Sophie Ryder is a celebrated British sculptor renowned for her mythical creatures and hybrid beings including The Lady Hare and The Minotaur. With a career spanning 35 years, she has been exhibiting her captivating works internationally since the late 1980s, after graduating from the Royal Academy of Arts.
In her latest exhibition, Tepozteco, Ryder returns to Mayfair’s Hignell Gallery (from now until 1 December 2017) to showcase new sculptures and drawings during Frieze London 2017. We caught up with Sophie to find out more.
What can we expect from this new exhibition?
Visitors will be invited to explore my world as they journey through the gallery, beginning on the ground floor where they will be introduced to my most recent character - 'The Boar'. They will then navigate their way downstairs to the basement of the gallery featuring an immersive multi-sensory installation entitled 'Temple to 200 Rabbits'. Steel cutouts of my dog shadow drawings will also be showcased.
The Boar will feature a new mythical character of yours. Can you tell us where the idea came from? And how he was made?
The idea for 'The Boar' entered my mind following a trip to Provence last summer where I came across a wild boar that had been shot dead in the vines; winemakers in this region cull them to protect their grapes.
I was intrigued by their anatomy, which is both fear-instilling yet beautiful, prehistoric and majestic all at the same time.
I have never felt the need to make a pig before but I did feel drawn to record this beautiful animal's life in some way. I bought the barrels and made the two boar pieces on them with plaster. Apart from acting as a plinth, the barrel is supposed to represent the wine grapes that the boar was killed for having eaten.
I really enjoyed making these two pieces and it was also thrilling for me to add a character to my repertoire who felt so fitting.
Normally, your imagination is occupied by 'Lady Hare' – is this what inspires Temple to 200 Rabbits?
The temple was actually conceived when I was still at school, much before the 'Lady Hare' appeared in my work.
The 'Lady Hare', a half-woman half-hare female creature, was initially created as a counterpart to my character 'The Minotaur'. The inspiration behind 'Temple to 200 Rabbits' however came about from a more harrowing experience I had as a child, where I witnessed rabbits being inhumanely treated at a rabbit farm, being kept in a small, dark and sweltering shed.
I felt so strongly motivated to record it in some way. By complete coincidence, when I was staying in the village of Tepostlan in Mexico as an adult, I came across a temple called 'Tepozteco' meaning 'Temple to 200 Rabbits', which was dedicated to the mythological Aztec 'God of Mild Drunkenness' who took the form of a rabbit.
I was making a sculpture of 175 rabbits at the time and had not finalised a title, and 'Temple to 200 Rabbits' was a perfect fit.
It's going to be an incredible installation (Temple to 200 Rabbits). How were the 200 sculptures created?
On my return to England from Mexico, all two hundred pieces were created in plaster, moulded and made in resin with iron filings in the surface to create the effect of rusty iron.
What do you hope to do next?
I plan to continue making larger and larger work to enable people to actually live inside. I am in conversation with an architect who will help with the engineering. I would also like to place more work in public places to enable everyone to enjoy it.
You're based in Provence and the Cotswolds. Does where you work inspire you?
I do get inspired most in my french studio and I make the smaller work and drawings. The UK studio is for the larger work and where I have most of my casting done.
The installation will be set to a soundtrack by American composer Morton Feldman – how did this partnership come about?
I was looking for music and the Feldman piece just worked so well because it is so obscure.
Why add music to an otherwise beautiful exhibition?
It's very subtle and one can just hear an occasional bell or drum. It adds to the mystery, you will see when you come.
What originally sparked off this mythical creature theme?
As a child, I loved Picasso and studied Greek mythology at school, so I had lots of introductions to the Minotaur.
Where have you recently travelled and what memory still springs to mind from that trip?
I have been all over the world with my work in the past few years but most of my inspirations come from home and family. Maybe the scale comes from visiting cities with such tall buildings.
What have you found to be the most effective way of raising your profile?
I decided to spend a year concentrating on doing shows and making books. Online media is good but for sales, one needs a good gallery.
Is there anything that's currently bugging you and what do you plan to do about it?
I don't think that women sculptors are taken that seriously by the male-dominated field of sculpture.
Even though I've been doing it for 35 years, I often have people asking if it's my husband who makes the big stuff because I'm far too small!
Also, there are fewer opportunities for public installations etc. It is changing though and I like to think that I am responsible for some of that. I am opening a sculpture park, RYDER PARK, on my estate in Gloucestershire. For now, I will be only showing my own work but I am thinking about showing some other artists at some point and maybe I will limit it to women sculptors.
Main image credit: Sophie Ryder in the studio. Photography © Anne Purkiss