Put yourself in my shoes

Published as part of the BBC series Show Me The Monet 2011

Artist Belinda Durrant at work in her studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire, England

Mother-of-three Belinda Durrant from Stroud in Gloucestershire, England took the plunge into the art world when she left her career as a research-technician to go to Art College in 2004. Her sculpture Little Lead Shoes Age 3 made it onto the BBC 2’s Show Me The Monet show, a show produced in a similar style to the channel’s entrepreneurial show Dragon’s Den, but for artists. The tiny, helplessly-posed hand-made shoes Belinda brought to the show’s Hanging Committee instantly struck the judges as having a deeper meaning behind them, a psychology even. Art critic and judge Charlotte Mullinsdescribed them as “emotionally incredibly charged” whilst art dealer Roy Bolton commented “they are made with an enormous amount of love and skill”. Belinda scored the votes she needed to exhibit her work at the Royal College of Art show.

Belinda uses a lot of personal subjects in her work, all be them inanimate objects; they are often linked to the animate, such as items of clothing. The series, available on Belinda’s website and online gallerywww.belindadurrant.co.uk are centred around strong emotions: some of the series are named “Temptation and Desire”, “The Desire to be Desired”, “Pretty Woman”, “Relationships”, “Family” and “Animals”. What’s more is that there is a pureness and innocence to Belinda’s chosen subjects (http://www.belindadurrant.co.uk/gallery/Latest/images.php?page=gallery, such as in “Maiden’s Blush” the “Royal Virgin” and “Lead Slippers”, a pair that almost speaks “I’m delicate”. Other series within her collection are more playful and even a little cheeky, such as “Honeycomb Knickers”http://www.belindadurrant.co.uk/gallery/newwork/images.php?page=galleryand Suspender Belt. What makes the presentation of the shoes so appealing is how they are positioned in relation to one another: most of the shoes are in the pigeon-feet position, or skewed and it is these imperfections that further increase their vulnerability.

Are they artefacts? Are they possessions left behind? Do they form part of a memory? They are so alive in spirit that a child could have just stepped out of them and run away bare-foot. One thing I do sense is that the work evokes a puzzled reaction in the viewer and inadvertently acts as clues to the life of a character or personality. You can’t help but want to know more to complete the story. Belinda achieves a visual oxymoron, in that something is missing, yet you feel its presence and vivid emotion right there in the room: an intangible character has been created.

I put myself in Belinda’s shoes for a few moments and chat to her about her work…

Belinda: where did you grow up?

My father was in the army, so we moved about a lot when I was small. I can’t think of anywhere I could classify as ‘where I grew up’. My Dad came out of the army when I was around 10, and we had a house in Twickenham, where, as far as I remember, I was quite happy, but then my dad got a promotion and at the age of 14 I was uprooted to Cambridgeshire, where I stayed for another 20 years before moving to Gloucestershire when my husband, whom I’d met during my first degree in biology, changed jobs.

Which Art College did you go to?

I went to art school as a (very) mature student at the University of Gloucestershire, formerly known as Cheltenham School of Art.

Your pitched piece to the show’s Hanging Committee was called “Little Lead Shoes Age 3” – you told the judges it was about the “pain of growing up” – what did you mean by this?

There is something exquisitely beautiful about the feet of a small child and I hope the initial response to this piece is a feeling of ‘essence’ of squishy little feet, followed by conflicting feelings caused by the nature of the materials I have used. These shoes are cold, hard, there is exposed stitching inside; they would be uncomfortable and poisonous as they are made of lead. Nobody would put their child’s feet into these shoes. They are meant as a foreboding, of the loss of innocence, the pain of growing up, the fact that life gives you blisters. Life can be extremely uncomfortable sometimes and that is what these are all about.

What are your childhood memories?

I don’t seem to have many…though I remember my hamster dying and crying buckets for what seemed like weeks…I still cry a lot, although not about my hamster!

Your work comes across as being part of a very personal journey. Do you regard your work as a form of personal expression?

Most definitely.

Which materials do you use to create your work?

I’m always experimenting…the more difficult and unlikely the better…it’s a challenge and it also challenges the viewer…The last thing I would use to make a pair of shoes would be leather.

Your series of shoe works include a similar childhood-related piece called Little Lead Tootsies aged 3 2.(http://www.belindadurrant.co.uk/gallery/newwork/images.php?page=gallery). The shoes are sharp and pointy in style: they even have tiny bells attached and are certainly interesting to look at – as they catch my eye I am immediately intrigued as to what the story behind them is: I can almost imagine them being part of an outfit for a fictional fantasy or medieval tale….what is the story behind this pair of shoes?

These shoes are in no way ‘childhood related’. They are the sister piece to ‘little lead tootsies age 3’. They are actually Chinese lotus shoes for bound feet. Up until the beginning of the last century this practice was still carried out in China. Foot binding has been described as the corsetry of the west. In the same way the western culture demanded that a woman should have a small waist to be attractive, the Chinese required tiny feet. Unless a woman had small feet she was un-marriageable and therefore useless. These shoes are actually smaller and narrower the little lead tootsies age 3…but they were still not small enough. To be the perfect golden lotus they should be 3 inches long. Mine are 4 inches….had intended them to be smaller, but they came out too big. Incidentally, the binding process began at the age of 3 or 4 when child’s feet were still small and the bones flexible.

