A woman's place is in the kitchen, or at least it is when I arrive in Francis Upritchard's studio in east London. She is cooking lunch for us, her husband (designer Martino Gamper), Joachim (his studio assistant), and next-door neighbour, sculptor Daniel Silver. Sitting down to a beautifully prepared lunch on a "reappropriated" Gio Ponti table by Gamper, Upritchard's domestic credentials are only heightened when she makes us pass back our chicken bones for stock.
Upritchard came to London from her native New Zealand in 1998. "Distance makes me feel free," she says. "In New Zealand I felt there were people looking over my shoulder. People took everything really seriously. There is a lot more room to experiment and there are different audiences here as well."
She didn't go to art college here as she didn't much like it in New Zealand and, as she puts it, "I didn't need to go to Goldsmiths as everyone thought I had anyway!" She had no money so she squatted – alone, she says. Recognition in London soon followed with a nomination for the Beck's Futures prize in 2003 and inclusion as New Zealand's choice in the 2009 Venice Biennale.
Already well established as an object-maker, a sculptor often incorporating found objects in her work, she decided in 2007 to explore the figure. "I didn't think there was so much good figurative work in contemporary sculpture," she explains. 'I went to Munich and saw [the 15th-century sculptor] Erasmus Grasser's Morris Dancers.'
Upritchard and Gamper bought their current space with Silver in 2009, when Gamper was evicted from his flat upstairs as the property went on the market. Upritchard's studio, reached through Silver's noisy workshop, is exceptionally clean and empty, the army of figures having decamped to Nottingham for an exhibition. One remains, bewigged and inscrutable, as witness to our conversation, while modelled heads lie on the window-sill. Upritchard points out their unlikeable expressions, saying you have "to allow them to be as ugly as they wanted to be – I find them quite gross." They are "found in newspapers or photographs of friends".
I ask about the clothing she has put on some of her figures and she says she has made it all herself. "I had dolls and I made all their clothes. I was on the sewing machine when I was three years old. I really like making stuff.'
Francis Upritchard: A Hand of Cards, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham (www.nottinghamcontemporary.org; 0115 948 9750) to 30 September