Lucy Sparrow and I are sitting in the felt cave! On the inside a comfy cavern full of felt shaped goodies whilst on the outside it’s an unprepossessing farmers outhouse. “I’ve had to expand three times already” says Lucy as she walks me through the place where all the felt magic happens.
It’s been a while since we last caught up. That was in 2015 in the heart of Soho, when Lucy’s project at the time, an immersive erotic emporium, complete with peep show cinema was getting the headlines. Prior to that we’d covered her attempt to replicate an entire local cornershop out of nothing but felt and wool! It was to be her breakout moment, the art installation that would put Lucy Sparrow on the map and which would ultimately lead to where we are now.
Interview with Lucy Sparrow
Felt Making Factory
Admittedly, that place is a farm near Saffron Walden! She has moved out of the city in order to get more space and that farmers outbuilding has been transformed. Her projects are getting ever larger so she needs what is in essence a felt making factory and that’s what she’s created. Gone are the days when she could hand sew and stuff products just by herself! Now she has a team of people around her who help to produce the goods including a number of freelance sewers. “All the painting is still done by myself though” she tells me.
By painting, she means the finishing touches! It’s the lettering on a can of beans or anything that needs to be written onto the stuffed felt item in order to make it recognisable as something you might find in a shop. Creating all the original templates and designs herself, Lucy will work out how much of a particular product she needs to produce and then she and her team will cut out the bits of fabric needed. A pack will then be sent to the sewers who will use the kits to replicate the original item.
She’s been busy! Her last show took her to New York, the creation of another convenience store, a Bodega, called ‘8 Till Late’ in a kind of parody of the American 7-Eleven chain, this was another funded by a Kickstarter campaign. She’s also held a number of more gallery focused exhibitions with slots at SCOPE in Miami and at the Lawrence Alkin in London.
Her latest show promises to be the most ambitious. The full boxes packed with cuddly foodstuffs in the felt cave stand testimony to that. “It’s going to be something along the lines of a Sparrow’s Supermarket” she tells me. Her vision is for an eighties themed extravaganza for which she would need to produce over 40,000 different items of felt foodstuffs with 20,000 being on the shelves at any one time.
More and More Felt
To put things into perspective, the cornershop in Bethnal Green housed 4,000 different items. The erotic emporium was 6,000 and her ‘8 till late’ bodega a snip at 9,000. You can double all these numbers of course. What you see on the shelves is just tip of the iceberg. As items get sold, those shelves need to be restocked so you end up having to replenish them throughout the exhibition.
That project in LA does not have a date attached to it yet. Although she is still preparing for it and the day after we speak she is actually due to fly out to the the states. “I’ll say this about the American audience” she says, “they’re not afraid to show a response. If it’s emotional or if they like something, they don’t hold back”. The show in New York after all had people queing around the block to get in.
It’s a long way from those days of the Cornershop and as we talk we reminisce. “It was a gamble” she tells me as she casts her mind back. It took eight months of working full days and pretty much writing off any chance of a social life. There was the kickstarter campaign, stresses over art council funding and the location itself wasn’t fully confirmed until a few weeks prior. All for a speculative ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ kind of idea.
But it worked out and fast forward a few years, it’s been immersive art experience after immersive art experience. The work ethic hasn’t changed either and her home is full of felt. “My mistake is that I always over promise things” she laughs. “I’m like I don’t have time to make any of those things that I’ve promised, I don’t know what I’m going to do. So then I just kill myself doing it.”
A Long Way
There’s no doubt that Lucy Sparrow has come a long way since 2014. “It seems crazy now to think how little I was doing compared to how much I’m doing now” she tells me whilst sitting cross legged on the cutting table of her felt cave and surrounded by piles of felt. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing… You have to just work hard and do as much as you possibly can. You have no idea if anyone’s just going to turn up and you have no idea if anything is going to sell.”
“Not to sound dramatic but that is literally the time my life just went wooosh… I literally never expected what would come out of cornershop”.
Lucy Sparrow was interviewed at her home on 18 February 2018. We have featured her work a number of times on the blog and to read more you can check out some of the articles in our Lucy Sparrow Series. Lucy’s website can be found here.