Photoshoot / Thinking Titles

Not happy with the previous photographs I took of my work in the photography studio, the light being too dramatic and the darker colours of some of the glazes not standing out against the dark background, I decided yesterday to stage a photo shoot in the concrete and glass walled exhibition space of the CSAD foyer, with much more successful results. Being more diffused the light didn’t bounce too harshly off the surfaces from one direction like before. Uploading the new photos to my website this afternoon I realised I’m lacking details about each of the pieces, firstly their dimensions and secondly, the pieces don’t yet have names. While this isn’t crucial to my degree, it will help if I want to use the images for other purposes later on.

Over Easter I visited Kate Haywood’s exhibition ‘Traces’ as part of The Language of Clay at Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s ceramics gallery. The mysterious and delicate porcelain pieces, highlighted in places by flashes of blue, green or pink glaze with details gilded in bright gold leaf, hint towards function but leave us guessing. Coloured ropes like curtain tassels are attached to some of the pieces, suggesting they are somehow to be hung or worn on the body. The visual link to jewellery pieces is not surprising considering Kate’s background in jewellery design.

One of the things I particularly liked about this collection is the choice of names given to the individual pieces. The names could have come straight out of Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Lif they sound at the same time so bizarre and familiar. Gads, Lidden, Peggle and Cora are just some of the examples. Others, such as ‘Shirr’ seen below with a gold covered brush model sitting on top of it, have links to the visual object. To shirr is to gather fabric into parallel rows and the sculpture shows porcelain carved into a mimic of gathered fabric. Dalloop is more of a mystery as there is no record of it in the dictionary but it still conjures up the idea of a ‘ye olde’ tool or utensil of some kind. Seeing the objects laid out as they were in the glass cabinets reminded me of the objects on display at the Viking Ship museum in Oslo, pieces of broken equipment and jewellery, often with extremely detailed and intricate carvings, sometimes gold and often difficult to figure out how they would have been worn or used without reading the museum guide. Detached from time and context the everyday objects we use today would similarly be objects of mystery – paperclips, screwdrivers and washing-up sponges all require a network of other things around them on which they depend for us to understand their function.

In a similar way to Haywood’s work my vessels also bring with them an expectation of function with their familiar utilitarian forms of jugs, cider jars, vases and a teapot as well as the mysterious legs some of them sit upon, connecting them to cooking tripods and architecture. In other ways our work is very different however. Key to my own sculptures is the contrasts in processes involved in the making, a play between the flowing, undulating thrown forms and the harsh, clean lines of the extruded shapes that pierce through them. The fight against gravity during the making process is also illustrated through the slumping clay walls, warped supports and pooling glazes. Haywood’s sculptures are so meticulously carved, to some extent you forget they are made from clay. There is though, an intimacy to both our work I feel, to hers because of the small, pocket sized scale and because the objects are placed so carefully together. Each piece is unique too which suggests a kind of personalisation. I think mine are personal in the way they are cut and put back together. When things break that we don’t particularly like, we throw them away to get a better one, but when things important to us break, we fix them.

Having considered these things, what then should I call my sculptures? Giving them individual names moves them even further away from the traditions of Leachian pottery and traditional craft they are references of, placing them much more in the sphere of fine art objects. Since the underlying mission of my degree show project has been to understand the vessel through a cyclic process of dissection and repetition, it could be fun to choose for each one a title that’s a synonym for vessel or container. There are over 50 Swedish words for snow, and the English language has similar gradients of meaning I could use ‘receptacle’ to ‘bin’…

Above: Images of Kate Haywood ‘Traces’ at Aber Arts Centre.

Visit to One Wall Studio/Tradition and Modernism

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been to visit various artist studios in Cardiff with the hope to get a better impression of the Cardiff art/ceramics scene in preparation for after graduation. One of these was One Wall studio, a ceramics workshop in Adamsdown set up by Jack Welbourne and Arthur Goodfellow in 2017, both graduates of the ceramics course at CSAD. The upstairs of the industrial unit building houses an exhibition space while downstairs is the workshop with shimpo wheels for pottery classes. Jack showed us the kick-wheel he works on that sits in the corner, explaining that he built it while still at university. His pots are functional, reduction fired stoneware, intuitive rather than designed to be precise and following in the rich tradition of British country pottery and the likes of Leach and Batterham. He uses local clays and wood-ash on a rich, coarse clay body, the ashes with additions of different feldspars to give them subtly different surface textures. It’s fascinating to see someone working almost as the archetype of a country potter in such an urban setting.

