Preview: Familiars by Mister Finch

In an urban menagerie disguised as a terraced house, Ali Schofield meets Mister Finch, the mysterious artist who you might recognise only as the man who took your old sofa from a skip in Leeds

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There is a touch of the Wizard of Oz about Leeds-based textile artist Mister Finch. He rarely accepts interviews and there are only a handful of photos of the man himself online. It’s befitting for an artist whose otherworldly creatures are based mostly on woodland fauna and fungi and brought to life using reclaimed materials.

“I think being secretive is a superpower these days because people are constantly taking selfies. There’s this endless thing about being in front of the camera,” says the Warrington-born artist, adding that even in his adopted home of Leeds, very few people know of him – despite the fact that he’s toured globally with his book Mister Finch: Living in a Fairy Tale World and has collectors in Japan, London and New York. But that might all be about to change thanks to his first solo selling exhibition in the north, Familiars, at Leeds’s new Anthropologie store.
He agrees to show Big Issue North his new menagerie in his home studio. Based on witches’ helpers, the Familiars include a meditative fox – front paws clasped and carrying a backpack of potion-worthy trinkets – and a human-like figure with toadstools for a head. The exhibits are displayed in glass cases also made by Finch.

Entering the artist’s studio – on the first floor of a modest terrace on the outskirts of the city – is itself like heading down the rabbit hole. “I wanted a library by the time I was 45,” says Mister Finch, 41, smiling as he indicates the leather-bound books lining one wall. Dark curtains drape across the other walls and several chiming clocks drown out the snores
of his elderly black cat Alfie.

“I get quite frustrated when people say, ‘You’ve definitely got a team of people working for you,’ because I just haven’t,” he says, pointing out his tiny workspace. “I work here literally all day and all night to get things done. It’s heaven, being by myself all day, making.”

Previously a dancer, then a jeweller, Mister Finch set about teaching himself how to make larger-than-life insects in fabric eight years ago. One of his earliest pieces, a carpet-winged moth about the size of a Jack Russell, sits on the wall above his ancient-looking sewing machine. “I wouldn’t sell her. I’ve been offered loads of money actually but I couldn’t because I know I’d just regret it. I’ve had so many adventures with her!”

Finch explains how he enjoys breathing new life into old material. “It’s far more satisfying. Like for the moth – there was this house that had been burnt out a few streets back. They were gutting it and in the skip was all this furniture and on top was this half-burnt rug… when you think about it, fabric’s everywhere, there’s always a leather glove on the pavement or an umbrella in the road. It sounds quite poetic but it’s true, and when you’re looking for fabric you tend to see it everywhere.”

The nature that inspires him is closer than people might think, too. “I gravitate towards this fairy-tale aesthetic. I live near the city and people say there’s no nature here, but I say there is, there’s so much, there are endless birds of prey flying over – hawks, peregrine falcons – foxes sometimes come up here when I’m working at night and I watch them running around. There’s still this magic in the city – I think everyone is just blinkered and doesn’t see what’s on their doorstep.”

Familiars runs at Anthropologie, Leeds, Victoria Gate, until 15 January 2017 (

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