Caught by the River


30th August 2020

From 12 September – 31 October, at the beautiful and off-the-beaten-track Kestle Barton gallery in Helston, Cornwall, runs an exhibition of handprinted mezzotints of moths by British artist and printmaker Sarah Gillespie.

This show represents the culmination of an eighteen month long project, researching, drawing and engraving common English moths.  All twenty-four of the resulting mezzotints and a selection of silverpoint drawings will be seen together for the first time.

In her Artist Statement, Gillespie writes:

‘I didn’t choose moths – they arrived in search of me.

Or, better put, they emerged over a period of years. In the summer months, they became ever more present, ever more insistent until there was no ‘choice’. They had come out of the night, with all their powdery fragility and found me…their fragile winged emanations speaking urgently of the dark, of the earth, of all it is we cannot see.

So, the question was, how to respond? I found in their short lives a glory that comes from participation in the whole complex, entangled fabric of life but in general Moths are misunderstood, overlooked and deeply unloved. There are few references to them in literature; even the Bible refers to them negatively, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt’.

The work of artists and poets has always been to awaken our attention, to show what is unseen, to love what is unloved. That work feels urgent now. Modern life may be brightly lit but our attention to the lives of so many creatures has largely slept and the damage has been enormous. Since 1914 there have been around sixty moth extinctions in Britain alone. In the last thirty-five years, the overall number of moths countrywide fell by around a third. Some like the well- known Garden Tiger, whose caterpillars are the main food of our much-missed cuckoos, have fallen by 80% or more.

We have to start by opening our eyes. To quote Rachel Carson, “the more we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

So, this is my response, my rebellion. If what I have been given is the ability to focus, to pay attention, and if there is even the remotest chance that in attending lies an antidote to our careless destruction, then that’s what I have to do – to focus. It’s not enough but it’s necessary.’

From top: Common Quaker, White Ermine, Eyed Hawk Moth, Four Spot Footman. All ©Sarah Gillespie.

The gallery is open Tuesday – Sunday, 10:30am – 4pm, and is free to enter. More information here.

MOTH is accompanied by a limited edition artist’s book with a new poem by Alice Oswald. You can buy a copy here.