Outtakes

The river Dart runs through Jilly Sutton's driftwood sculpture. By Jonathan Dyson. Photographs by David Rose
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"I've been having trouble with the gribble worms," says Jilly Sutton. "I find a nice piece of driftwood and then I start carving and there they are. It's horrible." Gribble worms, apparently, are like woodworms that live in the water. In fact, Sutton has more pressing matters to attend to: two stressed teenagers, one because of GCSEs, the other A-levels, an encamped painting-holiday party trying to render the river Dart which runs along the bottom of the garden. Then there's the final giant head to finish sanding down for the big London show.

She began carving with driftwood out of necessity: it didn't cost anything, it was virtually on the doorstep and, once it has been dried out, it has the properties of expensive, seasoned wood. Sutton also use lime - now her favourite material - and forages among fallen trees, but most of her pieces end up with a similar weathered finish. Sometimes this is achieved courtesy of a blasting from the high-powered jet at the local boatyard, "used for getting the barnacles off the bottom of boats".

Sutton has had a feel for wood since childhood (both her grandfather and father were tree nurserymen in Gloucestershire), but she began sculpting only when she had to move out to Nigeria with her architect husband, and she found she had time on her hands - some of the pieces still have an African quality. Years later, back in England, she started working on her art in earnest when her three children were off at school. Her pieces are figurative, often abstracted, with cut-away heads and torsos, and there are more classical figures and one-offs, such as the angel's wing commissioned for her local church in Cornworthy. She works with the lines of the wood, unlocking its secrets. The end results have a mythic, ethereal quality, partly because of their scale - much larger than life - but mainly because of an age-old driftwood patina, the gift and inspiration of the river Dart

Jilly Sutton's work is on show at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, 35 Windmill Street, London W1 (0171-436 4899), 1 June to 4 July

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