What about “Black Widow” (www.belindadurrant.co.uk/gallery/newwork/images.php?page=gallery), an intricate web of black and a hint of red on an ankle boot? It looks very femme fatale….

Well yes…my work fluctuates between depictions of the trapped and of entrapment. The web is that of the black widow spider. She has flashes of red on her abdomen…she is renowned for eating her mate after sex!

Black Widow, a piece that speaks 'femme fatale' in its symbolism



I detect a running theme of spiders and webs used in some of your pieces: is there a meaning behind this theme?

I use aspects of nature as symbolism in my work…a very old ‘trick’ in art. As I said previously…the spider’s web is the perfect symbol of a trap.

Tell me about your paper creations…it is an interesting medium and one I would imagine is delicate to work with?

Actually the paper-cuts are not so unusual. I came across its use when studying the bound feet customs of China. That is when I started to use it. Its traditional use in China is to decorate windows, usually with red paper, but occasionally multicoloured. There are quite a few western artists who use paper-cut as I have found out since. My personal favourites are Peter Callesen and Sue Blackwell.

It is very tricky to do, but I like a challenge…when it works it really does have a ‘wow’ factor.

The love-bird collection displayed in pairs on branches is a heart-warming and philosophical series. What inspired them?

I really can’t remember…I love birds…I always feed the wild ones in the garden and used to keep canaries until our cat moved in. I like to watch them interacting, just as though they are talking to each other. The love birds are a series of couples, some happy, some arguing…just like in real life…I have it in the back of my head to create an installation of masses of them in an aviary…like a village of people getting on with life…maybe one day I’ll do it!

You include poetic verses on some of the birds. Where do you think poetry meets art?

I know very little about poetry, but see it as an art form which I can only admire from afar. I used extracts from lots of different poems and songs, old and modern as the dialogue ‘spoken’ by the love-birds. It took a long time to work out these dialogues as each pair of birds was ‘speaking’ a different poem or song lyrics, half on one side of the body and half on the other…but it had to look like a conversation from both sides…does that make sense?

What are your favourite verses written on the birds out of the entire love-bird series?

Depending on my mood either Love birds I “Come live with me” Christopher Marlow and “I am not yours” Sara Teasdale or number VI “Never going Nowhere” Bluetones and “We get on” Lily Allen

There is a vulnerability to your work. Do you view it this way?

Well, yes, there can be…as I said it fluctuates between the trapped and entrapment…there is almost always a fragility.

Your series entitled “Relationships” (www.belindadurrant.co.uk/gallery/Gallery3/images.php?page=galleryhas some spooky and spiritual connotations in some of the pieces, especially in “Dark Room”, “Reflection” (the face in the mirror somehow makes me feel uneasy) and the ghost-like “Girl Child”. Was the series so intended?

I made these a while ago……I think they were more concerned with memories. My daughters transition from child to woman…my own memories of my experiences growing up.

Your latest collection focuses on Chinese shoes. Have you been to China? What inspired this project?

No, I’ve never been to China.

I use corsets as metaphor for woman a lot, and as I think I said earlier, Chinese bound feet are seen as the East’s equivalent of the corset…there are lots of comparisons…the fact that the only fate for woman was marriage…that to be married she must be perfect…and that these tortures were instigated by the mother…to give her daughter the best chance in life.

My favourite pair are the Chinese Scorpion shoes (www.belindadurrant.co.uk/gallery/Gallery9/images.php?page=gallery). We have talked a lot about shoes today in the artist sense, but let’s talk about every woman’s favourite thing: you guessed it: it is a shoes question again – where do you like to buy your shoes? Do you have a favourite style you yourself like to wear?

Err..I hate to disappoint…but I am not a fan of shoes… I only wear them to keep my feet warm in the winter and to stop myself piercing them on anything sharp. In the summer my shoes of choice are soft ‘flatties’ or flip flops, the cheaper the better. I’m really lucky that they are still fashionable. And I really can’t ‘do’ heels!!

How can fans and art collectors contact you?

I have a web site www.belindadurrant .co.uk or email belinda@belindadurrant.co.uk

In her thought provoking official artist’s statement, Belinda reflects:-

In the pursuit of perfection, woman has always bowed to the dictates of fashion.

She disguises and alters her shape and as she does so, the clothing instrumental in her disguise becomes a metaphor for woman herself.

Despite its often constricting discomfort and control, its detailed flawlessness reflects somehow, the secret beauty of its wearer. It tempts, entices and promises the heart’s desires.

Through these strange powers the garment becomes itself entangled with, even the object of desire.

But does woman wear such clothing merely to become the object of desire, or does she do so because in becoming the object of desire she is empowered?

I make representations both of the trapped and of entrapment. Which is true?

The work refers to and reflects but also questions the beauty of the trappings used by woman in her desire to be desirable.”

Show Me The Monet is aired weekdays on BBC 2. The series concludes today at 5.15pm. Today’s show will also feature the Barcelona-based sound-and-visual Ashwan from Liverpool, UK.

Read my interview with Ashwan here, at Multilingual Books and on Liverpool.com ‘s Top Stories.



© The Culture Cave 2011. All rights reserved

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