More than 100 artists are opening their studios to the public for this year’s North Yorkshire Open Studios event. Ruth Campbell met one of them, a sculptor who works from an outbuilding at the bottom of her garden

Artist Kay Latto takes inspiration from the woods, hillsides and beaches of North Yorkshire. After all, it’s hard to beat Nature when it comes to the art of sculpting, she says. Everything, from the myriad of textures and natural colours she discovers in weather-worn pieces of driftwood and stone to the intricate patterns on the shells, seaweed and fossils she collects, is incorporated into her work.

Her family jokingly call her collection of animal skulls, displayed next to the fireplace in the living room, her ‘death shelf’. But Kay sees beauty in their shape and form too. “I owe all my artistic vision to days spent interacting with nature and collecting the sculptural pieces I come across,” explains Kay, who is one of 129 artists opening their studios to the public as part of the North Yorkshire Open Studios event in June.

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Runswick Bay is one of her favourite places and she and husband David enjoy walking in the Dales. “We love Littondale, Aysgarth Falls, Bolton Abbey and Hackfall Woods, anywhere where there is a river or waterfalls,” she says.

Working mainly in clay, then reproducing her pieces in bronze, copper, slate or iron resin, Kay specialises in sculpting mythical, classical and tribal heads and bodies, which are dotted about her family home, an elegant, late 19th century Grade II listed villa, complete with a Venetian-inspired tower.

Her artistic flair shines through in the interior design here too. The light-filled rooms with high ceilings, huge windows, stripped wooden floors and attractive period features, offset by the use of muted paint colours and natural textures, make the perfect setting to showcase her work.

Art lovers will be invited to view Kay’s sculptures in her workshop, an outbuilding at the bottom of the garden, as well as in their recently completed grotto, including a unique water feature, which she and husband David designed and built themselves.

Fellow artist Neil McBride, who works from his home studio near York will also be displaying his expressive, semi abstract paintings in the stunning garden room, which was used for storage before Kay and David converted the whole flagstone floored cellar area, which now has glass doors leading onto the patio.

A mother of three grown-up children, Kent-born Kay came to sculpture later in life. Although she worked in computing after leaving school, she had always loved art and grew up creating three dimensional pieces from scraps she found in her father Edwin’s wood yard. A former merchant seaman turned self-taught designer and furniture maker, he ran a ‘fancy goods’ business and used to let Kay loose among the off-cuttings while he got on with his work. “I remember, as a small child, rummaging amongst the sawdust, gathering up swirls of wood shaving, strands of wire, odd shaped bits of wood and to create animals, angels and monsters from the detritus,” she says.

While her children were small and she was living in London, Kay attended pottery classes with artist Olga Breden, who encouraged her to explore sculpture. “That really fired my imagination,” she explains. But it wasn’t until the family relocated to North Yorkshire 18 years ago that she decided to take it up more seriously. She discovered that Peter Hibbard, a former assistant to Henry Moore, was running classes in nearby Middleham. Technically brilliant and extremely precise, he taught her how to mould in silicone rubber to make limited edition castings: “He really sharpened my technical skills,” she says.

As her children grew older, Kay was able to invest more time on her craft, going on to take a diploma in art and sculpture at Harrogate College and, more recently, working with Lake District sculptor Martin Copley to explore the Japanese hand-modelled pottery process, Raku.

Inspired by sculptors including Bernini, Rodin, Donatello, Anish Kapoor and Frederick Hart, she was particularly moved by an exhibition of 17th century religious Spanish art in the National Gallery seven years ago. Influenced by some of the sculptures she saw in The Sacred Made Real show, she started to incorporate some painting into her work, particularly her African tribal heads, which she also adorns with jewellery. “That exhibition made such a huge impression on me,” she says.

Today, working on commissions and creating pieces for various exhibitions, she confesses she spends most of her time in her studio shed, dressed in old clothes and steel capped boots. “That’s how I’m happiest,” she says. She has created hundreds of sculpted heads working out of this tiny red-bricked outbuilding: “The human head fascinates. Each one is so different, so infinitely varied. I spend a lot of time in my shed, I’ve been known to be out here still working at two in the morning.”

She still uses the facilities at Harrogate College once a week. “They have one of the best ceramics departments in the country, their kilns and facilities are amazing, as are the tutors. And it’s also great working alongside other people, bouncing ideas off each other.”

When creating Raku pieces, she smokes her work in sawdust at high temperatures, before spraying with water. “The clay turns black where it is not glazed, creating imperfections, with an aged, crackled effect on the glaze. The whole piece can explode and you lose things. That’s part of the creative risk you take with the Raku process,” she says. “It can be frustrating but this random element of Raku, the unique outcome for every piece, is what I love about it. Also, I get a real thrill from the battle with the elements of air, fire and water harnessing their power.”

The largest piece she has created is a two metre high classical-style fountain cast in bronze, which took two years to complete, for a private estate in the Yorkshire Dales. She and Martin Copley were also commissioned to create a large sculpture inspired by Greek mythology for Higham Hall in Cumbria.

One of her greatest achievements, she says, is the grotto she built with David, which also took them two years to make. Her ‘Hadrian – Man of the Sea’ bronze resin sculpture is incorporated in a water feature made from old, reclaimed stone and surrounded by bricks which she cast herself. She also created a magnificent shell-encrusted mirror and chandelier for the grotto, “We really love sitting out here now,” says Kay, who emphasises that her work is made to be enjoyed.

Kay, who also teaches visually impaired people how to sculpt, wants visitors to her studio in June to touch her sculptures. “It is such a tactile thing. I am always keen for people to feel my work. It’s not just for looking at,” she emphasises.

OPEN STUDIOS

North Yorkshire Open Studios: 129 talented artists, from sculptors and printmakers to jewellers, painters and potters, will be opening their studios in inspirational locations including fisherman’s cottages, rural farmsteads and Victorian workhouses on June 3, 4, 10 and 11.

For more information, please visit: http://www.nyos.org.uk

Other artists include:

*Charlotte Morrison from Masham makes quirky ceramics inspired by vintage designs. W: charlotte-morrison.co.uk

*Andy Dalton is a curator turned printmaker who creates distinctive large black and white prints in Thirsk. W: Andrew-dalton.com

*Chris Moss of Asenby creates wire sculptures of animals, including birds, cats, dogs, foxes and horses. W: chrismossart.co.uk