Sunday, 24 June 2012

PGS Artists Inspired by Dickens

From Tuesday, 26th June to Sunday, 1st July, there will be an exhibition of ceramics and other artworks at Portsmouth Cathedral by PGS Artist in Residence, Christine Derry, and Year 9 PGS pupils, responding to the work of Charles Dickens. The exhibition ("Dickens' Museum of Curiosities") will be launched at 7.30 pm on Tuesday, 26th June. Entry is free. Some exhibits are available for purchase.

Film-maker Paul Bunker has been documenting the progress of Christine Derry and the PGS pupils (see video below) and will also be filming the exhibition on Tuesday evening.

Sculpture of Miss Havisham
by Christine Derry

 Here, Christine Derry explains how she developed the centre-piece of the exhibition, a sculpture of Miss Havisham, from Dickens' Great Expectations:
I had been appointed for three months as “Artist in Residence”, working with the pupils towards the Festivities on the theme of Dickens; that was the easy part!  What should I choose to work on? That was the biggest question for me.  A chance remark from a friend regarding Miss Havisham and her gothic appearance caught my imagination and set me on my way.
The first step was to reread the book, “Great Expectations”, and, wow, I had forgotten the power of his description and the insights into human nature, particularly his understanding of  a child’s perceptions of the world.  It was not difficult to choose as a theme Pip and his first encounter with the spectre that was Miss Havisham.
From the finding of the wedding dress in a charity shop (another story in itself-- see below) to setting up that memorable first encounter in the corner of my space, I tried to follow Dickens’ description to the letter. This included a mirror, candles, gloves, cobwebs and the Art Department skeleton dressed in the bridal gown with the skull reconstructed by me in white clay. I have tried to put myself in Pip’s newly-polished shoes, walking those dark hallways, opening that grand door to find the ghastly, ghostly figure looming out of the dust and shadowy yellow candle light. I hope that my work captures something of that memorable moment in literature.

Miss Havisham -- at an early stage of development
And what about Miss Havisham?  An extreme figure, but apparently taken from a real life story: a Miss Dick from the Isle of Wight who, after being jilted, shut herself away from society for nineteen years. Most people in the world know what it is like to be emotionally injured, but her hurt turned into a dramatic martyr’s refusal to continue life in a normal manner from that point on.  Then, in her self-created corner, her pride in her wounded heart kept her a prisoner of her own vanity. 

While Dickens deals with the pride of Pip, who becomes a ‘gentleman’ ashamed of his brother-in-law Joe Gargery, he also deals with a whole host of other human foibles.  Dickens’ characters are often grotesque and theatrical, but nonetheless they are grounded in the reality of all places and all times.  After all, truth is stranger than fiction.
There has been a plethora of biographies and opinions on Dickens in this, his bicentenary, year but one cannot get away from his greatness as an author, an observer of human nature. I know I will never tire of reliving his stories and characters!

How I found the wedding dress
Before starting my work, I needed to source a wedding dress, suitably Victorian in style, for the skeleton to wear.  I trawled most of the charity shops in Southsea, with no luck, and then went on to Fareham, which, amazingly, has twenty charity shops.  When I reached number nineteen, with no luck, I was beginning to despair.  I decided to ask the lady managing the shop, although I could not see any sign of a dress.  The manager, Deborah Baber-Taylor, turned out to be a very dynamic lady, with lots of imagination.  She produced a lovely dress from the back of the shop and, after some negotiation, I had my dress, shoes, veil and tiara.  The Charity concerned is DebRA (Epidermolysis Bullosa), which raises money for a very distressing skin condition for which, at the moment, there is no cure. For more information, go to The upshot of this contact has been far-reaching and Deborah Baber-Taylor has become involved with our project in quite a significant way and to our mutual benefit.

See Paul Bunker's documentary on the creation of the work featured in the exhibition:

Part 2 of the documentary here:

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