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Serena Thirkell

How long have you been a metal sculptor? About two years.

What did you do before that? Opera singer, seaside landlady, hack journalist. Oh yes, and paella chef.

Who’s your friend in the photo? Jeremy, my garden drinking companion, is a shop dummy I bought in Cliffe HIgh Street. His armless state was inspired by the statue of the artist Alison Lapper by Mark Quinn, which was on the plinth outside the National Gallery at the time. In front of him is a 50 litre demi john of the Rosso Conero wine I bring back from Italy. When they ask at customs how much wine I’ve got, I truthfully say ‘six bottles’.

Where do you do weld? In my garden and alongside Toby Ombler at AFF (Architectural Fabrication and Finishing) in Ringmer. We listen to heavy metal music as we work, and I call him a fire god because he’s tall and handsome, and, being an artist himself, understands movement.

Isn’t it physically tough to work with such heavy implements? Yes it is. It limits the size of what I can create, but doing Tai Chi helps.

Tell me about the titles. I started life as a classicist, so a lot of my titles refer to mythology, although they tend to be ironic. I made a Passion Garden once with Prometheus, Lucifer and a lovely little Io cow.

Where do you get your metal implements from? Farm sales, country auction, car boot sales.  I trawl the highways and byways for interesting metal shapes, then it’s like getting out the toys and endlessly playing until suddenly an idea takes fire. I’d like to cast in steel and bronze but it’s very expensive and ecologically dubious. I love to harness the energy and grace of finely engineered tools. Once put together they have a force, momentum and dark humour.

Your work is full of life, but sometimes unnerving. A friend, who is also a psychologist, jokingly described my work as ‘malevolent’, to which I replied ‘well, so is life really’. Funny, malevolent and quite tragic.

Where will you be exhibiting during Artwave? Nought at Ringmer, Driftwood in Bishopstone and Pelham House in Lewes.

Photo: Hugh Fox


Sat 21st Jan – 5th May 2012: Serena Thirkell exhibition (Worthing)

It’s outside Lewes, that’s true. But if you were taking a day-trip to Worthing sometime in the next few months, and while there started to pine for dear old Lewes, you could nip into the art gallery where local legend Serena Thirkell has a new sculpture show. And breathe in that Lewes vibe.

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, free, preview 21st Jan 2-4pm, thereafter 10am-5pm Tues-Sat. For preview call 01903 221448.


Jewels of the junkyard (From The Argus)

Jewels of the junkyard

11:13am Monday 5th March 2012 in Celebrating Sussex By Nione Meakin

Step into Serena Thirkell’s world, even for an afternoon, and things quickly get topsy-turvy.

In the higgledy-piggledy garden of her Lewes home, rusting pitch forks stand to attention in sunglasses, angels swoop down on scythe blade wings, and armies of metal plier insects march across windowsills.

Thirkell is a sculptor who enchants the everyday, turning industrial and domestic tools into creatures both terrifying and comic. Where the rest of us just see an old bike seat, Thirkell sees an armadillo head; an aluminium shoe horn might become a springy puppy or part of a warrior’s armour.

“When is a vegetable steamer not a vegetable steamer?”

she says with a twinkle. “When it’s a poodle!”

Thirkell, 62, stumbled into sculpture four years ago – the latest twist in her fascinating tale.

Latterly an antiques dealer, she has also been a theatre producer, journalist, an Oxford classics scholar and – many moons ago – a would-be opera singer in Cold War-era Vienna: “A very strange time; the shops were always selling out of flour and sugar and coffee because people kept hoarding it in fear of a Russian invasion.”

Thirkell is the great-greatgranddaughter of the Pre- Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones, whose stainedglass windows can be seen in St Michael’s Church, Brighton and who is buried in St Margaret’s Church, Rottingdean, where the family had a holiday home for many years. But it wasn’t until a builder lodger started to bring home pieces of scrap metal that she started to make her own forays into the art world.

The team at Architectural Fabrications in Ringmer – “very young and dynamic and generous” – taught her to weld and braze, while well-wishers often supply materials. Future Cycles in Lewes frequently donates bike chains, seats and pedals, posting pictures of Thirkell’s creations on its website. Other pieces arrive in mysterious circumstances. “I come home and find anonymous gifts on the doorstep,” she says.

“These bits of metal just arrive and I often don’t know for ages who donated them.”

Her work is driven in part by practicality – using found objects is cheaper than starting from scratch. But more than that, Thirkell is a keen believer in the Renaissance ideal of the polymath and can’t see why objects should only have one purpose. Why should a plough just be a plough, when it could also be a bright blue helicopter?

She delights in the craftsmanship and ergonomics of tools, enthusing about regular trips to Heathfield Market, where Peter Hanman sells her bags of unwanted goods from his collectible tools shop. “He knows more about tools than anyone in Sussex. In his little shop in the market, he talks to collectors from all over the world.”

I have to admit – I hadn’t realised tools were collectible. Oh yes,” she says, “I was visited by a group of men from the National Society for the Collection of Pliers, or something like that, and they told me they didn’t like what I was doing because I was ‘defacing’ historically important objects! I’m not, because I never cut anything up – they could always be restored to their original form. Also, I see what I do as preserving these tools because they’d be melted down for scrap otherwise, whereas now people can see what they do and how they worked.”

