Family Ties

As I wrote in an earlier post, planning this part of the course, the Christmas family get-togethers made me consider the significance of family ties. Over the season, we gained a new member of the family, lost another and can see one gradually fading away from us. This has made me think very deeply about the bonds that hold a family together and the changing nature of family and relationships.

In wanting to address this through my art, I most certainly did not want to produce a sculpture of some sort of family group. There are many examples of how the family has been idealised in this way, for instance Henry Moore’s Family group looking forward to some brave new world after the war or Hepworth’s ‘Mother and Child‘.  I am much more interested in creating something which signifies the connections between people.

Trying to research around this was challenging but I looked at works which spoke of the individual with the collective. Ai Weiwei’s ‘Sunflower Seeds’ could be interpreted in this way but in that case it would be individual lost in a sea of individuals. Tracy Emin’s ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With‘ can also be seen in the context of the individual connected. I also recalled Pipolotti Rist’s ‘Massachusets Chandelier’ in which personal objects symbolise the individual within a community.

Mindmapping around the idea, I could think of many ways of visualising connnections; tangles of rope, piles of pebbles, interlocked shapes, shapes wired together in multiple ways, names written on some sort of tabula rasa.

mind maps (1 of 4)

sketchbook (4 of 12) sketchbook (5 of 12) sketchbook (7 of 12)island (5 of 6)

My ideas were revolving around electrical connections, currents, knots, flow, umbilical cord, womb, gravity, stretched rubber sheet etc.

I considered making a sculpture out of interlocking, different shapes made of card, plastic or plywood, where the shapes would signify people coming together, holding each other up, supporting each other. I had made a sculpture like this in Part 2 or the course and felt that this might be a remake of that rather than a development.

Many of my ideas involved hanging structures from a ceiling and this isn’t practical in my domestic environment. I also discounted ideas which involved multiple elements held together by wire or rope, say, because of the difficulty in making these self supporting.

I decided to develop a sketchbook thumb nail of a kind of island with projecting shapes connected with wires. This would represent a a kind of landscape of individuals within some ‘whole’ which were connected in various ways.

island (6 of 6)

Papier mache was chosen for construction because of its non-mechanical nature which I hoped would endow the work with an organic feel. Wire was chosen for the connections because it would stand proud and be self-supporting.

family (1 of 10)family (3 of 10) family (2 of 10)

A plywood base was cut in a simple curvy shape. Paper cones of various sizes were constructed for the projections and their location marked on the base. Before they were fixed to the board, holes were cut for each cone so that I would have access from behind to fix the wires. The cones were then papier mached on to the board. Layers were added to soften the outlines of the cones and contour them into the board. Finally a layer of pva mixed with tile cement was applied with a plate knife.

family (4 of 10) family (5 of 10)

The edges of the papier mache had a parchment like feel which reminded me of skin, so they were deliberately left uneven and untrimmed.

For the wires, I had intended to use a variety of coloured craft wired, but it was too thin, lacking substance and visual power. An alternative was to use some scrap copper wire which could be twisted up to a desired thickness. This also added a desirable texture and stiffness.

family (7 of 10) family (8 of 10)

The twisted wires created great curves but I was dissatisfied with every way I tried to connecting wires together into some sort of mesh, to symbolise varying strengths and ‘direction’ of connection. Eventually I tried taking the whole bundle of scrap wire and pulling strands out of it for each connection. This worked much better visually and the bundle of wire had an obvious reference to an umbilical cord. Thinking about how to fix and stabilise the wire, I placed the papier mache on a base board which immediately seemed to give it a greater presence and the contrast with the straight and flat board made the papier mache seem even more organic.

family (9 of 10)

family (10 of 10)

The board was under-coated and then a mat varnish applied because the copper wire marked it. The bundle of wire was fixed to the board by drilling holes through which the bundle was wired onto the board. The ends at the back of the board were the covered with strong reinforced tape for safety.

life (11 of 3)

My initial plan was to colour the papier mache with washes of colour for each prominence which would blend into the next. I experimented on paper and decided the colours would look chaotic and confusing. I then decided to try small spirals of colour on each prominence but found this both too hard and too insignificant.

life (2 of 8)mind maps (4 of 4)

In a drawing, I experimented with a softer approach which I then dry brushed in white and this helped unify it. I decide to use this approach but with a very limited, delicate palette of earth colours and blues, chosen to compliment or contrast with the copper wire.

The wires were then twisted into varying size strands, cut and hot glued into each area. Plywood blocks were glued to the back of the papier mache to rise it off the board a little and then it was glued down.

life (3 of 4) life (4 of 4) life (1 of 4)






mdna (2 of 2)

Final size 65cm x 42cm x 12cm

This piece strongly reminds me of Hesse’s work ‘Tomorrow’s Apples’.


This work distils ideas of the connectedness of individuals in a family, especially through maternal links, represented by the braided wire coming together into an ‘umbilical’ cord’. I have tried to create something simple but organic. The combination of materials provides linear and surface interest and the shiny lustrous copper is a good contrast with the mat papier mache. The hard, square edges of the support highlight the ragged edges of the papier mache which evokes skin. The wires create a dynamic through the piece and look as if they are tugging at the papier mache.

The work was posted in the OCA-student critique forum and on the OCA Fine Art forum, asking for people’s emotional or other response to it. People likened it to an alien landscape (or even an alien), skin with hair or breasts expressing milk, so the objective of making something organic was realised.

Trying to symbolise people without being representational was a huge challenge. The work is perhaps obscure to others without a title to help the viewer. However, I rather enjoy the ambiguity.

The work obviously has a back and a front and therefore has to be presented hung on a wall, or presented on a flat surface. I think that I could have simplified the design with fewer, higher cones and fewer wires, which would have made it more three dimensional. A simpler design might have allowed me more scope to use stronger colour. However, the different heights, colours and textures do give interest and I think the restraint of the colour palette is calm and harmonious which is appropriate to the subject.


About starrybird

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts. My passion is printmaking.
This entry was posted in Course Parts, Part 5 Developing Sculpture and Imagination. Bookmark the permalink.

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