By Andrew Lewis When I decided to visit a local art exhibition, I didn’t expect to find such an engaging treat waiting for me when I got there. Artist Nicola Freeman came up with these enchanting, fun sculptures as a part of the degree show at the University of Wolverhampton. The four pieces on show (Love Hearts, Sweetie Watch, Sweetie Necklace, and Lolly Pop) made the heat and the noise of the exhibition worthwhile for me. I’m a fanatical consumer of Love Hearts, and seeing a giant statue of my candy store peccadillo really made my day. The giant sweeties were a hit with the rest of the visiting public, too. Everyone seemed to have a smile on their face as they were walking around the oversized confectionery. I couldn’t help wondering how the pieces were made, and the realism of the work made me hope that they were actually edible. Sadly, this wasn’t the case, but the heavyweight giant sweets are much more than just eye-candy. I was lucky enough to spend some time talking to Nicola about her work, and the processes that she used to create such a successful piece.
Tell me about the thinking behind these pieces.
I started out with food art, and then I came up with this idea of enlarging it to a scale that was shocking – but then it turned into something that was a lot more fun, so that people could relate to it, dealing with the idea of mass consumerism.
For me, it’s more about the attraction from the perspective of the viewer – Everyone seems to be able to relate to these pieces, and find that they’re bringing back their childhood memories. The sweets I’ve chosen have been around for quite a long while. I remember these from my childhood.
The display is set out so that people actually have to walk around them, which is great for interactivity. The pieces aren’t too delicate, so people can walk around them, touch them, and lots of people have been having their photograph taken with them – which is really excellent. It’s good that people can actually come and enjoy interacting with them.
How long did it take to get from the idea to the final pieces?
I started working with actual food about two years ago, but I’ve been working with the Love Hearts and lollypops since September 2010. I’d like to carry on making more, working with different materials, maybe even bigger.
I started out with plaster -which was the right material for the piece- but then I decided that I wanted to experiment with something new. That’s when I switched to resin for working with the lollypop. I was looking at the work of Mauro Perucchetti, who works with a lot of resin. He had a temporary sculpture called “The Jelly Baby Family” in London, which was made with translucent resin, and I really wanted to do something with that.
How much of a learning experience was it?
The Love Hearts – which was the first piece I did- went very smoothly. It was just a matter of getting the timing and measurements right, and mixing the colors properly. I tried a lot of different methods to color the plaster, and it turned out that acrylic paint worked best.
I used silicone molds initially, but switched to Gelflex, which can be remelted and reused if the molds get damaged. Its quite resilient, but I had to make quite a few moldings. In the end, I made two molds to make the other pieces. Each mold took about half an hour to set, so making enough castings for the necklaces took several weeks.
The pieces are solid plaster. I didn’t want to use a foam core because I wanted them to be substantial. They would be too fragile to leave out on display if they were made of foam. They are really heavy, and transporting them even a short distance is a real challenge.
With the resin casting for the lollypop, I started by making plaster molds. I had to get some help with that because I’d never done it before. We made a mold for the dome shape for the lollypop on a potter’s wheel, and made two plaster casts. Then it was just a matter of painting the resin in until it hardened. There were a few problems because the resin took about six hours to cure, and we had to wait until it was just the right consistency. I switched to using gelcoat, which was thicker, but it reacted with the original resin and started to bubble. It actually made the lollypop look more realistic, which was lucky.
Why did you decide to specialize in fine art?
I wanted the freedom to experiment, without having to settle into one area. These are my first real sculptural pieces, and I think I’ve finally found my thing. I’m interested in the work of people like Claes Oldenberg and Jeff Koons, and although my tastes are constantly evolving, I really want to continue with sculpture. I’ve tried working in lots of different creative fields in the past, but never really settled until now. Fine art doesn’t keep me locked in to one medium, and that freedom is important.
Nicola is currently deciding what to do with her magnificent collection of faux-confectionery. Personally, I would love to see these pieces at a Maker Faire, and I think that creating them from scratch would be a great community project.
About the Author: Andrew Lewis is a journalist, a maker, victophile, and founder of the www.upcraft.it blog.