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Ceramics good enough to eat: Anna Barlow's ice-cream sculptures have art-lovers salivating

These hand-crafted gluttonous goodies are not for human consumption

For ceramics artist Anna Barlow, ice-cream is much more than an indulgent treat.

Fascinated by the rituals of food, her sculptures capture passing moments of dessert-induced happiness.

But Barlow's work should come with a warning – these shiny porcelain cherries and glazed wafers are not safe to eat.

Her colourful ceramics may scream fun, but long periods of experimentation are required.

"It took about 8 years of research to come up with the right techniques and colours," Barlow says. "I use a scoop for the earthenware clay, as you would with real ice-cream, then the 'cream’ is piped on and the hand-modelled extras are added."

These sculptures are realistic enough to make viewers salivate, but creating them is a precarious business. "Some pieces I must have made up to four times," she says. "There’s definitely some hoping for the best involved – I often have to watch my work crumble!"

While battling to keep her sculptures standing, Barlow wants to capture a brief moment in time and present something that looks like it is about to melt or fall: "I love the idea that ice-cream only lasts for seconds but once its fired, ceramic is permanent unless you break it."

When Barlow’s ceramics are firing in the kiln, the glaze becomes like molten sugar, helping her to create the oozing effects seen in much of her work.

But not everybody enjoys her sculptures, with some people criticising them for being obscene, gluttonous and even grotesque. Barlow puts responses down to how viewers personally feel about food.

“I find it fascinating how some people dislike my sculptures, usually because they don’t prize food in their own lives,” she says. "Children in particular tend to understand it more, which makes sense.”

While the ice-cream theme runs throughout her work, Barlow has tackled the niche subject matter from all sides. The ‘cushion’ series of sculptures are quieter and more poignant than many of Barlow’s ‘happier’ pieces (below).

“I wanted to start looking at the slightly dysfunctional, unhealthy side, where you’re at home, eating on your own,” she says. “It’s that question - is it dysfunctional, or is it about enjoying a wonderful moment alone?”


Barlow’s favourite sculptures are the taller pieces that burst off plates – the piles of ice-cream that represent the fantasy of food, the temptation of wanting something you know you shouldn’t.

She works on several pieces at the same time, firing all the porcelain to start with before building the structure from those elements. On average, she spends three months on a single sculpture.

Among Barlow's stand-out works are a series of ice-cream sundae shoes (below). The idea to combine high heels with colourful ice-cream came to her while shopping in Central London after her first solo exhibition.

She had heard on the radio that heels are getting higher and fashion louder and more glittery despite the economic depression. “One day I noticed some shoes with heels like stilts and the relationship between money and ice-cream hit me," Barlow says.


It is those moments of consumerist desire that inspire Barlow’s art, the initial, hard-to-resist appeal of entering a shop and seeing something you want. “You want shoes the most at the time because you don’t have them, but as soon as you take them home they start to lose their appeal and they end up in the back of a cupboard,” she says.

“With ice-cream, the best time is just before you eat it, but by the end of it you’re all ‘oh gosh, I don’t need the rest'. Consumerism is momentary, but also fun.”

Barlow’s current project is a challenging one - she is attempting to create some of the biggest, most spectacular pieces of her career so far.

Somehow, she is not sick of the ice-cream just yet, despite admitting that the popular pudding is not one of her favourites.

“I’m not ice-cream’s biggest fan,” she says. You never would have guessed.