‘Unwanted junk’: Earth Goddess statue prompts unholy reaction in St Austell

·3-min read

Towering above a square in the Cornish town of St Austell, it is the tallest ceramic sculpture in the UK and possibly the world, a south-west of England answer to the Angel of the North.

But the installation this week of Earth Goddess, which is as high as two doubledecker buses on top of each other, has provoked a reaction commensurate with its scale.

Many townsfolk have expressed horror at the 11.5-metre tall, brightly coloured piece, comparing it to a giant corkscrew or something out of Teletubbies, and suggesting that the £90,000 spent on it could have gone on something more practical.

Steve Double, the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, said 90% of the comments he had seen and heard had been negative. “I accept art is subjective,” he said on Wednesday. “There will be those who love it, there will be those who hate it. That is the nature of art. But this is not what I have chosen and I’m not a fan of it.”

Double said many residents felt it had appeared “out of the blue” without proper consultation and he worried that it failed in its aim of reflecting the area’s age-old china clay industry. “I don’t see how this multicoloured nondescript object links to the china clay industry. Nobody is sure what it is.”

Such has been the reaction that Double posted a statement on his website making it clear he had “no involvement in the decision of the design or location of this statue” and said he would not be at its official opening ceremony this weekend. Most replies to Double’s post were against the sculpture. “There should be an inquiry ... people should be held to account,” said one.

“This is a monumental piece of unwanted, overpriced junk,” said another. “People have called it many things, I think it looks very much like an old style drug syringe. The money should have been given to a much more worthwhile cause to help the people of St Austell who are hard-working but struggling to live these days.”

The artist, Sandy Brown, admitted she was surprised by the reaction. “I’ve not experienced this before,” she said from her studio in north Devon. “But when I look at other artists whose work I admire, like Antony Gormley with Angel of the North or Barbara Hepworth, they were all hugely criticised at the start. It took quite a while. I think that can happen and in time people grow to love it. I think she looks amazing, I’m really pleased with her.”

Alex Murdin, the curator of the Whitegold project – which is behind Earth Goddess and a trail of other smaller ceramic artworks around the town – accepted it was a “Marmite” piece. “I think people will get their eye in, used to the scale of it,” he said.

He said local people had been consulted and that the sculpture had gone through the usual planning process with local politicians and other leaders involved.

One of them, the town councillor Richard Pears, is a fan. “I think I like it, to be honest. I think the purpose of art is to provoke, it’s to be worthy of talking about. A sculpture that nobody gave a damn about would be a complete waste of everybody’s time. I would take a talking point over a boring piece of art any day.”