Frances Willoughby

Spanning sculpture, textile, collage and installation, Frances Willoughby’s work evokes the body in it’s physical and cultural dimensions and is concerned with the metamorphoses of the human form. Her artwork pushes the sculptural possibilities of bodily representation to interrogate the way we understand and relate to important aspects of human experience such as anxiety, relating, memory and trauma. Driven by a desire to make objects and images, Willoughby gives tangible form to her memories, fears and thoughts. Her collage work, tapestries and sculptural objects reveal the themes to which she returns time and again and the broad range of materials that preoccupy her. In her work we can trace references from multiple sources: the atmosphere of David Lynch’s films, Surrealism, the psychoanalytic theories of Melanie Klein, the intimate sculptures of Alina Szapocznikow as well as personal memories and emotions. Art making is Willoughby’s personal way of negotiating the world in which she lives in, a means through which to respond to the emotions of everyday.

Her soft sculptures act as an intimate record not only of her memory, but also of her own body. Willoughby constructs narratives from disparate parts, merging opposites, playing on contrasts and reconciliating differences. Stuffed fabric, wire and plaster are some of the materials she uses to create fetish objects like Knots, 2019 and anthropomorphic representations of limbs, breasts and torsos. The three-dimensionality of her sculptures heightens the reality of her work. Engaging with real space, allows for a different way of making art as well as a different kind of engagement with the viewer.

Protruding from the floor, hanging from the ceiling or fixed on the wall the body is presented here in a state of continuous metamorphosis. Rupture, 2017 portrays a double female body in a traumatic state. Stuffed with fabric it’s position is awkward. Despite the heightened phycological tension of the work, there is a sense of control and balance, hovering in a position between extreme tension and relaxation. In works like Bad Breast, 2019 Willoughby introduces items of the real world, such as pins and needles, for expressive effect. In sexually charged and provocatively explicit images, we witness female breasts pierced with acupuncture needles. There is a psychological symbolism of needles and their magic power at play here: that of repairing damage, of healing.

From her exquisite sculptures to her grandmother’s tapestries of recent days, the last body of work reveals Willoughby’s preoccupation with fabric as a material for work in two and three dimensions, giving her work another layer of personal meaning. Her creations show a vocabulary of evolution, metamorphosis and indeterminacy. The restorative power of the needle and the act of sewing renders visible the human body’s experiences of pleasure, pain, trauma, and inevitable decay. The act of physically doing and undoing the stitches becomes a method of healing from personal trauma and a ritual to navigate the purpose of the work itself. The self and other are constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination. Ultimately, Willoughby’s works become environments where everyone can change and be transformed; a self in a continuous state of metamorphosis, set free, brimming with possibilities.

Alkistis Tsampouraki (2023)