The papier- mâché animal sculptures of artist David Farrer are often wonderfully lifelike. They almost always have some playful aspects, too: colours a little richer than the real thing, impossibly outsized eyes and eyelashes on a soulful rabbit, or even the surprise of a drink and cigarette in the hands of a cheeky newt.
Most tongue-in-cheek of all are David’s “trophy” heads mounted on wooden shields, some of which you’ll find on the walls at THE PIG in the New Forest and THE PIG-near Bath. “I like to subvert, but with a smile on my face,” David explains.
“When it comes to mounted, stuffed animal heads in particular, I wanted to provide a sustainable, ecofriendly alternative to the real thing. Because if you are doing it that way, rather than being overly preachy, you’re more likely to connect with your audience.” He says he was particularly pleased when a passerby once mistook his animal heads on a gallery wall for the real thing, marched in to complain, then enjoyed the exhibition instead.
Growing up in Leeds, David was fascinated by the dusty, taxidermied animals in his local museum. “They weren’t very well-fenced off, so you could stick your fingers in their ears or down their
throat,” he remembers, rather fondly.
So, when two of his much-older siblings moved to South Africa, he was thrilled to suddenly be able to spend some of his school holidays on safari. David was as enthralled by African wildlife as he was horrified by the coffee-table books he often chanced upon as a child, of big-game hunters posing with animals killed for sport.
“You’d flip through and think for a moment it was a nice book of wildlife photos, then it was just, ‘oh no!’” Ever since then, David has continued to travel to Africa whenever he can, including to Namibia and Kenya, as well as spending plenty of time observing British wildlife near his home in rural Oxfordshire.
He creates all his sculptures in a large studio at the bottom of his garden. Some of his recent work has been creating new rare-breed pig sculptures to adorn the THE PIG-on the farm, when it opens in a 16th century manor house near Stratford-upon-Avon. “I have painted a little mud and dirt and dead bugs onto the pigs – all the kinds of things you would find on the real creatures – and sealed it in with glue,” he says brightly.
David’s Yorkshire White and Gloucester Old Spot pig sculptures for THE PIG-on the farm are towards the more realistic end of his spectrum, whereas his Saddleback pig is decorated with inspirational slogans cut from magazines.
“I find that text can be a nice way to divide a sculpture and highlight contours,” he says. “And I love the contrast of taking text from one context and putting it into another. I once found an interview with John Travolta with the quote, ‘I like to fly twice a day.’ I ended up putting that one on an eagle.”