N A R R A T I O N S & F A B R I C A T I O N S


    My only encounter with a Death's-head hawkmoth was in Kensal Green Cemetery, on the grave of the nineteenth century 'Colossus of Equestrians', Andrew Ducrow. His Greco-Egyptian mausoleum is - as you would expect of a circus performer - large and impressive, just like the moth.

    Moths fascinate and repel me in equal measure. I may even be Mottephobic, such is their affect, but that day, standing beneath the shadowy trees, barely breathing, the sight of this largest of British moths (it has a 12cm wingspan) was extraordinary and memorable.

    The Death's-head hawkmoth has a sinister reputation, doubtless due to the skull motif on its thorax that gives it its moniker. The Latin names of its sub-species: 'atropos', 'lachesis' and 'styx' are taken from Greek myth and all relate to death. These are brazen moths that raid beehives for honey undisturbed due to their ability to mimic the scent of bees, and if irritated in the world beyond, will produce loud, mouse-like squeaks.

    The Victorian entomologist Edward Newman wrote: "…let the cause of the noise be what it may, the effect is to produce the most superstitious feelings among the uneducated, by whom it is always regarded with feelings of awe and terror."

    Its literary associations with the supernatural and evil have indeed fostered superstitious fear and bad omens. The species unsurprisingly features in 'Dracula', as well as works by Poe, Hardy and Keats, and is cinematically recorded in 'Un Chien Andalou' and 'The Silence of The Lambs'.

    There is even a specimen in the Museum of Zoology at Cambridge, retrieved from the bedroom of George III by his physician during the monarch's second bout of 'madness' in 1801. Though I don't know which is the more intriguing; the eerie insect or the story of its regal provenance…

    All of this caused me to return to my box of human hair, which en masse shares a tonal colour palette with the Death's-head hawkmoth, yet never seems to diminish. The ever-lasting - mothproof - properties of the medium (and wanting create something substantial to make a dent in its content) made hair the appropriate choice to capture a Death's-head hawkmoth, albeit one ten times its size.

    This work will be on display in my studio alongside other new pieces during Cockpit Arts Open Studios from 9 to 11 June 2017 - should you wish to see it in the flesh…

    Opening times:

    Friday 5 - 9pm, Saturday & Sunday 11am - 6pm

    Cockpit Yard, Northington St, London WC1N 2NP

    Main image: Igor Siwanowicz

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Artist Jane Hoodless presents a personal glimpse at some criminal, cultural and curious aspects of British social history, and shares a little of the inspiration and research behind the work she creates.

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