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Wire Passions - Michelle Castles

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Michelle Castles is a sculptor based in Dockray who has spent the last 20 years observing the human form and capturing its essence.

I love my job. I get to sit in a warm, bright studio overlooking the Cumbrian Fells, working with wire all day. It wasn’t always like this.

Today, while I work on the completion of a large sculpture, The Music Conductor, to reside outside of a music school, I think about my first studio. It was on the top floor of a disused warehouse in a busy city centre, the only window overlooking the concrete blocks of a multi storey car park, and the only sign of life, the odd pigeon.

I think about how excited and terrified I was rejecting suburban living, the security of a regular job to pursue my dream of being an artist. How difficult it had been to scrape together a month’s rent for the studio space from a back breaking evening job in a Chinese kitchen.

Then I remember sitting on the pavement outside, head in hands and wondering what to do when I turned up to find a padlocked door and bailiffs looking for a landlord who had illegally sublet the building and disappeared with all the rent money.

Who knew that when a college tutor picked up a piece of discarded wire mesh from a corridor floor and threw it at me saying “do something with this”, I’d still be “doing something” with it 23 years later. That it would have sparked off a passion for an art form that has kept me focused through every difficult turn in my career. The only way to succeed is to be obsessed.

And how do we measure success anyway? It’s good to get paid for your work. To know that someone likes it enough to part with some money. And we all need to live. But there is another success that sends a greater feeling right through to your soul. It comes with knowing your art, mastering your tools, getting those shapes just right. Like forming a foot, toes, cartledge, sinew and bone, and then being weirdly convinced that you can actually smell it. That is success.

Roald Dahl said “ the secret of life is to become very very good at something that’s very very hard to do.”

Well I’ve always loved a challenge and I know that means putting in the hours, though sometimes unfortunately to the detriment of everything else.  It’s the same story for every artist I meet. Tremendous highs, crushing lows. The exhilaration of setting up an exhibition, tremendous hard work invested in every piece, and the sinking disappointment if nothing sells. Because it’s not just the artwork on show, it’s a bit of your soul as well so rejection becomes very personal.

What we are making are little pieces of luxury, feasts for the eyes. Nothing essential for everyday living. Art is the last thing on the list to purchase once all other needs are met.

How can we convince local councils that an arts budget is still essential, when money is desperately needed in other places?

But patrons of the arts are so important. That is, any person or any organisation, private or public, who is willing to dip into their pockets. Those patrons are our ‘enablers’. Art must be experienced, through sight, hearing or otherwise, and they are the ones who make it possible.

To give credence to the artist who cannot and should not have to suppress a talent which enriches everyone’s experience of life is surely worth investing in.

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