Naked Christ

The artist


by Michele Coxon


Michele CoxonIt’s hard to reconcile the Michele Coxon who sculpted Christ in agony on the cross with the artist who paints fluffy kittens. She is one of Britain’s best loved children’s illustrators, and her books with their delightful stories and illustrations have sold over a million copies worldwide.

Her sculpture ‘The Naked Christ’ emerges like a protest against her sentimental animal books, and she was quite pleased with the Shropshire Star editorial that compared her crucifixion to a “decomposing corpse dug up from a mass grave in Bosnia”. This outburst prompted some equally earnest responses in the Shropshire Star’s Letters section.

Born in Folkestone, Kent and educated in London Michele has always drawn and painted since childhood. At 16 she enrolled at the Royal Leamington School of Art. Michele Coxon certainly falls into the exception category, with a career history which has taken her to the USSR as a nanny and teacher of art and craft; to Ireland to look after horses; Africa studying and drawing wildlife; Wales tagging seal pups, and to Scotland to guard rare osprey for the RSPB, Meeting her late husband, warden of a bird reserve in the Outer Hebrides and wildlife author, gave her the opportunity to paint and draw from nature and to illustrate his first book ‘World of an Island’ But it wasn’t until years later and after writing and illustrating 16 books she was able to go back to college and study sculpture.

As part of her sculpture course, at Shrewsbury College of Art and Design, Michele learnt the techniques of welding metal, working with textiles and ceramic. “After years of working with a 00 brush, and confined to a tight chocolate-box subject, it was like releasing another person – a rush of creative energy. I saw the countryside on my walks in a different light. Instead of pretty flowers and peaceful hills I saw nature’s natural cycle of death and decay. I walk and watch as the seasons change and mankind’s rubbish is taken back into the earth to rot.”

Other works

Her ‘Cheetah’ pot won the Victoria and Albert Museum Prize for glass and ceramics in 1999. This was on show at the museum along with a sculpture and two paintings called Entombed, inspired by medieval tombs and Egyptian mummies.

‘Blair Says The Countryside Is Open’ was done in anger over the Government’s handling of the Foot and Mouth outbreak. It is of a life-size sheep lying dead, and won the Welsh Oriel Open prize in 2001. The judges said, “This work shows an outstanding use of materials sourced from the local environment to express a topical issue, and an especially sensitive combination of found and worked material”. It is not known what Limpik Opik thought when presenting the prizes!

‘New York Altar’ was created one week after 9/11. It portrays her personal nightmare vision of the Twin Towers. “I had been in America for a month and just returned to Britain when the terrorist attack took place. Some people were shocked by the sculpture. Their reactions were a surprise to me, and implied that an artist should never create a work of art from any subject that is upsetting. That would leave a lot of empty spaces in our galleries for fluffy kittens, puppies with bows and tearful children!” The sculpture is 3' 6" × 4'. and made from metal with a wooden base.