Sophie Coryndon is a British Artist whose work ranges from individual pieces for the UK and international collectors’ market, to bespoke installations and large scale projects. Sophie is represented internationally by Todd Merrill Studio, New York and in the UK via Studio Coryndon.
Inspired by close observation and appreciation of the natural world and a love of historical ornament; her work spans the worlds of fine and applied art and design. Imaginative and innovative, Coryndon has forged a successful career in a fine art realm using traditional craftsmanship and decorative techniques learnt from her father Nick Coryndon, a renowned English Cabinet Maker. Often material and process driven and employing multiple disciplines including bronze casting, painting, gilding and sculpting, her work has been shown and collected internationally as well as featuring in many publications.
Sophie lives and works in East Sussex with her husband Dan. In a vast and beautiful Sussex barn – the techniques and specialist skills amassed over several decades of research and development are bought together to produce an intricate and varied portfolio of work much sought after by private clients, architects and designers.
For UK enquiries and available works contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The heavens’ embroidered cloths
One deep blue evening she asked me: “Have you noticed the stillness of the sky?” Later, I was reminded of her simple yet profound question when we spoke about W.B. Yeats’s Cloths of Heaven. Question and poem seemed to share the same sense of awe and vulnerability in the face of an infinitely vast, richly precious, unknown and unknowable universe. For a brief moment, I felt I captured and held something of this artist’s delicately acute sensitivity to a natural world that she experiences as a constantly unfolding miracle. It was a privilege.
Coryndon’s art gives expression to an intensely personal response to nature and beauty with an increasingly urgent collective relevance. “Even if one person sees the world differently it’s a step closer to the kind of consciousness we are all going to need to move forward,” she says.
Her vision is made tangible through the skill of a born maker with an interest in craftsmanship that has grown with her from childhood, gaining strong foundations in knowledge and experience over the years. She has had to think long and hard about the relationship between craft, fine art and design, how centuries of history have informed contemporary concepts and practices: the often uncomfortable, solitary spaces between the disciplines have become her stamping ground. It is here, she is convinced, that “the magic happens”.
As Coryndon’s ideas about her work have developed, shifted and matured, a clear set of artistic and human values has emerged that merit illumination, to use a word which holds particular resonance for her.
Curiouser and curiouser…
Coryndon grew up in rural Wiltshire. Her father, Nick Coryndon, a furniture restorer and cabinet maker, had a workshop half a mile from the village: it was a ready source of curiosity and inspiration. She would pick up a discarded finial or piece of gilt carving here, a shard of tortoiseshell or scrap of shagreen there. “What are you going to do with it?” he would ask. With characteristic stubborn determination, she would reply: “I’m going to make something with it.” Right from the beginning, using her hands to craft, construct, fashion, transform, and give material expression to an idea was a self-evidence for her, a primal drive that required no explanation.
She is grateful that she grew up at a time when none of today’s distractions prevented her from enjoying a childhood that was largely spent outside, walking the lanes and chalk downs with their canopy skies. Her imagination was fed by the fables and folklore of the countryside, the strong sense of pagan ancestry in the hill forts and sarsen stones. It was a kingdom to roam and own and bring home as drawings, pressed flowers, fossils, and freedom. The seeds of wonder at the “myriad miracles that makes up the natural world” had been planted in fertile ground.
Coryndon says that there was never any doubt in her mind that she was anything but an artist, describing the need to “show what’s in your head when you struggle to communicate it in any other way.”
It was this conviction that determined her decision to study Fine Art at Cardiff University. The original intention was that painting would be her main subject, but she quickly moved to sculpture. She describes the frustration with two dimensions, the dawning awareness of the potential in three. Perhaps, even then, she had intimations of a fourth, something that went beyond the visual perception of material reality and that she needed to contact and convey.
She graduated in 1997 and began an apprenticeship in gilding and decorative finishes with Coryndon Ltd which in turn led to a Prince’s Trust grant to set up her own business alongside the family’s. Her early projects, revealing an eclecticism that would underpin her career, ranged from the restoration of the 18th century Chinoiserie wallpaper at Badminton House for the renowned decorator Robert Kime to reproducing the interiors of Charleston Farmhouse (where she would later teach) for a British feature film. The variety fuelled her love of colour and materials and allowed her to start developing the impressive inventory of techniques and finishes that she draws on today.
A shift in direction came with a particular commission that was, in retrospect, a logical step forward. Given free rein by a client to paint some outsize, sprawling tulip heads on shutter panels confirmed a passion for the botanical, and was also a first expression of “big nature”, of using scale to thrust the beauty of natural forms before us so that we have no choice but to drink it in. Another hallmark of her art that was presaged by this pivotal project was a need to liberate nature, to let it burst out of the lines that humans seem to want to box it into. The tulips that stretched their languid petals out and over the shutter frames anticipated the idea of “rewilding ornamentation” that would recur as a theme.
