Jilly Sutton

'The warmth of wood, the quality of the grain, and the life embodied in each and every tree, together with a veneration of the head as a sculptural form … this is my passion. However, working with the vagaries of the organic, still living, nature of the material, and pushing the boundaries of its plasticity, is the constant challenge.'

Jilly Sutton trained as a sculptor at Exeter College of Art. Her career developed in Nigeria, where the art forms that flourish there (particularly carvings and textiles) fired her imagination. She researched and worked with indigo dye both in Africa and back home in England. Now, her inspiration comes from the ancient trees and woodland that surround her studio and the home she shares with her architect husband on the banks of the River Dart in Devon.

Jilly is renowned for her remarkable skills as a carver. Starting with an often massive piece of fallen timber she works directly into the wood unlocking the form within but always paying heed to the properties of the material. ‘As a sculptor, you have to think in three dimensions all the time’, explains Jilly, ‘especially with the “subtraction” way of working, rather than with “building up” as in modelling. There is only one decision with carving which is to take away or not to take away … I start off with drawing from all angles- but as the shape develops, I abandon the drawings and rely on the work to evolve, to take its form from the wood.'

Jilly’s work reflects an intimate knowledge of the properties and limitations of wood, her carvings exploit the natural forms and contours of the medium. The force behind her work comes from the tranquillity of her surroundings. Using locally fallen or felled timber, she carves large heads and figures, sandblasting and liming to give them their unique, grainy character. Although her work is mainly figurative, often with an overriding sense of serenity, abstraction also features in her oeuvre. Often there is an accidental serendipity to the carving; the cut-away shapes of many of her heads are the result of knots in the wood or areas of rot. Jilly’s two-dimensional relief forms made to hang on the wall are an extension of this process. She has developed inventive techniques of jig-saw printing and relief painting on wood. Texture is a key element in all of her work, exploiting the grain of the wood. Many of her original carvings are cast, either in bronze or her unique sandstone resin medium and patinated to reflect the properties of the original wood carving.

Jilly Sutton’s sculptures have been exhibited internationally and are in public and private collections in the UK and abroad. Her carved wooden portrait of the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion is in the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection. Among her many other commissions are works for the Museum of Liverpool Life and the Royal Institute of British Architects. She has exhibited throughout the country and her work is in collections worldwide.