David Farrer has been with the Rebecca Hossack Gallery for thirteen years, during which time he has built up a considerable reputation for his sculpted animal heads. Made from plaster and papier-mâché, these heads are striking representations of the real thing. Mounted on polished shields, their names engraved on brass plaques underneath, they mimic the traditions of trophy hunting. Yet Farrer seeks to undermine the hunting establishment through demonstrating that these animals can be glorified without the need for bloodshed.
In his youth, Farrer enjoyed visiting Leeds City Museum, where he would spend many hours examining the stuffed exhibits. A sense of nostalgia for these childhood displays has undoubtedly influenced the art he produces today. Moreover, the ethical issues surrounding these animals must have struck a chord with the young Farrer. Particularly vivid in his memory was an enormous stuffed tiger that looked completely out of place in a museum in Leeds, despite its jungle backdrop. Later in life, Farrer's appreciation of wild animals would lead him to Africa. He has since made many trips to the continent to photograph wildlife and help conservation efforts.
Farrer conceived the idea for sculpted animal heads in 1995 whilst working in South Africa. He started making African animals out of recycled paper, matching the colours of the paper closely with the animal fur and skin. In some instances, the texture of the dried paper cleverly resembled the skin of animals such as the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus. The structure of each face was carefully recreated, and fold of skins produced by creases in the paper. Varnished eyes and horsehair for eyelashes also add authenticity to these works.
Through his sculptures, Farrer is promoting sustainability, as well as attempting to reverse the trend for trophy hunting. He calls his works "recycled trophies" because they are made from discarded newspapers and colour supplements. He has also reduced his carbon footprint by using sustainable-farmed African Utile hardwood for the shields, which are manufactured by a local joinery.
Alongside Farrer's popular African animal heads are a few native British specimens. Some animals, such as Pig & Pipe (2013), have been given human characteristics with pipes or cigarettes in their mouths. Farrer has also shown his playful side by decorating the heads with funny sentences taken from newspapers. Behind this humour there is perhaps a serious message about humans and animals sharing the same planet together. This is reinforced through Farrer's use of headlines about world events, which encourage thought about today's society and its impact on the environment.
A five-minute walk up the road from Farrer's exhibition on Charlotte Street is the Rebecca Hossack Gallery on Conway Street. Here they are celebrating 25 years of commerce with the exhibition Silver. This is a unique opportunity to see a broad selection of pieces by artists that have worked with Rebecca Hossack over the last quarter of a century. The gallery is also displaying art by the likes of Clifford Possum, one of the founders of the Aboriginal painting movement, and Mathias Kauage OBE – a Papua New Guinean national treasure. These are just a few of the non-western artists famously championed by Hossack.
One of the works that commands attention at the Conway Street gallery is David Whitaker's Mars (2007). A contemporary of Bridget Riley, Whitaker spent decades perfecting colourful optical effects such as those seen in this impressive oil painting. Another eye-catching work is Karen Nicol's Silver Syd (2013). Made from stitched suede skin and embellished with diamonds, this monkey looks resplendent as it catches the light. Nicol has made her name through creating stunningly embroidered textile animals like this one, as well as commissions for fashion labels, royalty and the Pope.
Various artists show their sense of humour throughout the Silver exhibition. Phil Shaw's printed bookshelves display witty book titles and Ross Bonfanti's teddy bears look like they should be soft and cuddly, but are made of concrete and steel. Of particular interest is Holly Frean's A Pack of Artists (2012). Frean has painted a whole pack of cards featuring famous artists' faces in her trademark stripped-back style. The rough shape of a head and a bare minimum of features turn these artists' identities into an amusing guessing game.
Both of these exhibitions demonstrate Rebecca Hossack's fine eye for captivating art. She can also be credited as the first person to bring some of these artists to the UK's attention. Furthermore, there is a decent balance between serious works and those with a hint of humour, such as David Farrer's. One final observation of Farrer's exhibition is that words or photographs cannot fully capture the incredible attention to detail in these sculptures. Like their real-life subjects, the beauty of these animals is best appreciated through seeing them in person.