Denise de Cordova


  • Denise de Cordova
  • Area

    School of Arts & Humanities



  • Denise de Cordova is a sculptor living and working in London. She has had a long association with the Royal College of Art, where she currently teaches part time as a Tutor on the Sculpture programme in the School of Arts & Humanities.  She was made a Fellow of the RCA in 2006. In 2011 and 2012 she was Acting Head of Sculpture at the RCA, and in 2012 was instrumental in initiating the annual Cowley Manor Award for Fine Art Students. In 2016 de Cordova took part in the inaugural visiting artist and teaching exchange with The University of Austin, Texas. 

  • Biography

  • Denise de Cordova has taught extensively in art colleges throughout the UK, and has acted as an external examiner at Falmouth School of Art and Design, The University of Central England, Brighton University, and the University of North East London. She was made a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors in 2015.

    Denise was born in Birkenhead in 1957. She received her Foundation Diploma from the Laird School of Art and Crafts in 1976. She studied sculpture at Brighton Polytechnic from 1977–80, where she was awarded a First Class BA degree. She was a MA student at the Royal College of Art from 1980–83, and was awarded a Travel Scholarship to Carrara, Italy.  She received a distinction for her dissertation on ‘The Map as a Poetic Image’.

    From 1983-84 she was a Rome Scholar at British School at Rome, where her interest in the object as an embodiment of mythic narratives originated.  She was the Henry Moore Foundation Fellow Artist in Residence at Camberwell School of Art from 1984-85, and the Stanley Picker Fellow Artist in Residence at Kingston University in 1990. In 2006 she was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Art.

    Other residencies include the Artist/Architect Project at Willesden Green High School, 1986 (GLA and RIBA), Artist in Residence, Seven King’s School, Ilford, London, 1987, (GLA), The Europaischer Skulpturenpark, Willebadessen, Germany, 1987, Master Ceramics, Standpoint, London, 2014, WomanHouse at Studio RCA, London, 2015, and The Garage Editions Print Residency at Worcester University, 2015.  

    Public commissions have included Battersea Park Old English Garden, London,1989 (Public Art Development Trust and Wandsworth Council) and the Council Buildings, Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds, 1989 (Eastern Arts and the Borough of St Edmundbury). Her work is in public and private collections, including The British Museum, London.

    De Cordova produces and exhibits ceramic works under the name Amy Bird, thereby forming an ongoing collection of works that explore facets of the female psyche. These ‘women’ are characters, specifically named, to steer deliberately away from the idea of archetypes.

    Recent Public Speaking includes ‘In Conversation with Tom Price,’ Studio RCA, 2015,  and ‘Digesting the Devoured,’ a panel discussion on gender and contemporary sculpture with Griselda Pollock, Lauren Kelly, Rachael Chapman and Rebecca Fortnum, Bosse and Baum, London 2014.

    Recent exhibitions include Lies and Camouflage LAF Projects, London 2015, Grand Magasin Deux@French Riviera, London 2015, Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London 2015, WomanHouse, Studio RCA , London 2015, and Building, Dwelling, Thinking, Eagle Gallery, London 2015, and Some of My Colours, Eagle Gallery, 2014.

    Denise de Cordova is represented by the Eagle Gallery, London.

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  • Practice

  • Denise de Cordova’s sculpture take the form of hand crafted, painted objects that are assembled to create tableaux that incorporate representation and specific imagery as a means of exploring historical tropes and cultural constructs that centre on ideas of identity, landscape, myth and folklore. The female figure, birds, mushrooms, logs and boulders become part of an ongoing distillation of narratives that allude to uneasy alliances: the familiar and the uncanny, the domestic and the wilderness, the fictional and the nonfictional. The important thing is that ideas conflate, that glimpsed moments, whether real or imagined, cohere to become sculptural stagings, evoking a memory or a scene that might be understood as a ‘heightened truth,’ rather than one that is literal. The work is a personal collection of curated moments, where the on  going lexicon of permitted imagery requires first hand experience in order to be ‘allowed’ in the work. A bird, costume or rock has to have been ‘seen’.

    Visual sources impact on choices that are made during the production of the sculptures. Console game graphics, with their painstakingly detailed geology, flora and fauna, and illustrated field guides may be of equal importance as Thomas Bewick’s woodcuts, or John James Audubon’s hand tinted engravings; the body proportions of a doll carrying as much meaning as classical Eurocentric sculpture; the palette associated with cosmetic counters in department stores as pertinent as the exquisite painted surfaces of medieval carvings.

