Cathy Miles

Portrait of Cathy MilesBird by Cathy MilesShoes by Cathy Miles
Hammers by Cathy Miles
Teaset by Cathy Miles

Midland-based artist Cathy Miles makes quirky, three-dimensional drawings depicting birds and everyday objects out of wire and found objects. Often witty and sometimes eccentric, her pieces burst with vitality and capture the essence of her subjects – be they teacups or rooks – in a deceptively simple manner.


You did your Masters Degree in silversmithing, jewellery and allied crafts at London Guildhall University. What part of your degree was most important to you and how do you describe yourself professionally?

I see myself as a metalsmith. My training in silversmithing and jewellery is a great base from which I can delve into other areas and I use a lot of the silversmithing skills I learnt during my degree such as soldering and manipulating metals. Illustration is also an important aspect of my practice but if I called myself an illustrator I would drift away from craft which is my base. I always work in a craft context but I can see my objects existing in other contexts such as books and animation – for example I love the idea of making my sculptures skip! It’s all about how much you can take on and how well you can do it.

Your sculptures are made primarily from wire. What attracts you particularly to wire?

I’ve always liked working in wire. I used it a lot for making models when I was a student and I found that the finished pieces in sheet metal never looked as good as the original wire models. I’ve always loved drawing and using wire is like drawing in three dimensions. I never make sketches before I start working but draw straight into the wire. It’s a lively and easy material to draw with and because it’s quick to work it helps give my work a spontaneous quality – if the making process takes too long I can loose some of the essence of my subject matter. I also love the spatial qualities of wire and the way the light and shade add an extra dimension to the objects.

What role do found objects play in your sculptures?

If I’m working on a bird, for example, I’ll start by trying to find an object that reminds me of it and incorporate it into the wire form. I’m always on the hunt for different bits and pieces. I use tools raided from old jewellers’ drawers, things I buy in pound shops, on ebay or in car boot sales. The problem with using found objects is that it is often difficult to repeat a piece as it’s difficult to source the same thing twice. At the moment I am experimenting with bigger found objects and making larger birds.

What techniques do you use to make your sculptures?

I’m using more and more different techniques now. At first I just used wire and wire binding, then I started using spot welding and now I use soldering and I’ve started experimenting with different finishes such as powder coating and gold plating.

How important is narrative in your work?

Narrative is the starting point for my work. My bird sculptures grew out of a desire to find a way of combining metalsmithing and narrative. I wanted to tell stories but I didn’t want to use humans so birds seemed a good compromise. They seem quite like humans in an anthropomorphic way and I like drawing parallels between our world and their world. Lately my work has become more about general narrative. I look at the story or the character of an object before I start work and try and capture its essence. For example, a recent project involved talking to old jewellers in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter and I ended up making a piece called Neil’s Shoes inspired by an old man’s box of work shoes – they were random shoes that had been worn in his workshop and were covered in metal dust and full of holes. It’s the character of the objects that I’m interested in. It’s a way of trying to get away from the direct narrative of the wall pieces – to look for new sources of inspiration to prove to myself that I’m not just a bird lady!

Has the way you use text in your work changed over the years?

Text used to be very important in my work, but I’m now trying to incorporate it in other ways. For example I’ll sometimes incorporate the story behind the object in the title. I now make the story behind each piece less obvious and more suggestive so that people can impose their own stories on the objects. I think a reliance on text can be limiting and to progress as a maker I need to move away from it a bit, although narrative is still an important element in my work. Having said that, I am quite interested in doing more books and exploring text that way. I made a ‘Slug Book’ at college about how to eradicate slugs and I have just finished a project-based book for the publishers A & C Black which is coming out next May called Sculpting in Wire.

How would you like to develop your work in the future?

Recently I have become interested in exploring functional objects which have had their function removed so there is just a suggestion of use rather than any actual use. For example, I’ve made tools that people want to pick up but which are actually surprisingly light and therefore useless. I’ve also done a series of over-size teapots. I would also like to work on a much bigger scale. I’ve already done a couple of public art commissions and I would love to make some architectural or structural pieces. I think some of the everyday objects I explore in my work like clothes pegs would be good on a huge scale.