Sculptor Aphra’s first solo exhibition opens in Whitby

Aphra O'Connor with her centre piece of sculpture in the gallery
Aphra O'Connor with her centre piece of sculpture in the gallery

Artist Aphra O’Connor is not the first person to document the boat-building industry in Whitby – but she may well be the first to do it in sculpture, ceramics and digital images.

Moreover the sculptures are made from the ironmongery and other materials discarded in the construction of the latest vessel at Parkol Marine engineering in the town.

Sculptor  Aphra O'Connor

Sculptor Aphra O'Connor

Parkol’s first build was named Jacqueline Ann, a 10- metre scalloper launched in 1997 for a skipper on the Isle of Mull.

Crowds gathered to watch the launch of Daystar – the 36th boat built by the firm – earlier this month.

The nationally acclaimed ship builders is now turning its attention towards a boat built for Whitby-based company, Locker Trawlers, which is expected to be ready in June.

It is this boat – yet to be named though Aphra light-heartedly suggested they might name it after the artist who is charting its progress in her work – that Aphra has been ‘documenting’.

Artist and sculptor Aphra O'Connor

Artist and sculptor Aphra O'Connor

Scantlings is the first solo exhibition from Aphra and it celebrates the enduring local boat building industry through a range of sculpture, print and ceramic works.

“Each stage of construction has been documented and the works reference the various techniques employed in the boat building process,” she said.

“Items discarded during the building have been collected together and reimagined in abstract three-dimensional collages.

“Through this, I have set out to capture the nuances which lie behind the rough and heavy labour which takes place on the yard.

“In a similar vein, ceramics feature as a method of recording the imprints of the found objects.

“By indenting and creating repeating patters on ceramic, I have sought to open a dialogue between the traditional nature of making and more industrial modes of manufacture,” she said.

“The systematic approach to assembly and the reliance on the prefabricated is played upon in ornamental prints, whose designs isolate and focus on the many forms hidden within the structures of the boat yard.”

The visitor to the exhibition will see paint cans and their lids turned into brightly-coloured – bold blue, red yellow and orange – sculpture.

Ceramics – twisted to resemble metal parts – are patterned with rope pressed into the clay to make indents. Other pieces are lined up to resemble pipes and tubes, sails and rope coils.

Aphra has turned her parents’ – Charles and Numi – antique shop in Skinner Street, Whitby, into a gallery for a week. The screen which separates the shop form the temporary art space is decorated with representation of the innards of a boat.

Aphra works from the garage of the home she shares with her parents in Sleights. Her job as a waitress at fish restaurant Abbey Wharf in Market Place, Whitby, helps fund her work.

Whitby born and bred 25-year-old Aphra went to Caedman Schoool and Whitby Community College. She trained at Leeds College of Art.

Inspired by a tutor visit she went on to study sculpture at Wimbledon College of Arts. She is now applying to London art schools to do a MA.

She has been working on this project since October of last year – visiting Parkol site at least once a week to take pictures, look round the boat being built and raid skips for material for her art work.

She is often the only woman there among the local lads – all invited to her solo show.

Her project will take up to September to complete.

Scantlings – named after a set of standard dimensions for parts of a structure, especially in shipbuilding – runs at the Stonehouse Emporium from Saturday January 21 to Saturday January 28, daily from 11am to 5pm.

It is, she said: “A natural progression of her interest in the manufacturing heritage of the North East. In a time of difficulty for British production, this exhibition offers a wink to both local history and the surviving industry.”