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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Sarah Villeneau

Photo by Ben Boswell

Photo by Amber Harrison

Sarah Villeneau is an artist who employs experimental approaches to producing ceramic objects and sculptures. Her work is split across two distinctive styles: her Small Works celebrate form and composition, mimicking a paired back minimalist style, whilst her Sculpture series is more unruly and plays with the senses. Both arms of her practice explore our visceral relationship with objects and texture whilst balancing somewhere between robust and fragile.

Sarah's work has the appearance of something living, something growing, yet it remains static and fixed. She's interested in the unstable nature of working with ceramics and the unpredictable characteristics of the material. Her work has been exhibited extensively across the UK, including recently as part of Confluence, a showcase of some of the exciting artistic talent currently based here in Sheffield, hosted at Herrick Gallery in Mayfair before being re-staged at Bloc Projects. Along with showcasing her work as part of exhibitions and fairs, Villeneau also runs workshops for individuals looking to explore the potential of her favourite material.

Constantly looking to develop new ways of making, most recently through a research and development grant by Making Ways, Sarah’s practice is never fixed and is always striding forward, pushing the limits of what can be achieved though the medium of ceramics. Join her this May for her workshop Shaping Sheffield in collaboration with Kate Langrish Smith.

How would you describe your work?
I’m a hand-builder in clay, making abstract sculpture and vessel forms. I try to capture the essence of the organic to make things that looked formed in nature, that might be found objects, dug up at the seashore. The work is very organic – highly textured slabs create both a sense of movement and softness in a hard material; repetitive fins give the impression that the piece might scuttle off.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
I am fascinated by the intricacies and patterns of nature, and am specifically drawn to the physiology of the human body. I aim to capture the delicacy, the beauty and the brutality; the attraction and repulsion we feel towards our own materiality.

What's your workspace like?
I am in a beautiful high-ceilinged eco studio on a rural oasis up on the Manor. It’s light and airy and I’m surrounded by nature. I’m not a tidy person, so it’s cluttered and busy – I’m a collector of odd objects and books!

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
Sheffield seems to be full of hidden delights. The Alfred Denny Museum of Zoology at the University, kKelham Island Museum, Green Estate up on the Manor where my studio is. But some things are so good, they are best kept secret.

What would you change about the city?
The pollution, the litter, traffic congestion and a tendency to look inwards.

What are you working on at the moment?
Last year I received funding from Making Ways and a Developing Your Creative Practice award from the Arts Council to undertake research and development into new ways of working, which includes incorporating sound into my work. This new work has just had its first public airing at London Craft Week and has been a huge success with the public. I have set up, with fellow Sheffield artist Gillian Brent, a women’s sculpture collective, Material Voice, and we are developing a peer mentoring and exhibition programme. We hope to exhibit together at Kelham Island Museum in the autumn. I'm also developing my practice as a coach for visual artists.

This profile is part of a series on artists funded by Making Ways, a programme supported by Sheffield Culture Consortium through Arts Council England to showcase, celebrate and develop the exceptional contemporary visual art produced in the city.

Photo by Amber Harrison

Photo by Amber Harrison

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