Meet artist Lisa Slater
Lisa Slater works from a compact but charming studio in Hebden Bridge, deep in the Calder Valley. Tucked away at the end of a corridor in the Northlight building, her workplace manages to be busily crammed with material and tools, whilst at the same time giving off a sense of calm and order – everything has its place. There is little colour – Lisa mainly works in natural wood. But there is wonderful tone and texture everywhere, from the found objects that she hoards to the leather cases on the axe blades hanging neatly on the wall. A fascination with folk art and old toys has pervaded her making life and is echoed in her playful work. She combines found objects – old dolls, wooden cases, tools and metal parts, with custom built carved elements.
Born in Yorkshire, Lisa studied Wood Metal & Ceramics at Manchester Metropolitan University. It was the mid 80’s and automata making was popular in the world of craft. Students were set a task to make a working model and Lisa was hooked. But teaching beckoned and Lisa spent the next 20 years developing the innovative Design Technology Department at Skipton Girls School. She then suddenly decided that it was time to focus on her own work and shifted the focus back to her studio, where she now works on private commissions and pieces for exhibitions and galleries.
Lisa’s work offers a different, more ‘low-tech’ feel to the Marvellous Mechanicals exhibition, a contrast to the other works that are more highly engineered or powered by electricity. She did, however, see the Marvellous Mechanicals exhibition as an opportunity to develop new ideas. “Historically, here have been lots of different approaches to automata, but often the mechanism is exposed; there is that delight in seeing the cams working. But I wanted to develop something more neutral, to make you think about it and what it does or doesn’t do, to make you look more closely.”
The idea of a shelter or building that could hide or reveal the mechanism triggered the new pieces of work. “What got me started on the sheds was watching a horse in Old Town (above Hebden) that would hide in a little shelter. I don’t think the shed was quite big enough for him and his head was always sticking out. I am always looking for the comedy in something, and there it was, him stuck inside because of the Hebden Bridge weather; it was quite comical”
Three pieces developed from this initial concept: Stable, Potting Shed and Hen House. The materials used and the detail achieved is extremely important and this was something that Lisa enjoyed exploring in this series. She is an avid maker across many disciplines, such as textiles, leatherwork and other traditional crafts and this is evident in her use of different media and techniques.
“Many of the detail are influenced by beautiful primitive folk toys and puppets, full of naïve character and hand-made touches. I could have done more, perhaps adding elements of recorded sound, but in the end I just wanted the simple beauty of the object to be the focus.”
The works itself generates a natural sound as the handles are turned. In ‘Stable’ the horse kicks its legs, replicating the sound of the hoof on stable door. The stable ‘container’ acts like a sound chamber, the source of the noise discovered if you lift the roof and peek inside.
“Hens they are always so busy, laying, pecking around and roosting before bed. You can almost predict what they do, a bit like a machine, they are quite mechanical animals.”
Lisa invites us to lean closer to see the beauty of the woodgrain, the tiny hand-made clothes in Potting Shed, the delicate painting on the horse and hens. Only then can we see the full hidden beauty of each work.
It’s not labelled, you need to be curious and be bothered to find that extra little thing.”
We hope that you will enjoy discovering Lisa’s ‘shed series’ as part of the Marvellous Mechanicals tour. You can catch it at the next venue, Catterick library, from Saturday 30 September to 16 December, then at Platform Gallery, Clitheroe from 19 January 2018.