Catherina Laugel:
sculptress via london

London, England - Hi!  My name is CatherinA, I am French, to be more precise a Parisian!! - and I am a sculptor…  or a sculptress I should say!  I hear some feminists yelling over there.  Hey! Not that I am not one! but I just think it sounds better.  Mind you…  When I think about it, doesn't sculptress rhyme with goddess… ;-)

I am mainly self-taught as far as sculpting is concerned, so I often get asked how I came to sculpting, how I came to discover this special talent...  I guess this is a long story and maybe now is a good time to tell you a little bit more about myself.

As a little girl I don’t remember displaying any special disposition to sculpting and don’t recall building anything else but shaky castles in the sand, but I have always been very creative, very imaginative.  Back then, I wanted to become a fashion designer and all my drawings represented women and men in extravagant and colourful outfits – which may explain why I like Jean-Paul Gaultier’s clothes so much!  A little later, when I learnt to knit, I was quickly bored to reproduce given patterns, so I started conceiving the pattern itself, incorporating points that I had not learnt yet… I guess creativity is what keeps me going, triggers my actions, otherwise I fall into lethargy.

My mentor - when it comes to sculpting - was a boyfriend – also my first “big love” – a New-Zealander and a sculptor himself.  I admired his work in complete awe thinking how great it must be to be able to create such beauty.  When I met him he was working on the sculpture of a tiger’s head in porcelain and was experimenting with various glazes to get the colours right.  I did try several times then to create something - anything! –  but I gave up very quickly when I contemplated the result.

Until one day, I think it was back in 1985 and I was visiting him for the weekend in London.  I was listening to some music, enjoying a glass of red wine, and playing with a bit of wax without thinking while he was working on a new sculpture.  As he came close to me and looked at what I was holding, he exclaimed: “Did you just do that?”.  I then took a proper look and realized that I had modeled the leg of a female dancer without noticing it!  Believe me, I was the first one amazed!  I had always like to draw and use colors, and after a few poor attempts at sculpting I had taken it for granted that I was not gifted for the 3D field.  I realize today that the shift to a different material – my friend used to work in terracotta and porcelain and then started using wax at a certain point – was the key to the emerging of my hidden talents.  Wax is a very sensual medium, I like touching it, kneading it, modeling it…  For me, it really is a tactile experience where you forget the world and concentrate on the material and the feelings it brings about.  Wax corresponds very well to my way of working. With clay you have to cover your works with wet clothes to keep them moist when you don’t work.  That is why Auguste Rodin made so many plasters of his sculptures: to try and keep them at various stages as clay is ephemeral unless you fire it.  Wax, on the contrary, allows me to work on several sculptures at the same time, leaving some unattended for some time without any problem.  However, in summer it can get tricky.  I once came back from holiday, and a friend who was staying at my place had opened all the curtains to let the sun in.  I found my sculpture “Extase” melted up the waist in the sun rays!  (I guess he had been a bit too …hot!  ;-)  You’ll understand when you look at the photo).

It took me a long time to diverge from my boyfriend’s style of sculpting, which was very realistic at the time.  In a way, he sculpted in a modern “michelangelian” way with a beauty conveyed through harmonious forms and carefully observed details.  For a few years I worked on many sculptures which I never finished nor kept as I was never satisfied with the results.  I came to London in 1993 to try and work more seriously on my sculpting and since then, I have found my own style, which still is figurative, but less realistic and certainly more spontaneous.  I don’t want to reproduce a certain reality, which will always be deceptive.  Instead, I try to convey a certain ideal of beauty, I want to express certain feelings that I myself discover buried inside of me.  For example, I used to find the body of pregnant woman quite hideous when I was younger.  And one day, I found this little piece of bark, which had the shape of a fetus.  That night, I drew a pregnant woman dancing and placed the bark inside.  I kept this image inside of me and it came out several months later in “Ode to the Earth”.  It was a way of transcending past emotions and discovering a different beauty dimension! The first sculpture I ever had cast in bronze was actually against my will.  I had been working on this little androgynous torso for weeks and was talking of melting it down as I did not like it any longer.  My boyfriend, who was visiting me in Paris, surreptitiously took it back to London and cast it in bronze as a present.  I was quite mad at him for doing that as I did not deem the sculpture worthy enough of being cast.

Casting in bronze is an expensive process which you only decide to go through, when you feel you have achieved to give the sculpture something special.  I did change my mind when I saw the torso in bronze and patinated in a warm golden brown colour.  It was magnificent  I could not believe I have created something so beautiful.  Time had changed my perception of the sculpture and I was therefore less critical.  It is difficult for me to distance myself enough sometimes and know where to stop. I guess I share here one common point with Giacometti, who often could not decide on where and when to stop perfecting a sculpture.  His brother used to come in his workshop and take pieces and have them cast.  Interestingly, Giacometti also spent some ten years sculpting these tiny little sculptures – no bigger than 10cm – placed on high bases.  Whatever size he would start with, he used to end up with these small sculptures!

Actually, unlike many figurative artists, I don’t work with a life model.  Before starting a sculpture, I rarely have a clear idea of what I want to create.  I start playing with the wax and a shape comes to life which triggers certain emotions, which I try to channel as intensely as possible into my works.  It is a very emotion led and an emotional process.  I absorb images everyday and they stay with me until the day something acts as a catalyst and lets them emerge to the surface of my subconscious.  Sometimes I feel compelled to stare at someone in the tube or in the street because something in them moves me.  I know one day I will get into trouble!  These are the images and the people who really matter for my art.

I first of all sculpt for myself.  But I have discovered that I derive an intense pleasure of seeing people reacting to my sculptures.  Whether they dislike them or love them, it does not matter in a way, as long as I have managed to make them feel a emotion, this is what matters and this is what art is all about for me.

Catherina Laugel
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