverick person breaking all the rules - putting copper and material together. I am not a skilled dressmaker by any means but I love fabric and I seem to have the ability to put materials together and so I am sure I have something to offer!” she says.

Having children has had a subconscious effect on her work. You Are Here combines two of Louise's obsessions - memory and maps. A child's dress and shoes are covered with layers of fabric printed with snippets from Ordnance Survey maps, almost harking back to the old wartime strategy of incorporating a silk map in the lining of airmen's jackets.

“I never really thought my work would change consciously when I had children and yet one of the first pieces I made when I became a mum was this dress. I mean when you first send your child on a school trip you would want them to be sure they could find their way home again!” she laughs.

Her latest passion is with charms. “There are lots of cultures where they stitch things into their garments as protection or for good luck. In India they stitch tiny mirrors into the fabric and in Russia they leave needles in their children's clothing for luck. I love that whole idea and with this piece called Wappenshaw, I used silk which had been printed with old postcard photographs and made little padded figures,” she says.

Just looking at her house and garden it is clear she is a hoarder par excellence. “I am always on the lookout for things - feathers, buttons, bits of glass. I collect images from auctions and use them within my work.

“For a recent commission I stitched lots of photographs behind glass into the seams of a frock and hung these amazing letters from the hem. The piece was based around the knowledge we have handed down to us from our mothers and I called it My Mother Said, because this frock was imbued with all this amazing knowledge which is handed down the generations,” she says.

See Louise Richardson's work at www.flickr.com/photos/louiserichardsonart.

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