Similar works on canvas and board followed, catching the eye of London gallerist Lucy Campbell in 2000. She would stay with Campbell for the next ten years. During this time, the sensual, twisting, writhing blooms became more confident and adventurous, tulips were occasionally joined by lilies, foxgloves, poppies, irises and alliums.
She describes, though, the moment when the two-dimensional flowers she was painting for the gallery no longer satisfied her: “I started adding things to the paintings, pins, pieces of thread, tooled and gilded backgrounds inspired by the Wilton Diptych. I didn’t know why at the time, but I think I was testing the boundaries…” The use of gold and silver and other decorative finishes became more frequent and pronounced. Change was beckoning, and took the form of Walpole’s Crafted: Makers of the Exceptional programme. Acceptance on the programme propelled her into a new realm where the worlds of fine art, decorative art and craft began to come together in a way that had not seemed possible to her until that point. Certainly, her experience of British education in the arts and crafts, which cleaved the two, had not offered the avenue for exploration that Crafted began to open up to her.
A cabinet of arts and crafts curiosities
With her interest in and experience of surface decoration as a point of departure, Coryndon began to delve more deeply into European craftsmanship, its history and modern practice. She developed a fascination with long apprenticeships: the secrecy that can surround transmission; the way skills were shown tacitly, rather than written down, to protect economic interests; how a reactionary attitude to change had taken root in a defensive stance against mass production. She felt an excitement kindled by the idea of breaking the rules, of bringing the artist’s inventiveness to the craftsman’s traditionalist approach:
“I have a contrary nature and a loose relationship with rules. If someone tells me things have to be done a certain way or to stick to the path, I’m likely to try and find a way I can do it differently.”
She describes how Book of Flowers and the series of works – wall hangings, diptychs and triptychs – incorporating a swathe of wild flowers was inspired by the millefleur background of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries held by the Musée de Cluny in Paris. At around the same time, she discovered a goldwork thread manufacturer running one of the last two remaining workshops in the country where gold thread for use on ecclesiastical robes and military uniforms is wound. The proprietor referred to himself as a winder of golden threads; here was a fairy tale that called out to her imagination.
Want of wonder
Each of the flowers of Coryndon’s millefleur is an exquisite and unique representation in clay striated with a scalpel in a resemblance of threads, cast in plaster and gilded by hand. They draw together several of the themes woven into the fabric of her work: the linked notions of time and transmission; an exploration of beauty; a quest for wonder; a calling to reenchant the world and shine a light on (illuminate in gold) what we have that is most fragile and precious before it is too late and we trample over it in our haste, passing it by in our ignorance.
Cloths of Heaven – Swathe 2017 was a labour of love, the many repetitive hours spent crafting each flower a way of honouring the passage of time, quietly, meditatively, and in so doing renouncing the frenetic pace and ceaseless whirring of human activity in the 21st century. It is also a work that is intended to be participative, with each member of a group (a family, a community) adding an insect or tiny flower. Births, deaths, marriages and festivals could also be documented in the same way, so that the “tapestry” might grow organically over time, taking on richness and detail as the years pass, a testament to an enduring human pageant.
The flowers also speak clearly of Coryndon’s passionate response to the beauty of the natural world as she sees it, with a vision that focuses in minutely on the microcosm whilst pointing to the infinite. On earth as it is in heaven. The works recreating honeycomb – the Hoard series, Dossel, Honey Moon – translate these same ideas. Delicate, overlooked beauty, is writ large and presented to us in such a way that we cannot be anything other than dazzled by it. The most exquisite, the most precious treasure is there before our eyes, how can we not marvel at it and cherish it? Coryndon speaks of a loss of connection to the landscape being a reason why we are in danger of losing it. “You cannot care about something you do not feel connected with”. What she is proposing, then, is a way of reconnecting with the natural world, through beauty and enchantment executed by means of exceptional craftsmanship. She enjoins us to open our eyes, not to look but to see. Above her desk hangs a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder”.
Coryndon’s Cloths of Heaven is an ongoing series of twelve moons, each one made up of a density of flowers and foliage forming a sphere that floats within the whole. Unassumingly yet fully and magically present, her moons seem to echo their maker and ask “Have you noticed the stillness of the sky?” Have you, too, wondered at the vastness of nature and questioned your place in it? Have you been humbled and awestruck by its beauty, its complexity, its miraculousness? And do you also see there something greater than yourself, but that is also of yourself?
Such are the questions posed by Sophie Coryndon’s art. Implicit within them is an aspiration to transcendence, a striving for a state of grace in a secular world that still seeks spiritual enlightenment, solace in the face of meaninglessness, and ultimately salvation.
There is also, perhaps, an entreaty that we owe it to ourselves to hear in a context fraught with the accelerating tragedy of the Anthropocene. An entreaty made very slowly, by hand, with love, encapsulated in a certain reading of the last lines of W.B. Yeats’s poem: “I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”