Famed for the unique meeting of contemporary art and craft, alongside an innate humour in her work, Lucy Sparrow’s crafted creations have earned her a surprising welcome within London’s urban art scene. Her latest project, The Cornershop, introduced a life-size convenience store stocked with felt and wool creations of everything from cornflakes to KY Jelly to a quiet east London street corner.
We talk to artist Lucy Sparrow about her installation, bleeding fingers and the future of the local cornershop.
Where did the idea for The Cornershop come from?
‘The concept grew out of an idea to create an art installation that would be overwhelming to people visiting. I wanted to create something that was so complete that it drew people into it and surrounded them completely.
‘I also wanted to draw attention to the role that the traditional British corner shop played in society. It was a place open all hours where the community met and swapped gossip and forged bonds. It’s something that’s disappearing with the growth of supermarkets and the loss of the corner shop has adversely impacted our high streets and communities.
‘I hoped that this project would remind people just how much the corner shop cemented life in local communities. So far it’s done just that. Visitors to The Cornershop have chatted, discussed art and reminisced about their own childhood memories of corner shops. My first job was in a local shop and it’s that memory that inspired me to take eight months to assemble each hand-stitched piece and to create a complete installation.’
Was there a reason behind choosing this particular location for the store?
‘Bethnal Green and that part of London still has buildings that once functioned as corner shops. I wanted to bring one back to life to show people what they had lost. The East End was the perfect place to do it as it’s also a growing centre for British art.’
What were your favourite items to make in The Cornershop?
‘One of my favourite items is the McCain oven chips. I used to eat these as a treat when I was a young girl. I remember the brand and the logo well. I really like the colours and there’s a lot of intricate detail. I think it shows my work off well.’
Are there any items you wish you could have made that didn’t make the final stock take?
‘I could have made more wine and bottled beer and I forgot to make bread but maybe that’s best left for the bakers.’
Any occupational hazards of a hard day’s felting?
‘Bleeding fingers, eye-strain and sheer repetitive boredom at times. Generally though I love making stuff or else I wouldn’t do it.’
We hear you had some adventures making The Cornershop – can you tell us a little about your experiences building the shop?
‘The shop was virtually derelict so I had to put down a floor and build some ramps to make it safe for the public to visit. Then I had to cover the walls in white fabric to make it look presentable. I didn’t have water or electricity in the shop so we managed without. The drains didn’t smell too good either but we coped by adopting a good old East End war-time spirit. It was like the blitz… a bit.’
Do you have a favourite cornershop in London?
‘There aren’t many left. I actually love the derelict and abandoned ones in this art of London. They stand like ghosts, reminding us of all that we have lost thanks to our love affair with the supermarket.’
Your work has been a big part of the ‘renaissance’ of crafting. What do you think has prompted this recent rise in interest in knitting and handicrafts amongst young people?
‘I think the financial crash and our slide into austerity brought about a renaissance of make-do-and-mend. People found they could repair and create clothes and that they enjoyed doing it. In an age of mass produced cheap goods from China, the public is dying for some handmade items with soul and passion in them. The people who buy my art can know I made each piece and that it wasn’t outsourced to a sweatshop.’
Any advice for people wanting to take their first stitches into crafts?
‘I’m more of an artist who is using a craft technique rather than a crafter who is making something arty. My next show may well feature a completely different technique. There are some amazing tutorials on YouTube and in magazines that are well worth looking at. If anyone wants to be an artist, I’d say great but be prepared for a long haul. Making your name in art is probably one of the hardest tasks you can ever undertake.’
What is next for Sew Your Soul?
‘I can’t say but you can be sure it will be something that will make a big splash and I’m hoping will be in another special part of London. It’s all a bit top-secret for now.’
The Cornershop is open for business until Saturday 30 August.
Find out more about Sew Your Soul on the website: www.sewyoursoul.co.uk