David Whiting - Art Critic and Writer

Emma Rodgers is now recognised as one of Britain’s leading ceramic sculptors. She has a particularly probing insight into both the action and tenderness of the animal world. It is a subject she invests not with sentimentality (as is often the case) or saccharine blandness, but with its full power and life force. Her wild hares, bulls and ravens, her human dancers are often expressed – in bronze as well as clay- in a heightened sense of movement or tension, absorbed in the trials and dramas of existence.

Surveying her work over the last ten years, demonstrates just how varied her approach to the subject has been. As her art has developed, she has actually been paring away, approaching her themes in an increasingly abstract and economic way. It gets directly to their heart, their essence. Rodger’s work is as much about internal space as mass, conveyed in freely modelled and dark interiors. Suddenly, more “finished” academic renderings of the body look literal and obvious. Rodgers aims to get beneath the skin, her knowledge of structure, of bone and tissue, enabling her to see and explore the inner spirit and physicality of the animal.

Her drawings and studio space give valuable insights into the process. Her sketches are immediate, capturing a movement or gesture, as much about the motion of the animal as its form. Her ideas are derived not only from the creatures observed on her extensive travels, but her own dissections and the sort of images pinned on her studio walls- of various fauna in their habitats, of their skeletal structures, and of dancers in rehearsal. Her source material reveals an artist not only concerned with beasts in the wild, but those compromised by subjugation to human needs and entertainment- perhaps most explicitly seen here is a sculpture of monkeys on roller skates, an uncomfortable reminder of our intrusions into their world.

Rodger’s ability to depict combative energy is formidable. Leaping and boxing hares- occupying the floor or transversing walls- rearing horses, galloping bulls and roaming monkeys. All are rendered in a combination of clays and glazes (as well as found objects) that gives her cast of characters remarkable animation and charge. Her surfaces become landscapes; they have a terrain. But Rodgers is also an artist of stillness and calm; a baboon sensitively cradles her young – an emotional contact like a sentinel and a brace of dead pheasants is seemingly desiccated by time. The whole rich cycle of life is her -from infancy to death - where even in those subjects bursting with life, you can see the bone beneath the muscle, the mortality that stalks us everyday.

David Whiting - Art Critic and Writer