Dorothy Cross: Damascus Rose

31 March 2022 By
Dorothy Cross, Blue Dive, 2021 (detail) Sodalite, 70 x 30 x 30 cm   Photo: Stephen White & Co. Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, Londo

Friday Dispatch – 1 April 2022

Frith Street Gallery, Golden Square


Dorothy Cross is known for her sculptures, films and photographs that examine the relationships between the natural and the human world. Living on Ireland’s rural West Coast, her immediate environment is reflected in the richly symbolic materials she uses to create unexpected encounters. In the early 1990s, Cross gained attention with a series of works featuring cow skins and udders. Since then, she has continued to work with organic matter, including whale skeletons, skull fragments and, at times, casts of her own body parts.

Cross’s new body of work presented in the exhibition Damascus Rose mostly originates in and is inspired by her time working in Italy at the famous stone masons’ yards and studios in Carrara that is renowned for its exquisite marble. 

The works on display are primarily made from a marble known as Damascus Rose. It originates in Syria and is distinctive for its flesh-like tone and veins of startling colours ranging from deep red to pale pink. For Cross, the red marble immediately evoked the biblical story of the Road to Damascus and the miracle of the enlightenment of St Paul as well as the present violent wars in Syria and in other parts of the world that are forcing people to migrate across borders and oceans to supposedly safer lands.

Red Erratic is a made of a massive block of Damascus Rose marble. It was presented outside the gallery for the opening night of the exhibition because it was too heavy to install in the gallery. On the top surface Dorothy Cross has carved feet, taken from casts of those of friends, including a mother and daughter – positioned as if in an attempt to gain foothold. The sculpture will travel to Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens in Penzance, Cornwall, where it will be located throughout the coming year.

Red Road (2021) is a prominent floor-based sculpture that takes the form of a pathway. It consists of polished red paving stones with carved human feet emerging as if walking on the slabs. The feet are not separate but part of the red marble they walk on. A stark contrast in colour, Blue Dive (2021) is carved from a blue rock called Brazilian Sodalite. It seems as if a pair of feet are diving into and being subsumed by the blue and white stone itself and the colour of the marble carries associations with the sea.

Red Baby (2021) is a small and almost surreal sculpture of a pillow carved from a smaller block of the same red stone Cross used for Red Erratic and Red Road. Here we can see a small ear nestling at the centre of the pillow where a head, maybe of a baby, would leave an impression. This touching work is based on Cross’ own childhood pillow that has been replicated in stone by the traditional carving system of points, using calipers to indicate the sculptural topography. A video by Eoin McLoughlin documents the carving of the work in the studio of Carlo Nicoli in Carrara and gives the viewer an insight into how Cross’s delicate works were created.

Daunt (2021), presented at the rear wall of the gallery, is a tapestry and has a very different materiality to all the other works in the exhibition. The large textile hanging replicates a black and white photograph that was taken by the artist’s father in the 1930s. It depicts a lightship that marked the position of the Daunt Rock off the County Cork coast. The tapestry reproduces the old photograph, and for the artist Daunt is very much about the perils of sea crossings.

The plight of refugees has been a concern of Cross’s work for some time. In our current times that are marked by war and conflict, the intellectually stimulating and visually arresting exhibition Damasus Rose can be read as a memorial to all the people trying to escape from their war-torn countries to Europe.

Christine Takengny
Senior Curator, Museums Acquisitions

Frith Street Gallery, 17-18 Golden Square, London W1F 9JJ
Open Tuesday to Friday: 11:00am–6:00pm Saturday: 11:00am–5:00pm. 

Exhibition open until 14 April.