The New Craftsmen present new maker Jo Sweeting, described by author Robert MacFarlane as ‘unmistakably among the handful of leading stone-carvers and sculptors in the country’.\n
After studying Fine Art and Sculpture at Leeds School of Art working primarily in clay, Jo was introduced to stone and was immediately taken by the way it retained each and every mark applied. She learned to carve at the Skelton Workshop, the home of the late John Skelton, nephew of and apprentice to Eric Gill. Jo’s work often takes on themes of language, time and place, with a fondness for dialect. Working chiefly with found and quarried stone, Jo’s lapidary art is in constant dialogue with the natural world, allowing herself to be led by the organic form of the material.\n
While Jo was out walking in Sussex in autumn, she found herself drawn to the ground with each step. She observed many beautiful objects, from lichens to feathers and twigs that had fallen. She found these discoveries simple yet exquisite when held and viewed closely.\n
“There was a leaf held in a spider’s web, rotating and swirling and it stopped me in my tracks,” she shared.\n \n
This fondness for the tiny and overlooked, led to the ‘Fallen’ collection; five stone carvings, described by Jo as a celebration and memorial to the overlooked, forgotten and transient.
“The Fallen Collection is inspired by words, they ignite and flare. Dialect and conversations are always the beginning of my process. Whole series of works can come from one word, as this first collection has been,” she shared.\n \n
Jo’s work is primarily informed by the Buddhist concept of ‘Shul’, a marking which remains after the thing that made it has passed through. A dry riverbed, a hollow made by an animal in the grass, a path formed by a regular tread of footsteps, Shul is the impression of what once was there. It is an absence that becomes a presence itself.
“Shul is a dual, a nothing that is something, a whole hole,” Jo explained, “my interest is in how these traces are left on our bodies and memories. I use words, a figure, or a plant, as a starting point and focus on growth and change. I celebrate a moment in time. Starting points can be poetry or an overheard conversation in the landscape. I aim to make the moment visible and monumental.”\n \n
Within the landscape where she lives, Jo found several large chalk boulders, which she sliced to create this series of works. She has left much of the original form in place to honour the block.
“Edward Thomas often walked and described the sensation of ‘bones for chalk’. We walk on the bones of others and then our bones become a bedrock walked upon,” Jo noted.\n \n
The work is slow and considered, changing and growing as she spends many hours with it. Although she begins with a clear concept, Jo is inspired by the unknown and has a distinct openness in her approach - using chisels and mallets to capture transience within the comparable permanence of stone:
“My work contemplates life and although direct carving techniques are used, my work is not traditional. I use drawing and print-making to refine ideas, but like to carve directly on to the faces of the stone without certainty. I realise the form fully once the carving begins.”\n \n
Each and every work carved by Jo is imbued with a certain time, place or memory. These works are no exception, creating beautiful talismans for the lost, forgotten and fleeting.
Explore the masterfully-crafted Fallen collection by Jo Sweeting below.\n