The works of sculptor Ray Exworth are monumental in scale and offer a significant contribution to British contemporary art. In 2011, detailing a small part of Exworth’s huge, though unfinished work The Circus, Kestle Barton presented a landmark exhibition of assemblage in boxes and photographs documenting the work of one of Cornwall’s most reclusive but exciting sculptors.
Born in Ipswich in 1930, Ray Exworth studied at the Royal College of Art from 1955 to 1959. Twice awarded the Arts Council Major Award, he has lectured at the Royal College of Art, Royal Academy Sculpture School and Falmouth School of Art. For the last forty years he has lived and worked in relative seclusion at his home in Cornwall.
The Circus remained in the sheds, slowly deteriorating, and as time went on rats and mice added to the damage. Fortunately Jem Southam, currently Professor of Photography at Plymouth University and a very fine and widely collected photographer, visited Ray and his wife Susie regularly during the 1980s and in so doing was able to make photographs of the work.
In 2015 Ray Exworth died, leaving behind his wife Susie Exworth and the Wroxham Trust to oversee the legacy of his estate; including The Circus, still unseen. Now Jem Southam, a close friend and member of the Wroxham Trust, has returned to Ray’s sheds with his camera, his memories of Ray, and a renewed desire to document and share the life’s work of Ray’s artistic opus. Once again, Kestle Barton is able to feature an exhibition in collaboration with The Wroxham Trust and Jem Southam that both celebrates Ray Exworth’s creative vision and features the photographic art of Jem Southam.
Jem Southam was born in Bristol in 1950. He studied at the London College of Printing for a Higher Diploma in Creative Photography from 1969 to 1972. He is now Professor of Photography at the University of Plymouth. He is known for his large and detailed colour photographs, taken with a large-format camera.
Southam has had solo exhibitions at venues including The Photographers’ Gallery, London, 1987; Cenre d’Art Contemporain, Bruxelles, 1992; Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Australia, 1995; Tate St. Ives, Cornwall, England, 2004; Robert Mann Gallery, New York, 2004; Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, 2005; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2005; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, 2005; and PhotoEspana, Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid, Spain, 2010.
Southam is regarded as one of our key landscape photographers of the last two decades. Southam’s subject is primarily the rural landscape of the South West of England, where he lives and works, so his still life photographs of Ray’s sheds and their hidden contents are a unique subject in his repertoire. At the same time, his work is noted for his observation of natural decay and renewal within nature, as he returns to a single location repeatedly to photograph over differing lengths of time. In this regard his return to Ray’s sheds for another observation several years since his last visit is in keeping with his usual photographic methods…and his photographs shed light on the life of both the artist and the fate of the objects that Ray Exworth made.