Sophie Ryder (b 1963) is one of the leading female artists of our time and the youngest student since Turner to enter the Royal Academy Schools where she studied Combined Arts, specialising in sculpture. Although best known for her monumental bronze and wire sculptures, Ryder has never ceased to be fascinated by the opportunities offered by other materials – bronze, wet plaster embedded with old machine parts, sheet steel, marble, stained glass and tapestry. Drawing, painting and printmaking are also central to her artistic practice and are a vital counterpart to her sculptural work.
Read more about her life and work here and see a full range of available prints and miniatures at the links belowVisit exhibition See all works Watch video
SOPHIE RYDER – THE EARLY YEARS
Sophie Ryder was born in London in 1963 to a French mother, Jacqueline Bazin and an English father, Wilfred Ryder, owner and editor of the influential Fleet Street letter. Sophie’s early life was spent between St Margaret’s in Twickenham and the South of France where her mother had a home and where Sophie spent every summer. Her cultured and highly literate family encouraged creativity and craft and Sophie Ryder’s earliest experience with wire was during Saturday morning jewellery classes, which she attended with her sister when they were children. This was also her earliest memorable experience of working three-dimensionally.
‘I started to be an artist long before I knew what the word meant. As a small child I drew and drew, filling whole sketchbooks with families of bumble bees and fish wearing bowler hats and carrying umbrellas. Very soon afterwards I started to make three-dimensional things out of whatever materials came to hand – an early memory is of being taught with my sister to make jewellery out of bent wire’.
Sophie Ryder went to school in London but didn’t feel that her time was being well spent and was already looking to leave at 15, having set her heart on going to art school. After a foundation year at Kingston Polytechnic, Sophie was awarded a place to study painting at the Royal Academy Schools in 1981. At 17 she was the youngest student since Turner to be admitted. Turner joined at the age of 14 in 1789.
ART SCHOOL AND EARLY COMMISSIONS
Although Sophie Ryder was admitted into the Royal Academy Schools to study painting, she soon turned her attention towards sculpture and discovered the potential of wire as a sculptural material, something that has become central to her work ever since. The early wire works were simple, linear forms – 3D drawings in space, but gradually they became more complex and solid.
Shortly after graduating, Sophie Ryder was commissioned to go to Virginia, USA to make 2 large horses out of steel rods. Following this came an invitation to exhibit at an international Art Fair in Zurich and the award of a three-month residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at the recommendation of Elisabeth Frink.
By the late 1980s, the density and complexity of the wire works had increased considerably as did the size and scale. Since her sell out diploma show at the Royal Academy Schools, interest in her work escalated and Sophie attributes her early success to two things: she was one of the first artists to create sculptures entirely out of wire, and she was working figuratively at a time when abstraction was still the accepted norm.
THE LADY HARE AND THE MINOTAUR
Animals have always played a huge role in Sophie Ryder’s life and work and the hare first made its appearance in her work in the 1980s, alongside sheep, horses and dogs. By the 1990s, Sophie Ryder had begun to shift the point of reference away from the natural world towards the more imaginative and dreamlike. Ever since Sophie Ryder first came into contact with Picasso’s vibrant and contradictory Minotaur she has been fascinated by the idea of the hybrid – the chimerical being that is neither entirely human nor wholly animal. ‘In my imagination, these creatures occupy an ambiguous space between wild nature and orderly human culture’.
The hare, an animal enshrined in mystique and folklore, evolved into an imaginary female creature who was half-woman half-hare. Since then the Lady Hare has been a central character in Sophie Ryder’s work and a constant companion to her half-bull half-man Minotaur. ‘Through the medium of sculpture and drawing these imagined beings have the potential to forge powerful images that are charged with a character and emotional intensity that goes well beyond representation’.
Dogs have featured in Sophie Ryder’s work and private life for over 30 years and her close family of whippets are her constant companions and are with her 24/7. So close is her bond with these animals that she can draw or sculpt them entirely from memory, without ever having to use them as models. ‘They are my full-time companions so I am never lonely. The relationship between the Lady Hare and the Dog is very close, just as is my bond with my own family of dogs’. Often portrayed together, Sophie Ryder’s Lady Hares and Dogs are very close whereas in nature, the dog chases and will often kill the hare. In Sophie Ryder’s work, they have reached another state of being and are no longer predator and prey but intimate friends.
PRINTS AND PAINTINGS
Working on paper has always been a vital part of Sophie Ryder’s creative life and drawing is central to her visual language. During her time at the Royal Academy Schools she was encouraged to learn the techniques of printmaking – etching, screenprinting and linocutting. Attracted by the unpredictable magic of creating an original print, Sophie Ryder produced numerous editions of etchings, solar prints, screenprints and linocuts, often experimenting with the same subject using different techniques. More recently Sophie Ryder has embraced new digital technology to reproduce her drawings, often enhanced with screenprint.
More recently, Sophie Ryder’s 2D work has involved a return to the world of drawing, painting and colour, sometimes in pencil, ink, watercolour and gouache on paper. As well as working on paper, Sophie Ryder has also created tapestries and a series of complex wire drawings, some life-size and monumental. The wire drawings bear an uncanny resemblance to pencil drawings when viewed from a distance or as a photograph and demonstrate the artist’s exceptional skills as a draftsperson.
MINIATURE AND MONUMENTAL
One of the remarkable aspects of Sophie Ryder’s work, aside from her extensive output, is her ability to create works on a monumental scale. Her outdoor wire sculptures are massively larger than life but still retain a translucent, airy feel so that the light shines through. Scaling them up from an original maquette, bending thousands of metres of wire and bolting the component parts together takes many months of work. The biggest Minotaurs and Lady Hares have to be made in sections so they are relatively easy to transport and move around.
Although wire is the material that Sophie Ryder has used for most of her monumental work she has always enjoyed the opportunities offered by other materials. Marble, jesmonite and bronze also feature strongly in her work and have been the materials to which she turns most often for smaller sculptural work.
Recently Sophie Ryder has produced a range of miniature bronze sculptures from some of her larger works. These charming bronze miniatures, often small enough to sit in the palm of a hand, possess a beguiling, almost talisman quality whilst still maintaining all the gravitas of the artist’s larger works.
Since the 1980s, Sophie Ryder has been one of the most original forces in British Contemporary sculpture. Now a leading figure in the art world, Sophie Ryder has produced a body of work so extensive and varied it surpasses what most artists will produce in a lifetime. Her wire and bronze sculptures, as well as her drawings, tapestries, collages and prints have placed her amongst the most sensitive artists working today. Seemingly indifferent to market trends and art market fashions, Sophie Ryder remains true to her spirit, iconography and choice of media.
Rarely working to commission, Sophie Ryder continues to explore her own creative development at her studios in Gloucestershire and the South of France where she still spends every summer. Sophie Ryder’s work has been exhibited extensively over the years and remains in many public and private collections worldwide including the National Trust, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath and the Cheekwood Museum of Art, Tennessee. Recent exhibitions from Zurich to Pietrasanta, a major show in and around Salisbury Cathedral and regular exposure at Hignell Gallery in London, and her galleries in Canada and the USA, endorse her reputation as a leading internationally acclaimed artist.
‘Over thirty years my work has taken me in many unexpected directions and I’m quite sure it will continue to surprise me in the years to come. What I don’t expect to change, though, are the three loyal companions who have been with me throughout my artistic journey: my imagination, my love of making, and above all the charming, funny people and animals who have been my constant inspiration. If you ask me what my art means, I don’t have any clever answers. It is what it is. It’s what I have felt compelled to make, and if it gives pleasure to other people that’s a wonderful bonus’. Sophie Ryder