It seems strangely fitting that artist Colin Caffell, who typically works with earthy materials (clay, bronze, wax, resin, wood) as a potter and sculptor (see his beautifully multi-hued seascape-theme ceramics below), should have chosen to highlight the very fragility of Mother Earth in his solo exhibition, ‘Reflections on the Feminine – a visual essay’ at Penwith Gallery in St Ives, Cornwall, from 14 May–12 June 2022.
Along with other bronze and ceramic sculptures representing aspects of the feminine experience and psyche – from pregnancy and motherhood to mythic and anthropomorphic themes (Cupid and Psyche, Aphrodite, Virgin Mary, sea and tree nymphs, and a chrysalid symbolising the soul’s emergence from a caterpillar) – the exhibition featured a dramatic black canvas with a single central plaster female face cast and an array of plaster face casts at the bottom, all with closed eyes (above).
This work, entitled Closed eyes tell no stories, began as a meditation on the ravages of the Ukraine war, and featured casts of Bosnian youngsters traumatised by the earlier war in Yugoslavia with whom he had worked as a therapist.
Yet Caffell later saw it as a metaphor for “humanity’s general disregard for our beautiful planet”. Here, the central face representing Mother Earth remains serenely focused on her creation, imploring us to turn our attention towards her before it is too late.
The positioning and funerary black of the canvas form a counterpoint to his bronze sculpture Salome – a young African woman leans back in a reflective pose, as if pondering the beginnings of human existence.
The sculptures on plinths and walls in between, both abstract and naturalistic, showcase the totality of human life, from its embryonic, foetal beginnings to the mythic, archetypal acts of love between men and women.
Together, these pieces – erotic, vulnerable, nurturing – celebrate all that is divinely and psychically feminine while urging us to ponder the fragility of existence via the earthy media of clay and bronze.
Considering lifetime ceramicist Caffell moved into sculpture after the tragic loss of his former wife and two children, his development is a striking metaphor of the power of art to aid renewal, offering hope in dark times.
Colin Caffell is a member of the Penwith Society of Arts. He and his wife Sally, also an artist, run the Roundhouse and Capstan Gallery in Sennen Cove, West Cornwall.