Investigating the life of things across space and time

Cleave (2016)
collage, textile, printmaking on gesso covered cotton over board; 120cm x 30cm

Cleave (2016)

Gallery of Cleave details and exhibition installation

The story behind Cleave

As if peering through a gap in the trees this work focuses on the relationship between light and dark, quarry and hunter. The colour and form of the red figure references Uccello's practice within the late Gothic tradition and reminds us that red is the colour of fairytales, representing blood (virginity, violence, death).

Paolo di Dono, called Uccello (1397–1475):
The Hunt in the Forest (c.1465-1470)
tempera and oil, with traces of gold, on panel; 177cm x 73.3cm

The Hunt in the Forest is held in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Uccello uses a Renaissance colour palette with red and green colour pigments and accents of gold, now faded to give the painting a magical jewel-like quality. This is reinforced by the overall unreality of the scene and Uccello’s affinity for Gothic art, as evidenced by his creation of stylised patterns. In Cleave, a gold thread runs through the textile collage pieces.

The word cleave is interesting for its opposite double meanings:

  1. to split apart or cut open by force, often related to the natural world as in ‘he took a large axe to cleave wood for the fire’ or ‘the water will eventually cleave a channel through the rock’. From this we also get the words cleft, clove and cloven – originally as tenses of cleave
  2. to stick together, often related to relationships and/or the body as in Shakespeare when Macbeth says to Banquo: ‘If you shall cleave to my consent, when ’tis, It shall make honour for you’ or in Genesis 2:24 of the King James bible ‘man shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh’ but also ‘Rose’s tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth’. The word is related in origin to clay and climb

I also took inspiration from Uccello’s preparation techniques to stretch cotton over board before gessoing and sanding down repeatedly to create a matt, smooth surface.

Cleave was first shown in Quarry at the Brocket Gallery, London in 2016.

More works in Quarry

Mantle: neon green background with a figure standing, a black cloth thrown over their head and body, with sky blue hose and black shoes. A strong black shadow extends from the feet out to the bottom edge of the image

Mantle (2016)

As if standing in front of a green screen this mysterious figure invites us to imagine a space in which anything is possible.

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Quarry art work: a dark subterranean space is populated by absurd and strange creatures that flit in and behind the pillars that hold up the vaulted ceiling

Quarry (2016)

Like Paolo Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest (1470), Quarry came into existence from dark to light. Uccello’s technique created a theatrical depth and drama that I wanted to capture.

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Query: Raised pale embroidery like old scars on a pale linen, with fragments of tapestry and collage strewn across the whole canvas

Query (2016)

In Paolo Uccello’s preparation of his wood panels for Hunt in the Forest (1470), he glued canvas over knots and scored lines into a black underlayer of paint to mark tree branches and vanishing points.

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Salt: Lines and patches of embroidery against a pale brown linen background, reminiscent of a set of ruins in a destroyed landscape. A figure with a beak as big as its body and that covers its face entirely, tentatively steps across the ground.

Salt (2016)

Salt is mined, extracted and evaporated. Stitching mends holes, fills in blank space. This artwork began life as the back of an unfinished needlepoint and grew into an exploration of geology and archeology.

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Silk: an embroidered image of bright autumn trees in yellow and orange sits against a black linen background, with tree silhouettes behind

Silk (2016)

This work started as an old needlepoint completed by an unknown sewer, that I unpicked, leaving only these trees intact. It was a way for me to look at the stage without the players.

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Slip: Against a fluorescent orange backdrop, a painted figure with blue hose and a dark green tunic falls headlong into a black hole

Slip (2016)

Falling is an uncontrollable action. When we fall (over, apart, in love, asleep) we become vulnerable; quarry. Caught between spaces this figure falls headfirst and downwards.

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Trace: two sets of arches, one in a pale sandy stone with overgrown ivy and the other, identical in outline but a flat black silhouette, sitting on a mid-grey linen canvas. The outlines of three greyhounds are stitched in white thread, leaping through the arches

Trace (2016)

I wanted to create a work that used just a few very strong elements to show the power of a repeated shape. I drew this grid over Uccello’s painting to reveal his mastery of perspective and as the starting point for Trace.

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When much had been forgotten: fragments of tapestry, collage and embroidery in the shape of statues and organic forms are scattered across a pale grey-brown linen

When much had been forgotten (2016)

The relics and ghosts of long ago are brought together here as if in a wild dream of nature. Starting from the verticals of Uccello’s trees and dotted lines he cut into the wood I wanted to present a landscape of fragments that offers a framework for a narrative.

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A walk in the woods: a blue-legged figure with a dark cloth over their head and body stands against a brick wall with plants growing round it

A walk in the woods (2016)

This conversation between Sarah Gillett and the writer Amy Lay-Pettifer digs deeper into the artist’s relationship with Paolo Uccello’s painting The Hunt in the Forest (1470) and her wider art practice.

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PACK: A person in a blue hoodie on a bicycle looks behind them to see hundreds of dogs chasing them through a wide, empty city street


The dogs in south London are running. One of the big ones slows down as it passes me and I step back as its nose swerves into my crotch, waving my arms as though that would make any difference. If it were really hungry it would just eat me but I get a face full of hot meaty air and it’s a lucky day.

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