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Pots by Jack Welbourne

Interestingly Jack doesn’t sign his work which raises the question of why do I sign my own pieces? Shoji Hamada famously never signed his pots believing instead that the work was signed by the nuances of each individual maker’s hand at the different stages of the making process. Is it romantic to put your work out into the world as the product of an ‘unknown craftsman?’. I have begun this year to sign and date my sculptural pieces, partly as a way to keep track of when I made things for myself, partly out of pride and partly out of a hope to one day help future educators in ceramics. It’s of great interest to me that many younger potters like Jack and Wichford Potter Charlie Collier insist on making a living in the tradition of country pottery today. Rather than fully committing to a life of making vessels in this way, I feel like I prefer to peek in to this way of life and making from the outside, subverting this British/Eastern tradition by making forms that reference it but are distinctly function-less and sculptural while still not quite crossing the line into sloppy craft. Reading Leach’s potters book feels to me a bit dictatorial, as if there is a correct beauty, aesthetic and taste.

I really enjoyed reading this article I found today (below). It’s a few years old but I think still relevant and although designed to entertain more than to really critique contemporary craft, it raises the interesting point that ‘The serious modern potter is a priest of a nobler, simpler way of life’  but that the result of this is that modernist ceramics inspired by Hans Coper and Lucie Rie is dull because it has a ‘holier-than-thou morality, sexless artistic restraint, and oatmeal puritanism.’ It reminded me of Grant Gibson’s interview with Edmund de Waal for the Material Matters podcast on porcelain in which de Waal talks about ‘needy’ pots, pots which are so humble they are almost passive aggressive in their modesty. I love what these humble pots stand for, of quietness, mindfulness and introspection but equally I can find this minimalist aesthetic lacking humour, and their seriousness can be alienating. I appreciate a Morandi though as much as a Picasso painted jug and I feel my own work is an attempt to balance on a precipice between the dull and the excessive, the safe and the chaotic and fractured.

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Ash glazed vessel by myself

Link to article: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2015/nov/05/modern-pottery-leeds-bbc-the-great-pottery-throw-down

 

Answers on a Postcard

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The Answers on a Postcard exhibition is a collaborative project between ceramics courses in Wales, Iceland, Ireland and Sweden with the idea being that the postcards we make in some way represent the country from which the objects are being posted. My submissions arose from a process of making which is relatively new to me – throwing and altering the thrown sections, destroying, re-inventing and re-building forms. The process illustrates my own turning inside out of and re-defining my own definition of what it means to make pots. Working previously with functional ware, I am trying to contain traces and references to this tradition but also questioning the values of this tradition and skill in the contemporary craft world.

In a wider sense, my shift in process and attitude towards making stems from my six months abroad in Gothenburg where, living away from the culture I was familiar with, I began to redefine what it means to be Welsh. My relationship with this country where I was born and grew up has always felt complicated. Bad memories of Eisteddfodau as a child and the isolation of growing up in a tiny Welsh village where everyone went to church as well as my disinterest in rugby give my a confused Welsh identity. I am proud to be from Wales but as a fluent welsh speaker without an accent my identity feels distorted from what is expected of me.

My identity as a Welsh person is still shifting constantly as I grow older. With Brexit on the horizon as well comes a new definition of what it means to be British. My fractured, torn and warped postcards reflect these ideas about Welsh identity. Rather than giving answers, these postcards perhaps raise more questions and uncertainties. High-fired to 1280C, past it’s optimal firing temperature, is the terracotta stronger or more brittle?

 

London Visit Day 1

Collect 

I visited Collect for the first time a couple of years ago but at the time I don’t think I understood exactly that it was a bringing together of international craft and design galleries, each with their individual focus and themes, and that many of the galleries were nearby enough in London to visit within the same trip. This time, one of my first impressions was surprise at the use of bright acrylics to decorate ceramic in Matt Sherratt’s work. Perhaps my views are prejudiced having studied on a purely ceramics BA, but having tried it myself, I now view painting ceramics as a lazier, quicker alternative to glazing and value much more the depth and subtle variations in glazes. In the same gallery as Sherratt’s sculptures (the Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections) I also found one of my favourite works in the show, Danish artist (and recent RCA graduate) Theis Lorentzen’s ‘Remnants’, £3000 assemblages of what look like collapsed terracotta vessels with a tin/lead glaze breaking at the edges. To create them, slabs of clay are cut or torn straight from the bag and thrown down to form a random but confident balancing composition. The work reminded me of my own recent vessels which have collapsed when I’ve sliced, patched up and stretched the clay too far. The quality of line where the glaze breaks to allow the clay’s iron to seep through is something I’m hoping to draw attention to with my newest glazes as well – it highlights the ragged silhouettes and adds a textile-like feel to the fired clay, like a seam running along the edges. Of all the gallery spaces, Officine Saffi was my favourite which their surreal, whimsical collection of objects. This Milan based contemporary ceramic gallery is one I’ll be looking out for at Collect in the future.