Thirkell’s latest exhibition, at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, is titled The Garden Of Forgotten Engineers, Smiths And Bicycles in tribute to the craftsmen whose work she “saved from the scrapheap”. A red pitchfork has been reimagined as a mythical beastie, a rusty old Belling heater forms the body of a giant bee. “I think with good engineering there’s an intrinsic movement and you can use that in a piece.”

Thirkell appears to see anthropomorphic potential in the most ordinary of objects.

In the garden of a house on the town’s Neville Estate, there stands a sculpture she made of the house’s inhabitants. “She’s a pretty little thing with a heartshaped face and plaits, so I made her from a turfing spade with bike chains for plaits,” she beams. She made another sculpture of a particularly handsome former tenant from old car pistons.

Yes, her work is unusual. But maybe all art is recycling, she suggests? “At the heart of it, all artists turn one thing into another.”

  1. *The Garden Of Forgotten Engineers, Smiths And Bicycles is at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, in Chapel Road, until May 5. For more information, visit * For more information about Serena Thirkell, visit


THE TIMES 31 Jan 2012




Your HOT HOT HOT HOTTIE – independent news for Hastings and St Leonards

Recycled 2012 at Hastings Arts Form

The designer Issey Miyake once said: “The purpose – where I start – is the idea of use. It is not recycling, it’s reuse.” Cathy Simpson explores Recycled 2012 at Hastings Arts Forum.

This exhibition is a really powerful reminder of that!  It’s a rich collection of artworks all fashioned from found images or objects; beautiful, witty – and often both.  The featured artists include Serena Thirkell, Peter Edwards , Peter Quinnell, Ruth Wurzberger, Laurence Gill, Danny Mooney, Tricia Neve, Tim Riddihough, Lynne Bingham, Maika Crampton, and also pieces from Stuart Walton’s Hastings & Bexhill Wood Recycling Project.

Visitors to the Private view were greeted by a wonderful creation by Maika Crampton, modeled by Maressa Bossano.  Maika enthused about her love of illustration, and how her pieces have taken this artform into another dimension.  They really are the equal of any picture gracing a book of fairy tales; her masterpiece in the show is her wedding dress, exquisitely crafted from paper, totally eco-friendly and actually a thought-provokingly good idea.
Stewart Walton’s H&BWRP takes a totally different approach.  Their remit is to stop wood going into landfill – and when you see the lovingly handcrafted work here, you’re very glad they did!  Their samples range from homes for birds, to birds, to home essentials – always celebrating the previous lives of their materials – texture and colour come together with fine craftsmanship to create these unique pieces:

Wood takes on a different identity in the work of John Turner, but it’s still there to be loved and lived with; they’re fashioned from groynes and sculpted by the waves before their forms are selected and perfected by John.

There’s plenty here to make you smile, too… Serena Thirkell and Max Lane both explore additions to the known animal kingdom, where found objects in metal combine to create new species.  You really need to come and see these fantastical creations for yourself, but Serena’s ‘Dachshund’ gives you a taste – just one of a menagerie where they won’t upset you with noise or fleas, and they definitely won’t be messing on your rugs!





Hastings Arts Forum February 2012


VIVA LEWES 208 June/July 2010

Sat 3rd (and Sun 4th) - Garden Gadabout

If you go along to Bishopstone this weekend, you can see art and sculpture in a beautiful coastal garden setting by Geoff Stonebanks' coastal design garden, in the Bishopstone home he shares with his partner, the artist Mark Glassman and amazing sculptural metal pieces by Serena Thirkell, who turns functional tools into mythical beasts. Finish off with some tea and ‘divine’ homemade cupcakes. Winner of the Best Open House, Artwave 2009, it will also be open for Seaford In Bloom on 18th July. EC

Driftwood, 4 Marine Drive, Seaford, 11-5pm, in aid of the Sussex Beacon,

TWEET: Monday 19th July

Emma Chaplin VivaLewes

  1. 11.Just back from interviewing the remarkable Lewes sculptor Serena Thirkell for the August issue of Viva. Fabulous.

Viva Lewes December 2010

Throughout December: Art - Serena Thirkell

Serena Thirkell’s latest collection of curiously charismatic ‘Ineffable Insects’, ‘Do-Da Dogs’ and ‘Malevolent Monsters’ are on show at Laporte's new gallery café. Alternative, alternative works by Thirkell are on show as part of Artist’s on Parade at the HQ Gallery, in aid of the PATINA Moving On Parade.

Laporte’s, 1 Lansdowne Place, daily 8.30-5.30, Sundays 11- 4pm

Viva Lewes 19 Nov 2009

(Until December 20th) Art – Sculpture

Hesketh Pottery, in Lansdowne Place, have opened up a new art space, the ‘Outback Sculpture Garden’, where they will be exhibiting local talent. They opened the space on Saturday 14th, despite gushing rain. The first artists to be exhibited there will be Serena ‘Contessa’ Thirkell, whose ‘insects’ you can see on the below, Chris Lewis, Sarah Walton and Ralph Levy.

Hesketh Pottery, open 9.15am-5pm (closed all day Tuesday and after 1pm on Sat)