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Sculptor Kate Denton takes flight with stunning Icarus exhibition in Lavenham

PUBLISHED: 14:22 15 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:23 15 May 2018

Kate Denton with Gravity Study 2, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob Foyers

Kate Denton with Gravity Study 2, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob Foyers

© Robert Foyers - All Rights Reserved

Sculptor Kate Denton creates tribute to the human spirit after recovering from cancer scare. Arts editor Andrew Clarke went to talk to her about how the Icarus myth tells us something about ourselves.

Icarus by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob FoyersIcarus by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob Foyers

East Anglian sculptor Kate Denton has combined her love of flight and animation with a timeless human story of striving and aspiration as she unveils a new exhibition, Burning Ambition, centred around the Greek myth of Icarus, the man who flew too close to the sun and paid the price for his quest for knowledge.

Kate, who learnt about manipulating metal at her father’s steel factory in Sheffield, has had a fascination with the story of Icarus for the last 30 years, but it wasn’t until her move to Suffolk, shortly followed by a serious cancer scare, that she decided to turn a series of half-forgotten drawings into a stunning collection of sculptures.

The exhibition is designed so that these ostensibly still figures have a sense of life about them. They are animated – captured in mid-flight or mid-fall – there is movement and energy in the pose. There is also a sense of the dancer about them, in their elegance, and Kate confirms that many of the subjects for her drawings were dancers.

Kairos by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob FoyersKairos by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob Foyers

“I always wanted them to be moving. One of my favourite pieces has the body suspended in the middle of a gold leaf ring which was designed to represent the sun. There were some really nice problems to work out. Up until a couple of years ago I very rarely did figures. But, when we moved here I was very ill. I was diagnosed with cancer and ended up in a hospice and didn’t work for at least a year, maybe 18 months. They did some radical surgery and it took a year to recover but during that time it changed my focus on the world.

“It’s a hard thing to describe but when you are faced with 12 weeks to live, as I was, and I was fading quite fast, you do think a lot about your children, what you are leaving behind, you think about family and it forced me to think about issues which I hadn’t really faced before.

“Then, having recovered, the joy of leading an ordinary life again was incredible. None of us know how long we are going to live but you do want to make the most of it. They said, you are only in remission and that’s fine. If you give me nine months that’s fine but it’s now five years later and I am still here.”

Kate Denton at work in her Lavenham studio. Photo: Bob FoyersKate Denton at work in her Lavenham studio. Photo: Bob Foyers

She said that she did some drawings based on the Icarus story 25 years ago which she wanted to turn into a major sculpture exhibition, a show that had something to say that the indomitable nature of humanity. “Most of us have had dreams about flying and certainly we all know what it is to fail. When I originally did the drawings I don’t think I was strong enough or had the technical knowledge to tackle such an all encompassing project. I certainly didn’t have the expertise to balance the life-sized sculpture Dare To Dream on its toes.

“It’s been an extraordinary journey but it is all about the delight in life and those wonderful moments, those moments of exultation, of total joy, and I have another sculpture called Kairos, which means sublime moment, when you feel that the heavens are with you.”

She said that there is also an element of the show which focuses around a sculpture called The Folly of Man where the wings are fashioned out of wing struts like World War One bi-planes. Pieces such as Grief is a Thing with Feathers, Gravity and Icarus itself contend with what happens when we fall short of the goal and plummet back down to earth again.”

Terra Firma Study 1 by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob FoyersTerra Firma Study 1 by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob Foyers

The sculptures are complemented by a series of large scale charcoal drawings which depict a modern day Icarus with a splendid pair of wings leaping, dancer-like, into the sky before the sun robs him of his wings, causing him to fall back to earth.

This is not the end because humanity picks itself up again, brushes itself down and learns from its mistakes and the next flight will be longer and the next longer still.

“The last piece I made for the exhibition was Homo Sapiens which was inspired by watching early film footage of people strapping feathers to their arms and jumping off bridges, piers and cliff-faces in an attempt to fly.

Grief is a Thing with Feathers by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob FoyersGrief is a Thing with Feathers by Kate Denton, part of the Burning Ambition exhibition. Photo: Bob Foyers

“My mythical Icarus has magnificent wings sprouting from his back, this figure is more down-to-earth and reminds us we are all human. It is our one common factor and at times I think we lose sight of that.

“When I spent that year and a half on a zimmer frame and then a walking stick, it gave me so much time to think.”

Burning Ambition is at Lavenham Hall Gallery and Sculpture Garden, behind Lavenham Church, from May 13-28.

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