Emma Rodgers - Wirral based sculptor
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 November 2019
From the moment she could work playdough, sculptor Emma Rodgers' future was set.
Wirral-based Emma Rodgers is a world-renowned sculptor who has exhibited her work in dozens of top galleries - including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Stricoff Fine Art NY, The Royal Academy of Art, Art Paris at the Grande Palais and the Alice Mogabab Gallery in Beirut. She has sold to collectors, art galleries and museums across the world. While her work is wide ranging in its form - for her Beirut exhibition she built a body of work inspired by Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Odessey - she is perhaps best known by collectors here for her extraordinary animal sculptures.
'From about the age of three I was always making things at the kitchen table,' Emma says. 'And I always took in every injured animal I could find. If the cat brought in a bird I'd be looking after it in the shed till it could fly away. I was always very interested in nature, I think that's my main passion - how incredible it is.'
With Emma's love of art her academic path was a given - art college and then a degree. She also, at the age of 11, went and asked Jean Rennie, the artist who opened her own chain of galleries and arts and craft shops around the region and who then ran a shop in the Wirral, for a job - and got one. Rather a force of nature in her own right, Jean had Emma working in the frame shop and on a Sunday mixing up huge vats of plaster, which she would pour into moulds to make everything from ornaments to garden gnomes.
'She didn't mollycoddle me in any way! I've got huge muscles,' Emma laughs, 'Unfortunately! But it was a job I absolutely loved.'
While studying for her degree, in ceramics and glass, Emma was lucky enough to be blessed with one of those teachers that once experienced, is never forgotten.
'In the final year of my degree I had an amazing tutor, David Jones. He would make all of us enter every possible competition and he made me apply for a one at the V&A - and I won it, I was 21. I was able to start exhibiting from then onwards, which helped fund my MA. I was approached by galleries, because of where I'd been shown and from the beginning worked with around 15 different ones.'
It's worth saying that while Emma is rather modest when telling me all this, it's a huge achievement; huge. Right from the start of her career Emma has worked with multiple high end galleries, cementing her reputation. Exhibitions in the Royal Academy, The Saatchi Gallery, The Walker Museum, Lady Lever, Bruton Street… all these helped give Emma a profile that attracted more attention and led, in a virtuous circle, to more exhibitions, private commissions and to galleries and museums, such as Liverpool Museum, purchasing her work for permanent display.
It also led to a rather unexpected treat - being asked by the creators of the Marvel films to work with them, first creating artefacts for The Collector in Guardians of the Galaxy and later to lend sculpture from her collection to be displayed in the penthouse where Ironman, Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr), lived.
'They contacted me and explained they were seeking 'otherwordly' pieces for The Collector and thought my work would suit for this, and was I interested? So I did most of the pieces in The Collector's spaceship in Guardians of the Galaxy. That was really nice as they let me go on set - into the design rooms and onto the set itself. Because that went well they invited me back, wanting my finished pieces for Tony Stark's penthouse. They invited us down when they were filming, so the family met Robert Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth - who sat and played with the kids on the floor, in full Thor costume, which was very bizarre.' And quite the memory to savour and recall in quiet moments, one imagines. Watch the films and you will spot Emma's work in both movies - from her bronze Raging Bull (a fabulous metre-long work) and Fighting Hares in the Stark Towers penthouse to the beautiful ceramic 'Mother and Child' monkeys, in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Emma's work has a vibrancy and sense of movement all of its own. It's a complex blend of figurative and abstract, with the forms leaving much to the viewer's own imagination. There are gaps and spaces, torsos are stripped back, revealing bone or muscle beneath. There is an implication of movement, yet a poise and pause about each piece too. I wonder - is it a sense of decay, or of the opposite, generation, that Emma seeks to reveal in her work?
'I think sometimes, with the negative space within the form it's sometimes based on the translation of a drawn line - so sometimes all it needs is a line to indicate the firm. Sometimes using the negative space can make the form around it much more powerful, leaving the viewer to use their imagination to fill in the spaces.' Regeneration then, for those that wish. 'I am often drawn to pieces in museums that aren't fully restored. There's a horse in the British Museum that only has his head and torso, with the rider's hand just placed on the neck.
'I think if that was ever fully restored it would destroy the intimacy of the piece. I'm also interested in medical books as well and lucky enough to be able to go into Leahurst Veterinary School on occasion, and see the medical advances there - I find some of those translate into my work occasionally.
If you start to strip back an animal and look at its layers, the bone and the muscle structure can take it to a natural abstraction.'
Emma will be exhibiting a body of work at The Deepbridge Chester Arts Fair, which takes place at Chester Racecourse from November 15th to 17th. This is the North's largest art fair and will showcase over 2,000 works from more than 120 British and international artists.
'It's the first time I have been invited and I am so excited,' she says. 'I feel quite honoured to be asked to do something so local and with so many first class artists.
'The body of work I am showing there was in fact inspired by a visit to Parade at Chester Racecourse this summer, where I was able to see the horses so closely.
'I thought it only fitting for it to have its first showing in the place where it had been inspired.'