Dancing Light Gallery’s pop-up Sue White Oakes exhibition held at Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh, offers the rare opportunity to visit a solo-show of the now retired, internationally respected sculptor’s remaining works. The exhibition, planned since last year, represents the Dancing Light’s first exhibition since lockdown. Measures have been put in place to ensure safety: masks are to be worn, hand sanitiser is provided upon entry and the works are arranged in a manner that allows social distancing.
Both the artist and gallery owner have expressed that the opening of the exhibition was an emotional experience. This was not only due to the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic but also because this was the first time all of Sue White Oakes’ remaining works have been in a room together. She has worked with the Dancing Light Gallery for over five years and this solo-exhibition demonstrates the Gallery’s valued relationship with the artist.
Sue White Oakes originally trained as an industrial designer. Although long-experienced in working with metals, it was not until 1985 that she began working with copper as an artistic medium, and found her interest in animal subjects. The artist, who at the time was working on a series of abstract sculptures based on industrial robots, recalls re-plumbing her farmhouse in Scotland, picking up a dead beetle and recognising it to be ‘a perfect little robot’. Marvelling at evolution’s feat of engineering, Oakes decided to use the sheet copper at hand from the re-plumbing project (which was perfectly suitably shaped to form the insect’s tubular legs, curved body plates and wire feelers) and create a sculpture of the insect. Oakes went on to produce several more insect sculptures and later progressed onto various other animal subjects including reptiles, birds and fish, all represented in the exhibition.
Oakes’ background in engineering is evident throughout her works, which are incredibly sophisticated constructions, demanding much labour and precision to detail. Indeed, the artist made her own tools (shown in the exhibition) to address the unique set of problems presented by each subject. This includes the Rhinoceros’s warts, for which she had to create her own set of punctures. Alongside conveying a sense of the biological anatomy of lifeforms which have evolved to adapt to their particular slot in the world, the artist’s main aim is to convey the character of each subject. For example, the Griffon Vulture appears ready to take flight and hunt for its prey.
Whilst the majority of the works are made with copper (of various colours), some have also been cast in bronze, including the King Penguin, which was newly delivered straight from the foundry. Semi-precious stones have also been used for the eyes of her subjects.
This is the last chance to visit this delightful exhibition, which is only open until Thursday 10th September.
With grateful thanks to Amy Miles for this review.
Main image: exhibition space on entry