Having put her career on hold to help her husband launch Marlow’s Michelin-starred The Hand & Flowers gastropub, Beth Cullen Kerridge is back to what she does best…
‘I’m not used to talking about myself, it’s quite weird!’ laughs Beth Cullen Kerridge. The self-styled ‘cheeky’ artist is preparing for her solo sculpture show, Super Suits (the follow up to her Empty Suits exhibition), hosted by Beautiful Crime at London’s Gallery Different. The show features striking hollowed-out, suit-shaped marble and bronze figures, taking a swipe at those who contributed to the early struggles she and her celebrity chef husband Tom Kerridge endured while launching The Hand & Flowers gastropub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
‘Empty Suits was about the lazy people, the “computer says no” people, all those really infuriating people we came across when trying to open The Hand & Flowers – from bank managers to the man who sells you cutlery. We all know them!’ says Beth who works out of her studio – the converted garage of their old house – in Bisham.
‘I’m still being a bit cheeky but there are a lot more positive Super Suits in this exhibition – the people you don’t necessarily see but who I’m glad are there. The Hand & Flowers is 10 years old and we now have a great bunch of people we work with; we look after them and they look after us.’
Beth studied at the Royal College of Art and, in 1994, was the first artist to be presented with the prestigious commission for the Napoleon Garden Sculpture exhibition in Holland Park. She went on to work with the likes of Eduardo Paolozzi, became a studio assistant with the great Sir Anthony Caro and was commissioned to create four sculptures in her native Stoke-on-Trent – work that provided the initial funding for The Hand & Flowers. In 2005 she put her art career on hold to throw all her energy into launching the gastropub with Tom.
‘It was an easy decision to take, but it was tough to follow through,’ admits Beth. ‘I said I’ll give you three years and it ended up being more like six or seven. I was the maintenance man, the accountant, the bookkeeper, front of house… which was great because it gave Tom the space to breathe and develop. And I’m one of those people who can’t really get going in my studio until everything’s tidy in the mind, if you know what I mean.’
‘After about five years I built one of my first suits during my afternoons off, but until I could afford to get it carved, I kept it on a mannequin in the loo at the office at The Hand for a couple of years. We had to give it a name so it didn’t frighten the girls, we called it Steve!’
Yet Beth is quick to credit Tom with the mutual support he has given her in rekindling her passion; indeed his 40th birthday gift to her was some studio time and marble at the famed Carrara quarry in Italy, where Michelangelo once worked.
‘Tom kind of pushed me away from The Hand specifically so that I didn’t leave my passions behind. So I have to thank him for that – he’s been very good at not losing sight of my goals either,’ says Beth.
The next project they will share is what Beth happily refers to as their ‘live sculpture’ – their first baby, due in December. ‘I’ve made sure Tom’s not doing anything for a month after the baby’s born,’ she says. ‘He is incredible, I’ve never known a work ethic like his, but he needs a break. I’m looking forward to the baby arriving for the rest, to be honest, but everyone keeps saying, “Yeah, right, you’ll learn!”’