You might know the artist Fanny Gogh for her work knickerbokaglory which she created using celebrity knickers depicted on the tabloids’ front pages. But since that 2009 creation she has worked with numerous people and businesses, including DIY SOS’s Nick Knowles and the National Football Museum.
More recently, Gogh, whose real name is Sian Absalom, collaborated with RHS Bridgewater in Salford to conjure up the Magical Middle Wood Fairy Trail, of which more later. Her life has always revolved around a love for art and the need to create. From her first drawing of the musician Howard Jones to endless nights on the sewing machine in primary school, it was clear that there was a creative spark from early on.
“When I was younger, even if I just had a packet of felt tips and a book I was happy,” she says. “I used to follow the contours of people’s faces with my eyes and imagined drawing them. I became obsessed with it, but I didn’t think anything of it because I was strange anyway.”
Absalom’s first commission was at Leigh’s Betfred when, in the window, she drew a horse walking into the night to promote the bookmaker’s extended opening hours. Since then, the Manchester-based artist has forged a career exploring a wide variety of mediums rather than focusing on one style of art.
“I’m a multidisciplinary artist, but unfortunately early in my career it went against me really because you find it hard to turn jobs down.” She adds that growing up and having children of her own meant that art became just a job to make money and support her family. Now, aged 51, she says that “I am becoming a new artist – all my girls have gone to university, and I am learning to say no”.
Until September, Absalom’s work was on display at RHS Bridgewater where she worked with a team to create a beautiful interactive walk for families to discover. But how did the project come about?
“Before the RHS was even open, there was a press day and I came and met all the people in charge and started some conversations. After this I was working at a local school and I got involved with the outreach gardener who introduced me to the events manager at the RHS, and from there I started working on my Pride piece.”
She explains how the Pride installation was devised: “I facilitated a workshop on nature with different coloured ribbons and twigs, for kids to come and make wands. I worked with over 500 kids over the course of the workshop. It made me so happy seeing them pretending to do spells in the woods afterwards.”
Following the Pride work, Absalom was asked if she had any ideas for something to do in the summer, and that is where her idea for a fairy trail was born. The trail consisted of eight stops, each with a folklore story accompanied by a piece of art. “Some of the stops on the trail are so simple, but the stories are so fascinating.” Included was the ‘Queen cotton fairy’s crown’, loosely based on the design of Queen Victoria’s crown and reflective of the monarch’s visit to Worsley New Hall in 1851. There was also ‘The Wonderful Wizardee crystal tree’ which commemorated John Dee, former warden of the Manchester Collegiate Church, now Manchester Cathedral.
After the trail was complete, Absalom says that she was “in tears walking around seeing kids ticking off what they had seen on their paper – I knew that I had done my job and made it magical for them”. One little girl came to the trail every week, and the RHS received a letter from another young girl asking if she could put her own fairy dolls along the trail. “The best feedback for me is standing behind the children and watching them get lost in their own magical world.”
Absalom is now working on new commissions but is keen to return to RHS Bridgewater.
“I would love to work with them again in the future. I have loads of ideas and hopefully I will get the opportunity to create more workshops and to produce more events. I think that we are incredibly lucky to have the RHS on our doorstep, it is unbelievable what they have done, and who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by nature.”
Images courtesy of the artist
The Magical Middle Wood Fairy Trail has finished but click here for Absalom’s other projects.
For information about what’s on at RHS Bridgewater, click here.