Ann Carrington graduated from Sculpture in 1987. In 1988 she received The Herbert Read Award, followed by the Commonwealth Fellowship for Sculpture in 1992. Two major Arts Council of Great Britain awards followed in 1994 and 1997. In 2010 Ann was invited by the United Nations to help raise awareness of current issues through her artwork – her first art work for The UN was presented at the UN Human Trafficking conference in Luxor Egypt, December 2010. She has exhibited worldwide and fulfilled many private and public commissions, including The Royal Jubilee Banner for the Queen in celebration of her diamond Jubilee and works for The W Hotel Hoboken, The Waldorf Astoria, The Alpini Gstaad, The Chiltern Firehouse and Paul Smith.
What originally drew you to the Royal College of Art?
Since I was little I knew I wanted to be an artist. I am not from an artistic background and growing up in Birmingham I had to work out for myself how I might achieve that! I remember going to a contemporary art exhibition at Birmingham City art gallery when I was on my art foundation course, I must have been about 16. I noticed that lots of the painters and sculptors that I liked had RCA after their name and asking my tutor what it stood for, then making a mental note that I would like to go there one day!
What do you value most about how you’re working today?
When you have been making things for a long time you acquire confidence. You become kind of fearless and a little bit reckless which is a good thing. With experience I have gained an understanding of how to build using many disparate materials and so the process of making something new doesn’t seem as daunting as it used to, nor do I care so much about how my work will be received.
Since graduating from the RCA I have studied many new processes and crafts – from welding to Ikebana. It’s one thing having a good idea for a sculpture but knowing that there’s a strong chance that I can execute it too with my own hands is something I value.
How has your practice changed over time?
After leaving the RCA, for many years I worked in various studio squats all over London. It was a very creative time – making art for art’s sake – working with other artists, putting on low key exhibitions and living hand to mouth. I had what you might call a ‘cult’ following with a few well-known people championing and collecting my work. About ten years ago, things started to change, I shifted up a gear; I started selling a lot of work in America to various collectors and made commissioned pieces for the first time – some of them large scale public pieces. I spent quite a bit of time in New York and as a result of all the activity I was able to buy a studio and employ assistants for the first time. When my children were small I couldn’t cope with the pressure of exhibitions but now they are older I am exhibiting again.
How did your work change and develop while at the RCA?
I studied on the Sculpture course at the RCA, having done my BA in painting. When I arrived at the RCA I was a frustrated sculptor with loads of ideas and a healthy disregard for sculptural convention! At the RCA I started working with found materials, often sourced from the skips outside the Natural History Museum next door to the sculpture department on Queensgate. The RCA taught me to be fearless about materials – that there is a great wealth of resources waiting to be used, from virgin materials to others which have been exploited or discarded, and to approach them all indiscriminately. As a result, my work became much more exciting, interesting and liberated. I was encouraged to use the diaries and sketchbooks I kept as a springboard for my artwork, which hadn’t occurred to me before.
Eduardo Paolozzi would often teach in the sculpture department and one evening he took a bunch of students, including me, to view his exhibition Lost Magic Kingdoms at the Museum of Mankind. The exhibition featured many African artefacts made from salvaged materials, alongside Paolozzi’s own work. The exhibition, and Eduardo Paolozzi had a huge impact on my artwork, so much so I went to Zimbabwe on a fellowship after I graduated and worked from a studio just outside Harare.
What are the key themes or motivations which shape your work?
I have always been interested in discarded, found and multiples of objects. All objects are saturated with cultural meaning, which as an artist I seek to explore, unravel and investigate. Mundane objects like knives and forks, barbed wire, pins and paintbrushes, I find interesting as they come with their own readymade histories and associations which I try and analyse by rearranging them as sculpture. I merge materials with form to tell a story through objects that are familiar to us all.
Bank notes, coins and stamps are recurring themes in my work as I like to shine a light on everyday objects that somehow get overlooked. For my most recent exhibition Pop goes the Weasel I have been particularly inspired by the vanitas theme in dutch flower painting, British folk art, medieval chain mail and Haitian voodoo flags!