Caroline Waite

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I grew up in a lovely English village called Cookham Dean, known for its famous and eccentric resident, wartime artist Stanley Spencer whose stylized scenes in the 1940s of Cookham village life and residents have hung in the nations leading museums. He described Cookham as a “village in Heaven”.

My parents, both artists, were also great collectors and childhood holidays were often spent searching for bits and pieces, usually on a chilly beach somewhere.

From a very early age I have collected things and arranged them. Now, more recently, I understand this as a need to give order to things, partly to make order out of chaos but also to show things to their full potential and to highlight subtle connections and differences. Hence, much of the work has a sense of formality and a strong structure even when it is playful.

This constant search for “stuff” which appeals (often for the most obscure reasons), is as much a part of the work process as are the thoughts instigated by the things I collect and then the physical construction of a work of art at the end.

I hope to highlight things which are often inherently humble, maybe discarded, rusted, distorted or faded but have had a past life and use somewhere else and juxtapose those things against something else which may be more precious, ornate or rich in detail, giving each equal value within a piece.it is the contrast between such items which interests me.

I love the element of mystery surrounding old objects – the questions as to their meaning, their origin and age – in other words, their “secret lives”.

I hope to create a feeling of revelation within each piece, layers of meaning, subtle nuances and still a sense of fun and discovery – the same sense I feel when searching for and unearthing new objects.

Two years ago, I was sitting with a friend in the Tudor section of the National Portrait Gallery, London, gazing at these dark, powerful, sinister paintings of men and women, many of whom ended up losing their heads.

Sometimes the impact of such a visit does not hit you until months later.

We attribute human characteristics to animals and animal traits to people…. foxy, sheepish, dogged etc.

This body of work began as a technical challenge to myself… how could I graft a 3D head on to a 2D painting. Then it was just too much fun to stop! I have always been interested in playing with dimensions and this was a new way of doing so.

With a twist on traditional, historic portraiture, I made these small, gouache paintings of men and women in all their gorgeous finery and gave them different heads to suggest more about them.

Many china, animal figurines were ruthlessly decapitated in the name of art but I feel that they have found a new and perhaps more rewarding life in these pieces.

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