    At times, these dualities can be tiresome, and to accommodate this, de Cordova occasionally adopts a nom de plume in order to fulfil certain ‘making ‘desires. As Amy Bird, she is creating an on going collection of ceramic heroines. The material specificity of clay, with its pliancy and wetness, is important, allowing for a sensual handling that translates directly into the work. Colour, as glaze, can pour, run or bleed. This contrasts with the drier, highly painted objects more familiar to her practice, where the accumulation of small marks in a large surface is critical, deliberately camouflaging and concealing the true nature of underlying materials, thus becoming the site for fiction, illusion and obsession. What remains common to both bodies of work is the grouping and regrouping of objects to create fluid narratives that adapt to different environments to amplify the enquiry into encoded cultural conventions.
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  • External collaborations

  • Curation Collaboration with Stephen Chambers: Mrs Darling’s Kiss at Arch 402, London 2012. An exhibition of print, painting, sculpture and an outdoor artist made cinema, featuring work by Joan Ashworth, Louise Bourgeois, Steve Bunn, Tom Chamberlain, Stephen Chambers, Denise de Cordova, Kate Davis & David Moore, Dexter Dymoke, Jonas Grimas, Jane Harris, Tim Long, Rosa Loy, Lee Maelzer, Nicholas Pankhurst, Kate Rowles, Fiona Shaw and Mike Taylor.

    In both 2013 and 2014 Denise de Cordova was the International Judge for Prix MAIF pour la Sculpture in Paris.

    In 2016 Denise de Cordova was an external panel member for the Periodic Review of the BA Hons Art and Design and BA Hons Fine Art Courses within the Institute of humanities and Creative Arts at the University of Worcester.
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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Solo Exhibitions since 2008


    Lies and Camouflage, Collaboration with Dr James Fisher for Projects, LAF, London


    Congregation, The Chapel, Jesus College, Cambridge


    Salon Particular, St Mark’s Church, Myddleton Square, London

    Doña Stones, Eagle Gallery, London


    Contemporary Sculpture, Clifford Chance, London

    Women I Know, Eagle Gallery, London

    Group Exhibitions since 2008


    (Forthcoming) Gothic, Eagle Gallery, London


    Grand Magasin Deaux @ French Riviera, London

    WomanHouse, Studio RCA, London

    Editions, Eagle Gallery, London

    Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London

    Building, Dwelling, Thinking,’ Eagle Gallery, London


    Some of My Colours, Eagle Gallery, London


    Grand Magasin @ French Riviera, London

    A Bittersweet Salon,The Old Matchroom, Margate


    Voyage North, Eagle Gallery, London

    Small is Beautiful, Flowers Central, London

    Threadneedle Prize, Mall gallery, London

    Bronze, Metaflux Exhibition, Royal College of Art, London

    Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London

    Meltwater, Eagle Gallery, London


    Hatchet and Helve, Standpoint Gallery, London

    Mrs Darling’s Kiss, Arch 402, London


    Then and Now, Eagle Gallery, London

    Summer Exhibition, Invited Artist, Royal Academy of Arts, London


    Text for Sculpture 2014, Royal College of Art Catalogue

    Lyons, P. (2013) Denise de Cordova: Congregation, EMH ARTS: London

    Interview with Pierre Naquin for AMA (Art Media Agency), October 2013

    McNaught, L (2012) Essay and catalogue inclusion in The Threadneedle Prize for Painting and Sculpture

    Chambers, S. (2010) Royal Academy Illustrated, London: Royal Academy

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Selected work


Research interests

Describing herself as a ‘kind of Victorian magic realist’, de Cordova’s work takes the form of tableaux that use specific imagery as a means of exploring historical tropes that centre on ideas of nature, identity, myth and folklore. The specificity of place impacting on knowledge or experience of work has been a long-term feature in de Cordova’s practice. Exhibitions that focus on the placing of sculptures within existing museum collections include Confluence, The Museum of St John, London, 1995, Pressing Flesh, The Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, 2001, Salon Particular, St Mark’s Church, Myddelton Square, London, 2011 and Congregation, The Chapel, Jesus College, Cambridge, 2013.

The focus of recent research has been the exploration of ‘strong’ landscape references, in order to consider how first hand encounters with mountain and wilderness question a mythic understanding of place and remoteness. The specificity of place impacting on the experience of work has been a long-term concern in de Cordova’s work.