How I Work: British sculptor Laura Ford

The artist invites us into her West Sussex home and studio ahead of her exhibition at Bo Lee and Workman

More than 40 years after her first exhibition, British sculptor Laura Ford is entering one of the most fruitful periods in her career.

On 5 July, she’ll unveil her latest works – collectively titled Under This Roof – at the year-old gallery Bo Lee and Workman, a former chapel in Bruton, Somerset. Developed over a decade or more, the pieces synthesise complex musings on religion with memories from her childhood living among fairground showmen. There’s something off about these disjointed, anthropomorphic playthings – at once domestic and vaguely ominous, concealed by parasols, shawls and various disguises. ‘It’s all melodrama,’ says Ford, ‘things that will capture the human imagination.’ Yet there’s a sense they all belong to a common tribe ‘under god’s roof’, per the show’s title.

Ford’s rich output owes much to another, more practical roof: the home and workshop she built with her sculptor husband Andrew Sabin in West Sussex. Dubbed MattBlackBarn, it sits front and centre on a veritable campus devoted to the development, manufacture, exhibition and storage of art.

Ford and Sabin both keep vast workspaces in the facility, blessed with abundant light from strategically placed windows. The entirety of Ford’s show was born right here – which, considering the size and scope of each figure, is saying something.

Photography: © Jesse Wild

With direction from local architect Roger Lilley, Sabin constructed the building with an industrial practicality and logical flow. Upstairs are the living quarters, fitted with full-height glass windows, bespoke cabinetry and a timber ceiling that dips like a tent. Ford can drift from these private rooms into the adjacent drawing studio, where she conjures the subliminal images that become sculptures. Her textile assistant works up here, too, assembling sumptuous fabrics.

In the two years since moving here permanently from London, Ford has spent more time than usual in the drawing room. ‘Longer than usual,’ she says. ‘Perhaps it’s too comfy.’

Photography: © Uncommon Projects

Being in the countryside full-time has allowed her to ‘become dreamier, and go into my imagination in a deeper way,’ she says. Though overworking is a hazard. It takes discipline not to lose track of time.

When her ideas progress, an industrial staircase leads down to a designated atelier – his-and-hers hangar-style fabrication spaces with a ceramics studio in between. This is where the messy work is massaged and machined before moving to the barn next door to be photographed. ‘I’m lucky with my space because it’s about as big as the gallery I’m showing in,’ says Ford. ‘I can see the dialogue between the work and the space, whereas before I always had to guess it.’

Spreading out is easier now that the property is finally complete and the couple’s last child has left home. They can leave bits and pieces in situ, create physical separation between chores, and move around works-in-progress to experience their effect in a domestic setting. There’s enough storage space for their joint oeuvre. More than enough.

Photography: © Uncommon Projects

Having all their work so present offers constant creative stimulus. New work is spun off of old.

And not only the couple benefits. MattBlackBarn was conceived as an inspiration to the wider artistic community. Dedicated staff curate a schedule of workshops and visits that demystify the process of making. Participants can tour the site in all its alluring chaos, learn to weave tapestry, sketch in the garden or study bronze casting using the lost wax technique. As a consequence, they get to view the couple’s back catalogue. ‘People find it a lot less intimidating than going to a gallery,’ says Ford.

And with both artists in residence, they get more than what they bargained for.

Laura Ford: Under This Roof runs from 6 July-8 September 2024 at Bo Lee and Workman

Photography: © Uncommon Projects
Photography: © Uncommon Projects
Photography: © Barney Hindle

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