Flight of fancy: From a small studio in Yorkshire, one couple’s bird-inspired sculptures are flying high. Nicky Solloway meets husband and wife artists Juliet and Jamie Gutch.
Balance is a recurring theme for Yorkshire artists Juliet and Jamie Gutch. The husband and wife team create fine art mobiles out of wood, metal and other materials. From giant installations hand-crafted in bronze, aluminium and steel, to feather-light slivers of wood, which rotate in the briefest breeze, Jamie and Juliet work together to find an equilibrium.
And just like one of their delicate sculptures which twists and turns in the top-floor studio of their Ilkley home, the subject of balance comes around again and again. “We’re interested in challenging the idea of what balance means,” says Jamie, who works full-time as the head of modern languages at Harrogate Grammar School, and creates the mobiles that Juliet designs in his spare time.
“We love balance. We’re fascinated by anything that balances,” adds Juliet.
Last weekend the couple showed an installation of mobiles at Collect, the International Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery in London, inspired by fragments of Grieg’s unfinished piano concerto in B minor. Their work has been sold through the London gallery Jaggedart since 2007.
They have also just been shortlisted for a large-scale sculpture at an emergency trauma hospital in Northumberland, which if the proposal is successful, will include bird drawings by 200 local schoolchildren to create a design based on a Murmuration of Starlings. Birds and music play a big part in the inspiration of their work.
An Exaltation of Larks, inspired by skylarks flying across East End marshes, was commissioned by John Lewis in 2011 and is a permanent installation at the Westfield store, opposite the Olympic site. Shoppers can listen to The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams on a phone app while viewing the three different mobiles.
There were more birds in last summer’s exhibition at Yorkshire art collector Ronnie Duncan’s private studio near Otley. A Siege of Cranes comprised a 12ft high installation hand-crafted in bronze, stainless steel and aluminium which sat alongside various smaller, wooden mobiles. It was inspired by the red-crowned crane from northern Japan. Juliet explains that origami cranes became a symbol of hope in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi.
“I was interested in the idea of people coming together to make origami cranes in Japan at a time of trouble. It started after Hiroshima when a girl who had leukaemia tried to make a thousand origami cranes in her bed and ever since it has become a symbol.
“I read an article about how life had lost its balance for people living in that area after the tsunami and that just really struck a chord because we’re interested in balance and what happens when balance goes awry. So we made a series of mobiles which had lost their balance and the effect was really quite startling, people really felt quite a visceral reaction to it. They didn’t like it; the mobile was somehow trapped or had lost its balance.”
The installation was hung too close to the wall so it couldn’t rotate, and some pieces collided as they turned.
“The classic associations with the mobile are balance and everything in harmony,” says Jamie. “And although that’s a very important part of our work and we celebrate balance, we’re also interested in installing works in exhibitions where that’s completely lost. So we may have a set of mobiles where parts of them are on the floor or against the wall.”
The couple work together to create their suspended art with Juliet drawing the designs and Jamie crafting them from different materials. And it was their love of mobiles that brought them together.
They both studied languages at university. Jamie took French and Italian while Juliet studied Russian and English. They both then started making mobiles a few years after leaving university. Jamie had a studio in London from 1998 and sold his work through the Curwen Gallery while Juliet found her passion for mobiles while working in Italy for the British Council. They were introduced to each other through a friend. “We’ve kind of swapped places because we worked together and I now lead on the mobiles and Jamie has a full-time job,” says Juliet. “I’d say I’m a poet almost and Jamie is more of a crafter and together we make these pieces.”
Juliet draws the shapes and designs a template to create each section of the mobile. Jamie then crafts the pieces, using layers of wood veneer which are laminated, sanded and waxed. The couple then work together to bend them into the right angle and to decide on the composition of each mobile.
“The interesting thing about mobiles is that they unfold over time and they interact with air currents and the people around them who touch them and blow on them,” says Jamie.
Juliet adds: “When someone walks past them they react. It’s almost like they are asleep and then when you walk past them they wake up.”
Juliet has also started running school workshops on the subject of balance.
As we chat in the comfort of the couple’s sunny sitting room, with their daughters, aged six and eight, quietly cutting out pictures for a collage, I suggest that the family seem to have found the perfect work-life balance, but Jamie is quick to dismiss this idea.
“It’s hard work as a teacher and an artist with a young family, it has its challenges. The key to understanding our work is that we’re working towards balance. We haven’t achieved it, like no-one has really.”
For more information go to www.julietandjamiegutch.com