“We must delight in the beauty that surrounds us,” ceramic artist Gail Dooley maintains. “There’s enough ugliness around.”
Gail’s sculpture celebrates the creatures we share the planet with, especially birds, and there’s a serious message indeed behind her work.
“Birds are beautiful,” she says, “so let’s look after them.”
She’s worked on several important conservation missions, including the Save the Albatross, creating a startling 13ft wingspan made of albatross heads to draw attention to the 100,000 albatrosses killed each year on long-line fishing hooks.
She also made pieces for Ghosts of Gone Birds – a national project that sought “to breathe life into the birds we have lost so that we don’t lose any more”.
But she’s no preaching crusader. Her zeal is inextricably linked to humour and joy.
Earlier work explicitly celebrated ways in which birds and other creatures resemble our fellow humans.
Self-portrait as a duck, wearing Gail’s own trademark coveralls, is a wonderful example, as is George the Fish depicting the flamboyant jazzman George Melly as – well – a fish.
The piece was much admired by Melly himself who congratulated her on the likeness.
Recent work depicts creatures as nature intended – without any human accessory other than character.
“I see personalities in little things, even the smallest robin,” she says. Personality oozes from her sculptures, and becomes even more apparent when you see them in relation to one another.
Two crows, Talker and Listener, are a case in point: one quizzically looking on, while the other squawks and rants.
The pieces are designed to work individually but the dynamic changes as they interact.
Gail’s ideas come from close observation of the natural world.
“I watch birds in the wild and study their behavior,” she says, “but you can’t get close.”
So she relies on photographs, her own as well as professional images from the RSPB, the internet and other sources.
“I’m aiming to create a loose sense of the creature, its essence,” she explains, “rather than a detailed portrait.”
The birds are sculpted in stoneware clay then fired at high temperatures to create a hard vitrified finish that is impermeable and frost-proof.
The results are astonishingly life-like depictions of birds that, strangely and subtly, might remind you of someone you know!
Gail Dooley’s Seriously Light-hearted bird sculptures can be seen now at Staithes Gallery, High Street, Staithes, TS13 5BH.
Call the gallery on 01947 841840, mobile 07972 012464 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit www.staithesgallery.co.uk to find out more. The gallery is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5pm.