Medieval creatures, a gay earl and a pet tortoise have all inspired works of art at Powderham Castle.
Artists Janec van Veen and Jane Perkins have created an exhibition called ‘Fabulous Beasts’, which takes its inspiration from Powderham’s heraldry and the fantastical creatures on the arms of chairs, on fireplaces, the feet of bookcases and all around the Castle. Works of art are displayed around the Castle amongst the historic objects which have inspired them.
The exhibition is part of Devon Open Studios, which runs 11-26 September, when there will be free entry to the Castle and grounds. Fabulous Beasts continues at Powderham until 31 Oct.
Jane Perkins creates pictures using hundreds of tiny found objects including shells, buttons, small toys, plastic cutlery and broken jewellery. She is a ‘re-maker’, creating portraits of people, images of animals and reinterpretations of classic paintings.
Janec van Veen draws on his interests in biology, art history, literature and philosophy to create chimaeras using taxidermy, blending two or more creatures together so that the viewer can’t see how they’re joined. His mythological creatures are created using ethically sourced animals – mostly roadkill, or pets that have died of natural causes. He aims to encourage the viewer to think about where the animals might have come from, and our responsibility for the environment.
Janec’s work ‘Medieval Dolphin (Homarus crocodilus)’ is inspired by the dolphins that can be seen around the castle, including the carvings on two wooden chairs. In medieval times when the chairs were made, the wood carver wouldn’t have known what a dolphin looked like. Janec has recreated the incredible, terrifying sea monsters depicted on the chairs by blending a lobster tail and pigeon wings with parts of alligator, squirrel and peacock.
Near the Castle entrance, an animal’s head mounted on the wall appears, at first glance, as though it’s part of the castle’s history, but a second look reveals a ram’s head with the mouth and teeth of a lion. ‘Liobam (Ovis leo)’ is inspired by the biblical image of the lion and the lamb, and by Margaret Atwood’s book, ‘Oryx and Crake’ in which most of humankind has been wiped out. The people that are left share the planet with strange genetically spliced hybrid animals.
‘Playing God (Hippocampus marina)’ is a magical creature which is depicted creating his own creature to play with.
“The phrase ‘Playing God’ is attributed to the novel Frankenstein, in which the obsessed scientist digs up corpses in order to assemble a living being from body parts. Some people say that I play God when I splice creatures together and that it’s unnatural and disrespectful to the animals. But if an animal is dead already, how can I disrespect it?
Whenever I finish creating a fabulous beast I also give it a scientific name; a mix of the scientific names of two of the species included in the sculpture. This one is particularly pleasing as hippocampus means refers to a mythical sea monster on which the sea-gods rode, and marina means ‘of the sea.’ It fits in perfectly with the marine themed room where it’s displayed”
Jane Perkins has taken inspiration from Powderham’s 160-year-old Timothy Tortoise to create a portrait of the famous pet dressed up as one of the Courtenay family’s ancestors. Timothy was discovered as ship’s mascot in 1854, brought to Powderham in the late 19th century and died in 2004. When Timothy was named, it was not known how to sex a tortoise, and the animal was later discovered to be female. In Jane’s recreation, the tortoise’s face contains shells and fossils, which the artist felt were appropriate for such an old creature.
Inspired by the Russian painter Vrubel, Jane’s Madonna and Child is displayed in the Castle chapel, echoing the red and gold of the Courtney family coat-of-arms in the stained glass window above. Another work, ‘Fallow’ is displayed next to a window with a view of the Castle’s famous deer park.
“I started working on the fallow deer picture last November. After making the deer, I didn’t know how to complete the background. Then, on Christmas Eve, a package arrived in the post from a woman in Chicago, USA. I don’t know her; she’s one of several people around the world who’ve seen my work online and send things for me to use. Her package contained ‘sea glass’ she’d collected from the shores of Lake Michigan.
“Immediately I could imagine the white glass as snowflakes, and the deer against a blue-black night sky with snow falling, echoing the spots on its pelt. The moon is the saucer from a tiny cup and saucer found in an Exeter junk shop a few years ago. All the materials in my work have a back story. I use lots of tiny toys; each one belonged to a child. Somebody, somewhere once wore the jewellery I’ve incoprorated. Everything has a hidden history.
“Janec and I hope the work in this exhibition will delight, entertain and intrigue visitors to the Castle. Perhaps some of it will provoke or disturb. We’ve opened up the world of our imaginations to respond to the amazing creatures that can be found all around Powderham.”
Fabulous Beasts is at Powderham Castle from 10 Sept until 31 Oct. The Castle is open 11am to 5pm, Sunday to Friday. Ticket prices are available on the Powderham website. The exhibition is part of Devon Open Studioswhich runs from 11 to 26 September when there will be free entry to Castle and grounds (parking £5).