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Thu 25th March 2021
British artist, Sarah Gillespie will present 'Moth' at Castle Howard
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British artist, Sarah Gillespie will present Moth at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire (29 May - 5 September 2021), an ongoing project that, for the past two years, has seen Gillespie research, draw and engrave common English moths by way of highlighting their dramatic and devastating decline and celebrating their overwhelming importance.

The exhibition will feature all 22 of the resulting mezzotints as well as a new work, Gillespie’s largest mezzotint to date. Measuring a monumental 2’ x 3’, it features a Peppered Moth, and marks a stark change to a process that is normally measured in inches and not feet. Gillespie will also live onsite in the grounds of Castle Howard itself as part of a month long artist’s residency where she will study its moth
population and produce new works in response, including one created publicly during visiting hours.

Frequently considered a pest, moths are deeply unloved by most humans and grossly misunderstood and overlooked in favour of the more colourful daylight dwelling butterflies. However moths are more numerous and more varied. They are a major part of our biodiversity and hold vital roles in the wildlife ecosystem as pollinators, recyclers, and food for bats and beloved songbirds. Recently and highly
topically, US based pharmaceutical company Novavax has used moth cells to  create its coronavirus vaccine. Moths really do matter. From the silk road to ultra new vaccines life is truly tied up with moths.

Since 1914 it is believed that around 62 species of moths have become extinct in Britain alone. In just the last 35 years the overall number of moths across Britain has fallen by around one third owing to habitat loss, intensive farming, commercial forestry and light pollution. Species such as the well-known Garden Tiger, have fallen by 80% or more. Gilliespie’s work draws attention to this catastrophic collapse while tenderly celebrating their unseen nocturnal lives, exquisite diversity, and the poetry of their common English names. Her use of mezzotint - a labour intensive tonal engraving technique used widely between the 17th and early 19th century - is key in rendering the nocturnal quality of both the subject matter and the works themselves. It is only through repeated careful and gradual scraping and polishing of the copper mezzotint plate that these soft gradations of tone and rich and velvety blacks are revealed. At times presenting themselves in all their astounding detail and at others disappearing altogether, Gillespie’s moths hum quietly, a   gentle reminder of what may disappear permanently.

The creation of the Peppered Moth mezzotint, Gillespie’s largest to date, is of particular relevance to Castle Howard, whose landscaped gardens provide the ideal location for its own large and varied moth population. During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the species experienced a rapid evolutionary mutation, causing it to turn black. The Peppered Moths’ unusual colour change saw it darken in response to its habitat that became increasingly polluted and soot covered, allowing it to camouflage and escape predators. It was in industrial Yorkshire cities, close to Castle Howard, that the phenomenon was observed in 1848, a full 10 years prior to Charles Darwin’s world recognised theories
on natural selection. The introduction of clean air laws in the 1960s saw the previous speckled variety return. Creating a mezzotint on this large scale, measuring 2’ x 3’, has been a significant feat for Gillespie and taken a number of months to perfect. The Peppered Moth will become a focal point for the exhibition, not just for its sheer size but to reflect the tenacity of these creatures and the geographical ties to Castle Howard behind this particular species’ fascinating evolutionary story.

Nicholas and Victoria Howard, say of the exhibition, “We were first introduced to the work of Sarah Gillespie about eight years ago and quickly realised that she was one of the greatest landscape and nature artists of her generation. We are therefore delighted to be hosting her current exhibition, Moth, at Castle Howard and contributing, albeit in a small way, to raising awareness of both the beauty and ecological importance of these magical creatures.”

Throughout the exhibition there will be numerous bookable events taking place at Castle Howard in collaboration with Gillespie and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, highlighting the importance of moths in the natural world. As well as talks, the public will be able to join breakfast and dusk walks, viewing these elusive creatures in their natural habitat, as well as a weekly online live streamed event that will see
Gilespie release moths caught humanely overnight within Castle Howard’s grounds. Gillespie will also demonstrate the work that goes into creating and printing her intricate mezzotints as she creates a new piece inspired by her month-long residency at Castle Howard, the process of which can be viewed in person and real time by visitors. All event and booking information can be found at

Sarah Gillespie: Moth will be accompanied by a revised second edition of the previously sold out artist’s book of the series. The new hardback edition features three additional moth prints, an introduction by multi-award-winning author and naturalist Mark Cocker, alongside a specially gifted poem by Alice Oswald. It is available to buy, priced at £45.00, from Castle Howard’s Gift Shop and directly from Gillespie’s website -

For more information on visiting the exhibition click here.