Canwood Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of the work of Nicole Farhi in their main gallery accompanied by an exhibition in the Turbine Hall of invited artists, from Royal Academicians to early career artists, all with a connection to Farhi.

Nicole Farhi first made her name as a fashion designer and is now making a new name for herself as a sculptor.

Farhi studied art and fashion in Paris in the late 1960s. Her career as a fashion designer took off so quickly that she put art aside and concentrated on fashion. However twelve years later, having started her own business and feeling restless, she decided she wanted to return to making art. A sculptor friend introduced her to Jean Gibson, (1935-1991) a gifted artist and inspirational teacher. Farhi recalls that Gibson gave her some clay, asked her to make a torso there and then.

Jean said “I’ll only take you if you have something to say – otherwise, it’s a waste of time,” When Nicole had finished, Jean took a good look at it. “I’m taking you on – come back on Wednesday,” she said.

“I went to my car and I burst into tears – I was so emotional,” recalls Nicole. “You see a door opening to another world. I’m emotional just to think about it.”

Farhi went on to attend Gibson’s evening classes twice a week throughout the 1980s. In 1985, as she was casting her first bronze, she met Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005). He was interested in her sculpture and offered to tutor and mentor her, and then became a very close friend. He urged her to try out other media such as plaster and wax, but she quickly knew they were not for her.

Farhi knew that sculpting was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life but for over 30 years she had to fit her sculpture around fashion. In 2010 when the Nicole Farhi label was sold, Farhi realised this was her way out. Two years later she showed her last collection and then walked away from fashion. “Now I sculpt every day.”

Farhi's work and primary interest has always been rooted in the human form and the emotions it elicits. The exhibition in Canwood includes a range of work spanning Farhi's career as a sculptor from her earthy female torsos that echo the strength and simplicity of Neolithic clay female torsos. They have an ageless quality to them and remind the viewer that clay is the primeval material that comes straight out of the earth, and was the first material man used to make sculpture.

Farhi’s engagement with clay is very visceral and emotional, and she loves to work with it whether she is sculpting hands, busts of famous friends or her most recent work the torsos of voluptuous women, some of which will be on display. “Large women are beautiful – flesh is wonderful!” she exclaims.

These Rubenesque women are a world away from the models she used to work with during her previous career. “It’s about the sensuality of the flesh, the beauty that large women have,” she says. “For me, it’s a complete antidote, obviously, to everything I did before, to work on larger bodies. But it’s also very important for me to show that you expect to see beauty in a slim person, when beauty is in everything and everybody.”

Nicola Fahri and Friends runs at the Canwood Gallery in Checkley until Sunday, September 15. For further details, call the gallery on 0777 613 8668