Carol Peace is an acclaimed sculptor with a studio in Paintworks, Totterdown. As part of celebrating her 25th year as an artist, she has teamed up with Bristol24/7 to showcase her work at our Autumn Feast: a celebration of food that aims to bring people together, created in partnership with Square Food Foundation. Ahead of the event on November 16, we sat down with Carol to talk about her art, her anniversary and an early life shaped by food.
What is your connection to Bristol, and why have you based your studio here?
In 1992, I had two commissions from my degree show and moved directly from Winchester to the Bristol Sculpture Shed. A few sculptors from Winchester were at the ‘shed’ so it was the studio that first brought me here.
We all then moved into Spike Island, and then have been at Paintworks since it started over 10 years ago. Over the years I have had temporary studios in London and Barcelona, but Bristol has always been home. It is here that I have grown up as a sculptor.
Do you find that Bristol has been a good location for your artistic outlets?
It seems ridiculous to like a city because ‘it’s the right size’ but as well as being geographically easy to navigate by cycle, Bristol has got everything. It’s difficult to create in a vacuum: you need good quality inspiration and Bristol has that.
There’s always plenty to see, do, hear and of course taste – it sounds horribly hipster but I love the fact that I can go to a poetry evening, get a locally brewed pint and buy a loaf of bread all at the same time.
We’re celebrating your 25th year as an artist: what have you learned over that time, and do you have any tips for budding artists?
As my tutor at college said, ‘It’s just a fucking job’. He had a really annoying habit of being right a lot of times. What I think he was saying was don’t get all artsy-fartsy about making work, just get on with it, treat it like a job and get up every day and do it.
I left Winchester School of Art with determination and passion but I am afraid what they forgot to add was confidence. I didn’t rush my portfolio around the London galleries: I aimed low, as that is what I believed I was worth. I framed some drawings and prints, made cards and took them to a car boot sale. Literally, people looked at me as if I was mad, but it was a start.
You are the way you are but over time you recognise your traits more clearly and I realise I have always been both overly insecure and independent. I never wanted to ask for help, preferring always to just get on with it. After 25 years, I realise that this is both my weakness and my strength.
All you can do is work with what you’ve got, but, as my tutor said, you do have to work hard and put the hours in.
Through the Bristol24/7 Autumn Feast, you’re choosing to support the Bristol24/7 social impact agenda – what does it mean to you?
I had a bit of a tricky spell as a teenager and ended up homeless. Having ‘no fixed abode’ you suddenly find yourself on a very slippery slope, but I was lucky enough to have been taught to cook.
Having nowhere to go in the evenings and no money, I used to sit in the pub drinking water, and eventually the landlord said I could use the kitchen upstairs. It was a bit of a rough pub so he was happy to let me have a go and try and ‘improve the clientele’.
I set up my own business doing lunches (it was too hectic in the evenings). It was a slow start: someone would order something at the bar like a sandwich and I would take the money for the order and run out of the back of the pub to the shop and buy the stuff to make it. It escalated from there until I had enough money to make proper food and Sunday lunches.
So, you could say that food saved my life! The experience helped me realise that not everyone can change the road they are on without a lucky break and a supportive helping hand.
What I like about the approach of Bristol 24/7 is the way it’s making connections. All these people and organisations, like Bristol Drawing School that Graham Woodruff and I set up, are battling to do good things on their own and are now being brought together. The feast is perfect example of this: people have been really happy to help and work together to make something bigger than any of them could do on their own.
The Autumn Feast is also about inspiring the next generation of chefs. What message are you trying to pass on to younger generations?
I wouldn’t be so bold as to try and say I had a message, but I could say it helps to work hard and believe in yourself – but not so much as that you can’t see. And never be afraid to start.
As part of the Autumn Feast, your sculpture, Eve, will be auctioned. What made you pick that one?
A few years ago, I was at a Justin Townes Earle gig at St Bonaventure’s, and someone shouted a song request from the audience. He just looked at them and said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do’. It made me smile for weeks. This piece has Eve sitting there with all those apples, and no one is going to tell her what she can or cannot do with them.
The Bristol24/7 Autumn Feast, in partnership with Square Food Foundation, takes place on Tuesday, November 16. To find out more or to book tickets, visit www.bristol247.com/food-and-drink/news-food-and-drink/tickets-released-bristol247-autumn-feast.