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Katie Cuddon

Katie Cuddon: A is for Alma

Published on: 19 February 2024

A is for Alma is Newcastle University artist and academic Katie Cuddon’s first solo exhibition in the city for 15 years.


The works on display all date from after the birth of the artist’s daughter in 2018. They explore the union between mother and child and  the emerging dialogue between them.

Cuddon, a Reader in Fine Art at Newcastle University, is best-known for her clay sculptures, and A is for Alma presents a group of clay forms that feel both instinctive and playful. The artist’s approach to her material is highly refined, but also resonates with the spontaneous experiments and gestures of childhood. For Cuddon, clay is a material many of us can associate with our first experiences of shaping matter as a child using Play-Doh and plasticine, materials ‘made to mimic clay’.

The exhibition’s title evokes the ABC books read to small children: in A is for Alma, Cuddon will exhibit for the first time a clay alphabet of hand-modelled letters. These new forms, drenched in inky-blue paint, encourage us to reflect on the precarious and unreliable nature of language as a construct of the ‘adult’ world. In contrast to the letters, the semi-figurative sculptures that the letters are displayed alongside represent an intense emotional intimacy. The letters as signifiers threaten to intrude into this state.  If inspected closely, they have been bitten into, torn, to represent mother and baby ingesting and ejecting these external constructs. Their varying states of destruction act as a reminder of their materiality outside language; they also register the infant’s fundamentally oral way of exploring and getting to know the world before language.

In an interview with Skye Sherwin, Guardian, June 2023, Katie Cuddon said: The relationship you have with a small child is incredibly physical. I felt extreme emotions and confusion: was I one or two people? It’s a really interesting place to think about sculpture from."
An artwork on display in A is for Alma by Katie Cuddon

Dark to light

Visitors to the exhibition will encounter a subtle progression from dark to light intended to evoke the intensity of the 24-hour cycle for new parents and a sense of moving from the intensely intimate, interior world of mother and infant into the external world. The exhibition explores the private and domestic realm of mother and child as somewhere on the edge of the outside world. It is a beautiful space but can also be unsettling in its isolation. 

The sculptures are situated on old chairs and other items of wooden furniture from Cuddon’s studio, their position apparently both precarious and part of a gestational and private - rather than a gallery - setting. Cuddon has described her pieces as being ‘like bodies’ sitting on their chairs. The empty chair in the exhibition space presents an invitation to visitors to sit down and enter this bodied, sculpted world of mother and child.

Lizzie Jacklin, Keeper of Art at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums said: ‘We are so excited to showcase Katie Cuddon’s recent work at the Hatton Gallery. Her powerful new clay sculptures feature the marks of human hands and teeth, evoking the physical nature of language and early motherhood. These pieces have a mystery about them that invites us to sit a while and experience something out of the ordinary.’

 ‘A is for Alma’ is an outcome of a recent larger research project in which Cuddon explores the relationship between clay and language. This work has been supported by the Leverhulme Trust and an Arts Council of England Project Grant. 



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