Dimensions: 210 x 210
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A reminiscence, an echo, and a reinterpretation. Through the reworking of motifs and compositions seen in a new light, inspiration blooms afresh. Sophie Layton is at the point in her career where she is able to quote her previous bodies of work, refashioning their themes and arrangements to create something completely fresh to dazzle the viewer. This type of reinvention marks an impressive level of artistic maturity. Many artists throughout art history and today have referenced those who came before them (think Kehinde Wiley, Cecily Brown, and Andy Warhol) but to find original and energetic inspiration in your own work is truly impressive. Working in printmaking for over ten years now, with this being her fourth solo exhibition at Eames Fine Art, there is a profusion of material at Sophie’s disposal. She has created photo-etchings, mokuhanga woodblock prints, monotypes, screenprints, and carborundum prints that she can now repurpose to new ends.
This artistic maturity mirrors one of a more personal sort. When her show ‘Refracting Light’ was in the Eames Fine Art Gallery in 2019, she was about to get married. Following on from a formative fellowship (and an engagement) in Japan, that landmark show exhibited a tremendous leap in her style. Now at the opening of this 2021 show, Sophie is preparing for another leap: motherhood. Her art is likewise advancing forward to new frontiers. For the last few years, Sophie has been utilising and quoting glass art in her original prints, initially shining light through the glass pieces to construct technicoloured compositions then realised in monoprint. As seen in this show, she has now evolved into composing and designing these glass pieces herself – a new technique that she finds liberating.
In a collaborative process, Sophie drafts a design and instructs glass artists in how she wants the piece to be crafted. When the resulting lustrous shape is ready, she paints onto it with designs and images that come directly or obliquely from her extant prints. These pieces with repurposed prints then have the same ebullience in three dimensions that we have come to know and love in Sophie’s two-dimensional work. Often, the glass piece then becomes an artistic subject itself, and Sophie makes a print depicting the glass work with her original print on it. Here, the circular qualities of inspiration are clear.
Images and objects reappear in Sophie’s artworks in new formats or contexts – references to delight the eagle-eyed admirer of her art. Like individual artists themselves, motifs can grow and adapt. These ideas are living things, influenced and changed by circumstance and time.
Sophie first came upon the Ikebana artform whilst in Japan on a life-changing artist’s residency. The sparse, organic rhythm of the flowers, climbing plants and branches moved her, and she made an entire body of work inspired by several distinct Ikebana arrangements. A few of these monotypes – Sogetsu Arrangement and Sogetsu Arrangement, Detail – were based on a certain floral arrangement, named for a particular school of Ikebana. This Ikebana design
that Sophie depicted in monotype and showed in ‘Refracting Light’ included pink cupped flowers and green blades, as well as the thin purple branches that towered over them. All these forms cast subtly multicoloured shadows against the wall behind them.
We then see these ascending shapes and vibrant hues reappropriated into new, mystifying structures in Sogetsu Arrangement with Roman Pot. Again, those verdant shadows possess a lovely verticality, and the beautiful bright pink buds shine. But now these flowers are contained within a Roman pot. The ancient art of Japanese flower arranging melds surprisingly yet seamlessly with the ancient pot work, which grabbed Sophie’s attention during a recent trip to Pompeii. The stalks of this flower arrangement are now thrown and bent and contorted along the curved surface of an imagined glass piece. The original composition has been given new life.
Sogetsu Arrangement with Roman Pot is not only alluring and compelling as a stand-alone artwork, but it is also a design for the next piece of work inspired by the initial Sogetsu arrangement. This print shows a glass work from two angles, Sophie’s monotype technique deftly displaying how she would like its shadows and layered colours to fall when it becomes a three-dimensional reality. This reality does come to fruition, twice, and these glass pieces are also on show in this exhibition: Sogetsu Arrangement and Roman Vase I and II. All the components that have been worked out in print over the last two years – to stunning effect – are transformed into three-dimensional objects. The shadows that appeared in the initial 2019 monotype now take a new form as they spread across the surface upon which the glass vessel is placed. The organic curves of the flower arrangement become tangible again, as they were in the original Ikebana piece. The colours already translucent through the monotype method are even more so when placed onto glass. Perhaps next Sophie will take this glass work as inspiration for a new print, as she’s done with the twenty-five Echoes of Ikebana Through Glass pieces and some of the larger prints in this show. This is not the end of Sophie’s reinterpretations.
When seen together and explored along the through-line of a single composition or motif, these clusters of interrelated artworks reveal the workings of Sophie’s creative mind. They feel like the complete synthesis of the major elements of her artistry. Pieces like Sogetsu Arrangement and Roman Vase I allow us to understand further the complex interlacing of Sophie’s printmaking inspirations. Most crucially, we can see that now, she is her own inspiration.
Dr Christine Slobogin, November 2021