Kate Lynch's art exhibition: Sheep, From Lamb to Loom

PUBLISHED: 16:54 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:59 20 February 2013

inspired by sheep

inspired by sheep

Artist Kate Lynch's latest exhibition Sheep, From Lamb to Loom, documents five years she spent learning about all aspects of sheep. Indeed, it will form the centrepiece of Sheep, a celebration of this much-loved animal, involv...

"... the air is an earthy soup - a heady mix of straw, warm wool, sweet molasses and musky animal... Everywhere there is a dull and steady munching and the odd mew from a newborn lamb."

When it comes to artists, Kate Lynch isn't one to follow the flock. Her stunning paintings are instantly recognisable: expressive, conjuring up not just the look but the very atmosphere of the places she's portraying. And all in her distinctively muted palette of earth colours.

But following the flock is exactly what she's been doing for the last five years, as part of a projected entitled Sheep, From Lamb to Loom. During that time, she did more than paint: for she made a point of learning everything she could about sheep, their wool, and the industries it supports. You can see the results at New Brewery Arts in Cirencester for the next few months when her paintings will be displayed, complete with sound installation by Alastair Goolden. Visitors will be surrounded by the background sounds of the sheep themselves, along with the voices of everyone involved: from farmers to cheesemakers to knitters.

The idea evolved after Kate moved to the Somerset Levels, a wetland area between the Quantock and Mendip Hills. "It's a very distinct and unusual landscape, and the first winter we were there, it flooded. Some of the villages became islands and we canoed over fields. I was in a landscape so different from the one I was accustomed to that I felt I couldn't just paint it: I had to go out into it and find out what was going on. And the moment I started to talk to people, who were making cider or growing willow, I became really interested in linking their stories with my painting." As a result, she spent three years documenting willow growers and basket-makers, which resulted in an exhibition, Willow, complemented by a book.

Similarly with Sheep, Kate took to the land once again, this time speaking to farmers, shepherds and stockmen who have tended their flocks for generations. And she traces the time-honoured processes that mark the lambing year, such as introducing the rams to the ewes. "The third ram is more interested in eating, meandering nonchalantly over towards the ewes. Not so the fourth, who fair gallops across the field and head-butts a ram astride a ewe. 'There's always one!' says Andrew."

Lambing time is a mix of raw February nights, warm lambs that slip out like eels, and the occasional losses where a lifeless body cannot be roused.

"Watching the lambs in the field now is all the more moving for me," Kate says. "Sheep are fantastic mothers - I saw that again and again."

During her artistic journey, she shied away from nothing, including abattoirs (though the actual point of death does not feature in her work on show). "I doubt you would feel comfortable announcing at dinner parties that you're a slaughterman, but there is real skill to the guys who kill the animals and those who cut up the meat. The knowledge they have is incredible, which makes it all the more worrying that so many butchers are closing down."

Other of her paintings show looms worked by women with 'soft Northern lilt'; a cheesemaker ladling the ewes' milk curd; and a traditional fatstock market in the middle of a market town - a particularly poignant scene for, as Kate points, out, it's about to be moved from its centuries-old position to a new out-of-town site. And there's masses more, such as tanning and even carpet-making.

"People love seeing little lambs in the field," she says. "But behind that is a long tradition of gruelling farming work. It is a life that goes on largely unseen, so I'm glad this project has attracted interest. Maybe there's a place for artists, writers and other people to do a bit more to expose and work with farmers more."

And next? "Shepherds," she says. "They are so passionate about their animals and caring in the way they look after them. I've met some very interesting people.

"I'm interested in traditional work that has often spanned four or even five generations. It's been like time-travelling. I know certain aspects of sheep farming have changed but, standing in a lambing shed, you're looking at a same scene people would have looked at hundreds of years ago."

Kate's paintings will be for sale, along with her book Sheep, From Lamb to Loom (price 17.99), at New Brewery Arts in Cirencester or from www.katelynch.co.uk

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