 

Marsden Woo

The Marsden Woo, although just around the corner from the Saatchi where Collect was held, was difficult to find because we didn’t expect the upstairs to be full of designer ballroom dresses. The ceramics gallery space is hidden down some stairs in a small room, but is a fantastic collection representing artists such as Alison Britton, Gordon Baldwin, Philip Eglin, Kerry Jameson and Nao Matsunaga. It felt a little uncomfortable to have the gallerist following us around since I’m not used to visiting these kinds of galleries which I expect are targeted more towards rich collectors than the general public. It has made me think much more about gallery structures which are different to the usual open gallery/museum (e.g. Craft in the Bay or the V and A). On the other end of the scale it seems you have appointment only exhibitions such as Claire Curneen’s current exhibition at Oneroom. Tabish Khan writes an interesting article on appointment only exhibitions here , discussing art’s accessibility and the ‘private sales room’ structure some galleries have. In between these two I found the Corvi Mora, a strange hidden away gallery which you have to ring a doorbell to enter.

Corvi Mora

Sam Bakewell’s (UWIC graduate) exhibition ‘Time for Waste’ at this gallery was the highlight of my London trip. The collection of objects centres around a series of brightly coloured ceramic block assemblages and the coloured clay dusts which were collected from sanding the blocks down. Although the dusts look as if they might blow away if you breathe too close, they’ve been re-fired onto the rectangles as you can see on some piles which show traces of sintering. The parian clay which has been used gives the blocks an almost milky, translucent quality like a panna cotta dessert. The choice of colours tingles the taste buds too, reminding me of trips to the sweet shop as a child, jelly beans, starbursts and sherbet powders. The texts written by Alison Britton and Edmund de Waal to accompany the exhibition are beautifully written and draw attention to the complex relationships between clay, waste, dust, time and things forgotten and lost.

 

Contemporary Applied Arts

I was very pleasantly surprised by the size of this gallery and the variety of ceramics in the collection. While the Corvi-Mora is more orientated towards Fine Arts and Mint which I visited yesterday has a much more home decor/furniture vibe, this venue has a much more craft orientated approach. To exhibit at CAA you must be a member, the call for which goes out around April time each year and costs £130. Among the work I was most drawn to were the large thrown vessels by Chris Taylor (priced at £510 for the smallest). He appears to first paint on coloured slips, then apply transfers, then loosely apply a transparent glaze to change the colour of the slip darker in some areas, then apply over-glazes in floral patterns on top. The work is low fired but I imagine it still costs as much as stoneware to fire the work multiple times to build up layers.

 

As a result of my trip I’ve began to pinpoint figures who align closest to my current practice and the deconstruction /sculptural qualities of the vessel. Dylan Bowen’s fun, sketch-like vessel caricatures at CAA and Alison Britton’s forms at Marsden Woo which reference domestic vessels but use almost symbolical shapes for spouts and handles are exciting to me in terms of shape. Surface-wise I’m very much drawn to the dry, matte glazes of Sun Kim’s porcelain vessels at Collect which appear to absorb the light, as well as Sam Bakewell’s glutinous tiny cityscapes.

Seen and Unseen at The Mission Gallery

Today we took a coach to Swansea to visit Ingrid Murphy’s exhibition ‘Seen and Unseen’, part of the Language of Clay curated by Ceri Jones at the Mission Gallery. This was my first visit to the gallery and although a small space, the shop and exhibition were very thoughtfully laid out. Ingrid’s technological collaboration with Jon Pigott ‘The Campanologists Teacup’ had a perfect location in the old church’s apse. The installation consists of a series of ceramic horns with life size ceramic ears (3D scanned, 3D printed and slipcast) attached. When a member of the audience pings a teacup on a plinth in front of them, rubber balls suspended on strings inside the horns bounce around in a random series of movement to generate a 30 second or so sequence of sounds.

Interaction is a key theme of the exhibition. Some of the pieces require the audience to participate, to touch the palm of a ceramic dipping former in the shape of a hand which subsequently lights up inside with a ghostly radiance (and at the same time lights up a copy of the hand in Ingrid’s home), to place a terracotta plate on a turntable so the splatters of lustre vibrate the needle to create sounds, or to scan QR codes on our phones to reveal moving augmented reality models. Other pieces employ interaction by considering the interactions of the people involved in the making of an exhibition such as the series of replicas of traditional ceramic figurines superimposed with the faces of the artist, gallery director, filmmaker, curator etc.
My favourite piece stood out since it was the only artwork without a label or description of how the work was intended to be interacted with. A series of white ceramic plates onto which transfers of distorted imagery have been applied and on which sit gold lustre decorated teacups and pots is presented on an antique wooden table. It’s only by crouching down to view the work from an alternative perspective that you realise the images are anamorphic photographs of architecture from Wales to Jaipur which become clear in the reflections of the vessels. I was instantly reminded of the mirror in the Arnolfini portrait in which the scene of the couple we look upon is echoed back from a different perspective, both eerie and slightly voyeuristic. It’s interesting to note that in an exhibition that has such a pronounced emphasis on sound and touch the thing I was most drawn to was an optical illusion.