'Bull' © Dorcas Casey. Image courtesy of the artist

Artist Spotlight: ACS Studio Prize Winner Dorcas Casey
October 12, 2021
In the latest instalment of our 'Artist Spotlight' series, we talk to ACS Studio Prize 2021 winner, Dorcas Casey about her work, how her practice will benefit from the £4,500 Prize and what projects she has coming up next.

What does it mean to you to win the ACS Studio Prize 2021?


It really means a lot to me to win the ACS studio prize. The financial support is amazing and the encouragement for my practice has really put the wind in my sails. It’s a lovely feeling to have been given this support and is a huge boost to my creative confidence during what has been a turbulent couple of years for the Arts. I really feel like my practice will evolve and grow as a result of this support and I can’t wait to start making new work.


You have recently won a FRESH 2021 Award at the British Ceramics Biennial, tell us about the work you had on show.


For the British Ceramics Biennial two of my ceramic sculptures were selected for the FRESH exhibition; my installation of writhing glazed ceramic leeches inspired by the tale of Bristol legend; Princess Caraboo, and a sculpture I made during lockdown called ‘Pain for Home’ made from black clay and soil from my childhood home. It’s a monument to feelings of longing and dislocation.


As the winner of the ACS Studio Prize 2021, you will receive £4,500 in funding towards a studio. How do you envisage your work developing in the studio space?


I’m planning to develop several strands of my practice this year and see where they overlap; I intend to explore ways of making meaning through ceramics combined with other materials and also to develop more sculptural costumes and the potential for more performative elements to my work. I am interested in how these two different ways of working could develop into public sculpture.


This prize will allow me to broaden my repertoire of materials and give me the space to work on ambitious large-scale work. I will be able to work energetically on multiple pieces simultaneously which will create dynamic crossovers between materials and objects.


I am particularly interested in recent research into largely forgotten female sculptors and their public works and am interested in picking up the threads of this to eventually develop into ambitious sculpture that could be sited outdoors. This award will have a huge impact on my potential to grow and evolve my career as a sculptor

Why do you think it is important for emerging artists to be supported by opportunities like the ACS Studio Prize?

I think these opportunities are so important. It can be very difficult to keep yourself afloat as an early career artist and a studio is a crucially important space where you can be part of an artistic community, and have the space and freedom to make, to dream, to think and to step out of everyday life.

A studio is a real sanctuary for a different way of thinking and letting new ideas grow.


Your piece ‘Beasts of the Uncanny’ was featured at the iconic Glastonbury Festival, what was it like exhibiting outside of a traditional gallery space?


I grew up in Glastonbury and the Festival has always been such an important explosion of art and culture for me and it also feels like it has an authentic link to ancient ideas of yearly fairs, renewal, festivities and the carnivalesque.


I love situating my work there because I feel like it plays on these ancient ritualistic elements of the festival and it feels very significant to me to be a small part of that festival lineage. I don’t think you could find a more receptive, curious and playful audience as you do at Glastonbury Festival.



What has been your experience of finding and funding a studio space since graduating?


Finding space to make sculpture can be difficult and paying monthly rent for studio space can mean working longer hours in other jobs which then means less time in the studio to make work and develop my practice.


There is a lot of juggling involved to support myself as an artist and studio rent is a big factor in this.


Can you describe for us the process and ideas behind your mixed-media animal sculptures, such as ‘Iguana’, ‘Sow’ and ‘Bull’?


I am interested in exploring the figurative language of dreams.


My fabric sculptures ‘Bull’ and ‘Sow’ are hand-stitched out of socks. They are creatures that appeared to me as recurring motifs in dreams and I became fascinated by the process of turning something as familiar and mundane as socks into something powerful and haunting. I think of this as a reflection of the way we dream. The unconscious often presents us with something mundane that is charged with a powerful emotion, the familiar becomes unfamiliar.

I made the iguana as part of an artist’s residency in a school. I collected textured domestic objects like cut glass vases, brooches and toys. Students at the school made playful marks, drawing and impressions in wet clay using these objects. We all worked together to make casts of these clay slabs using plaster. I then painted liquid latex onto the plaster in layers. When this dried it became a flexible textured ‘skin’ preserving all the detail from the impressions and marks made by the students, recording fleeting actions and thoughts.


I made an elaborate mould and cast the finished iguana in Jesmonite and Iron powder onto an old ottoman. The iguana was another dream image. I like to implant these mysterious things, that come from the margins of consciousness, back into everyday life to fuel imagination and stories.


What do you have coming up over the next year?


I have an exciting year coming up. I am currently working on a Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) project exploring ceramic sculpture supported using public funding by Arts Council England. This is proving to be an interesting trajectory in my practice. I am very much looking forward to continuing with my Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) scholarship in bronze casting, which has been on hold due to the pandemic. Through this scholarship I am learning the intricate process of casting my own sculptures in Bronze.


I have just been awarded a FRESH 2021 Residency from the British Ceramics Biennial so I will be spending a month in the Guldagergaard International Ceramics Research Centre in Denmark which will be an exciting adventure and fantastic opportunity to develop my ceramic sculpting skills.

This year’s ACS Studio Prize was judged by artists Paul Huxley RA and Bob and Roberta Smith RA, alongside ACS Managing Director Harriet Bridgeman CBE. The panel deliberated over a shortlist of 27 artists from the UK and Europe, before unanimously awarding the Prize to Dorcas Casey.

Find out more about Dorcas Casey’s work on the artist’s website and read more about the ACS Studio Prize on our Prizes & Bursaries page.