The Breese Little gallery in Clerkenwell is another of London's many fascinating little artistic spaces providing an environment for emerging artists to exhibit their work.
Currently on display is a collection of enchanting crayon drawings by Freya Pocklington called Wolves Find Dogs Delicious. The dark, fairytale-like connotations of the title are reflected in the work. While on the surface they are dreamlike soft images of dogs, children, sausages - all very Roald Dahl/Quentin Blake-esque - there is some of the dark undertones of Roald Dahl's tales in the subject matter. One can never quite tell what is being implied, or even threatened, by the characters but always there is a sense of menace.
Scrawny arms and limbs may denote malnutrition, a scrawny hunch backed hyena with doe-like eyes stares out of the painting with an imploring expression. Scraps of meat, bones and sausages seem like they may be part of an elaborate trap, or simply there to mock and tease these bewildered beasts. In another image a child in a fox's costume looks at a forlorn, possibly drugged rabbit.
Wonderful scenes, but what do they all mean? I asked the artist herself...
London Loves: What do animals mean to you?
Freya Pocklington: I look at the relationship between humans and animals, using them as a symbol for our more animalistic side; the part of us which breaks away from conforming to society's demands. I also like the hilarity of them being pets, how we talk to them as if they are humans and how some owners shave their dogs to look like teenage mutant ninja turtles or a lion. Last week I heard a lady asking her dog in the park not to poo on the grass.
London Loves: Do you think humans can be judged/assessed according to their attitudes/affinity towards animals?
Freya Pocklington: I think that as a society we have become more distant from animals and thus nature. This can only be a bad thing as we are becoming more detached from where food comes from and what we are doing to the planet.
On the other hand I think that the idea of humanising animals is particularly interesting and sometimes obscene. I regularly search the trashy newspapers for animal stories as they choose the most out-there and silly stories. I read one story last week of a dog which had a very human face and a few months ago a story about a man who lives with wolves and eats raw meat with them.
London Loves: Do you have a particular fondness for dogs?
Freya Pocklington: Not as much as you would think! I have a particular fondness for other animals such as anteaters and servals. I have chosen dogs because they represent our obsession with trying to make things human which aren’t. I find the whole idea of pedigree dogs fairly upsetting due to the poor health and welfare issues. The ones that really interest me are stray dogs as they are fascinating to study and seem to have more personality and charisma than their more groomed counterparts. I lived with twelve rescued/stray dogs in Portugal for a while and studied the hierarchies and behaviour within the group. The truly gruesome and ugly one of the group was actually the kindest and had a lot of character.
London Loves: The title Wolves Find Dogs Delicious..where does it come from?
Freya Pocklington: I found it on a website stating ten facts about wolves. Wolves are cannibals and dogs were bred from the grey wolf. Chihuahuas are a long way from their ancestors but I like the fact that such a pampered pet came from such a creature.
London Loves: Anthropomorphism is something humans have been doing for a long long time. Do you think it is helpful and in a way, is it the reason animal lovers love animals? Narcissism?
Freya Pocklington: Some of my pieces mock anthropomorphism in that we place too many human traits on objects and animals. The title itself suggests that we forget where animals come from and their natural instincts.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theories on stages of utopias intrigue me as he suggests we go through three stages; firstly free individuals, mostly solitary, then moving to a form of mixed existence with conflicting ideas on freedom, alongside the benefit of community, but finishing up, as Huxley describes in his book 'Brave New World', in a place which is purely social. I am looking at how we are trying to condition animals into social states. There are plenty of reports in the media about dogs and foxes biting people and reacting against humans who encroach on their world or try and make them tame. I think anthropomorphism is partly to blame as we are forgetting what an animals true state is. 'Fantastic Mr Fox' or 'The Wind in The Willows' make animals seem like cute and cuddly creatures.
On the other hand, animals can be a great way of communicating difficult subject matters. George Orwells ‘Animal Farm’ couldn’t have been told in any other way and Art Spiegelman's ‘Maus’ using animals in a comic book format to show his personal experience of the Holocaust using human faces, would have been too harrowing and inaccessible. We empathise with animals as they cannot tell us their feelings, they are unreadable and vulnerable and this can be a great tool for an artist or writer to emphasise a point.
London Loves: The works themselves have a kind of cartoony innocence in their aesthetics but closer inspection reveals kind of dark, troubling and uncertain images. Where do you think the inspiration for this combination comes from?
Freya Pocklington: From Walt Disney cartoons, Wizard of Oz with its scary talking bodiless heads and 'Orlando' ('The Marmalade Cat'). I am also a big fan of Armen Eloyan who paints rather cruel cartoons, almost angry deflated creatures from forgotten films or billboards. I like his dark humour and how he appears to see through the ‘cute’ and paint the absurdity of it.
London Loves: Tell me about the technique you've used. I'm particularly interested in the Conte crayon drawing technique and how you achieve the smooth almost dreamy effect...?
Freya Pocklington: I used to draw very neat large drawings in pencil, which took me months. I found it quite laborious and meant I could only work in my studio as I was worried they would get damaged. I moved to Italy for a bit and drew on location in museums, so my materials changed and I introduced colour and the pastels are so vibrant and easy to use. I create a surface by rubbing the pastel over paper and then draw very using the HB black. After I have introduced the coloured conte I get a big brush and wash various inks over the work. This is always scary as some works can get ruined this way! I then build up the drawings with more drawing and ink washes which is almost like painting.
London Loves: What are you working on next?
Freya Pocklington: I'm afraid I'm not much of a planner, but I have recently been studying female dominance in mammals and researching the hyena, which is a fascinating animal. I like to dispel anthropomorphic myths and this animal has such a history of a bad reputation. I am also currently planning a series of prints, which look at complex insect systems.
Wolves Find Dogs Delicious is on at the Breese Little, 30D Greatt Sutton Street, Clerkenwell
Freya Pocklington is giving an artist's Q&A session tonight Tuesday 19th Feburary at 6.30pm