Interview With Sculptor Faith Bebbington

faith bebbington
Faith with one of the two Lion’s she created for the Football Association and Veolia sited at Wembley Stadium in July 2014. She completed two life size Lion's from reclaimed stadium waste, one using cardboard the other from plastics including red plastic from old stadium seats.

You’ll find art by Faith Bebbington displayed across England — at Wembley Stadium (Wembley Lions), Veolia HQ (Tiger), Liverpool (Elephant) and Ellesmere Port (Horse Power) to name a few. She’s also displayed pop-up public work in Liverpool (Super Rat and The Runner), exhibits internationally and runs workshops. Gurby Griffiths catches up with the talented sculptor at her studio in Liverpool to find out more about her work.

What kind of work is the mainstay of what you do?

I used to work with fibreglass resin. I was first taught it at school and made a canoe out of it. I devised my own technique of sculpting using fibreglass but after I got cancer in 2014 I’ve been trying to get away from it. I’m trying to use more recycled materials because it’s really important to be conscious of the environment.

Which recycling products do you like working with?

I’m experimenting with any kind of plastic, particularly milk bottles. I also use cardboard and paper (but I’ve always used those materials) and I’m working on a mixture to use clay (papercrete). I am trying to get away from the concrete part of it and experiment with different mixtures to do more modelling. I think I’m more of a modeller than a carver, which a lot of women are even though I like to do all of the above. That’s why I worked with fibreglass because I could model and it was a permanent material.

What do you try to express in your work?

I’ve always wanted to be a sculptor since my mum first introduced me to clay. I was born with very mild cerebral palsy but it set me back quite a lot in development. I was encouraged in college to do other things rather than reading and writing, which was sculpting and modelling. She [mum] spotted my talent early on and pushed that. So my work was very much influenced by my disability. Because I spent a long time seeing doctors and going to physiotherapy, I’ve always been very conscious of movement and the lack of it. When I make my work I’m trying to express movement and fluidity because my movement has been such a struggle. My disability has inhibited me that much that I’m very conscious of the way things/people move.

faith bebbington
Super Rat is a pop-up sculpture created using 400 plastic milk bottles. It is over four metres long and featured on a wall in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle 2016.

What is the favourite sculpture you have made?

I tend to say to that question what I’m working on at the moment. But I’m very pleased with the rat I made a few years ago because it’s the first big piece I made (for a long time) not working to commission. I thought about making the rat when I was in London. I was walking along a riverbed and looking at rats, riverbeds and water, so that’s where the idea originated from. But it did coincide nicely with the rat problem in Liverpool.

What have been the biggest challenges of your career?

My health was one of my biggest challenges. Things were ticking along nicely before I had cancer. Things were really taking off and I was being consistent. Then I had to drop all my work. Now I feel like I’m building it all back up. That was hard. Timescale is always a challenge because when I get a commission or get any work, it’s always everybody wants it yesterday. A lot of the recycled stuff (and fibreglass) is very labour intensive, so it’s always a challenge to keep things on time and get things done on time.

How did you get to work with Veolia?

The first Veolia job I got was passed on my another artist who I’ve worked for on various occasions. That’s purely the way it goes, word of mouth.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m hoping to do another Veolia commission of a shark for their new Dagenham centre which purely focuses on milk bottles. That’s my favourite material to work with at the moment. As for plans for the future, I’m trying to mix my own outdoor material, which is papercrete or building from the earth. I’m also travelling back to doing more figurative work with stone and wood and concentrate on doing more abstract work.

faith bebbington
Faith, third from left, with musician Brian May (Queen), Virginia McKenna (Born Free) and the Bengal Tiger commissioned by Veolia for the Save Wild Tigers Tiger Tracks launch in 2013

What do you want to do five years from now?

I’m currently trying to develop taking my sculptures and making them into digital prints for wallpaper, fabric and so on. This is something I would get someone else to do. I want to create just one sculpture and spend ages getting it right, then take a photo of it and create digital things with it. Someone once asked me what my overall ambition is as an artist. It’s not to be in galleries or do big commissions, even though I like these things. It’s to have my art in everybody’s home. Even if it’s just a little piece or picture, being in people’s homes is what I think is important.

Which artists or professionals (dead or alive) have been your biggest influences?

Growing up it was Picasso, partly because of his diversity. But I like little bits of lots of artists. I’m influenced by architects, gardeners, visual artists but I find it hard to put it down to one.

What is your favourite experience as an artist?

Selling. The first piece of work I sold, even though they haggled with me, was the hardest thing and best thing. I sold a stone carving to a couple.

Who is the typical client that purchases your sculptures?

It’s hard to say. I’ve often sold work through agents but gay men seem to love my work.

faith bebbington
Heart Mandala x 12 limited edition print for 2017 (digital image created from a pair of Faith’s small-scale sculpted figures). A Heart cast limited edition of the sculpture is also available.

When did your art become noticed?

I had work as decoration in a furniture shop in Bold Street when I first started. It was really good as people would go in there and say I like that. I want that sofa, and table, and lamp and that sculpture, and they would buy the whole package. That was really what started me off beautifully.

Do you have any advice for a young artist finishing their undergraduate training?

Just keep going. It’s hard but even if you have to supplement your income, just keep going.

What motivates you?

I just want to make some money doing what I want to do. I set myself some targets for the year and that’s what I do to motivate myself. For example, this year I said I’m going to buy a chainsaw for carving stones and bowls. Well, I’ve bought a chainsaw and been on a course. I set myself little goals and go for it. I work to pay for the things I need.

What is your average day like?

It’s all over the place. If I’m going into school, that’s it, that’s my day. If I’m at home then I’ll probably do a bit of paperwork, answer some emails, go to the studio until 6pm, come home and have tea, then do some research.

What do you like doing when you are not making sculptures?

Drawing. I tend to do landscapes and flowers when I draw. For my leisure time I like to paint using pastels. I’ve started selling those.

Name one item you can’t live without?

Paper because all my workshops at school are based around paper. So paper and also tape.

Could you tell us some interesting facts about your life?

I had carpal tunnel in my hands a few years ago. I have constant pain in my ring fingers and little fingers but ironically the only time they don’t hurt is when I’m working. So as long as I keep working my hands, they’re fine.

Favourite book? The Bell Jar
Currently listening to: Audible
Favourite cosmetics brand: Clinique