Exhibition Set-Up Initial Planning

For our formative we were tasked with creating a design for our exhibition. Currently I’ve been designated a space somewhere in the reception area with the concrete and glass walls. Will helped me put together a digital mock-up on Rhino of what the area might look like. I’ve taken inspiration from Ranti Bam’s display at Golbourne 50, a gallery that showed at Collect this year. The Nigerian born artist’s colourful clay vessels were displayed on individual plinths of varying heights so that you could walk among them, reminding me of trees in a forest or standing stones.

I’ve decided, depending on space, I would like five or six of my best pieces placed on individual plinths in this way. I also thought rather than having white plinths it might be an idea to leave them unpainted. For one thing, in the concrete space with a wooden skirting board, white plinths might stand out like a sore thumb rather than being the almost invisible props I need them to be. Secondly, the idea of my vessels is to celebrate the way they are made, not hiding joints and traces of the process but exaggerating it. Having a plinth on which you can see the joints and screws in the surface might add continuity to this idea through the display.

While visiting London for Collect this year I also visited the Franz West exhibition at the Tate Modern. Interestingly the plinths and rope barriers for the exhibition were designed by the artist Sarah Lucas who was a friend of his. The MDF plinths with what look like thermolite breeze blocks on top are certainly a statement as are the rope barriers in poppy, sweet-shop light blue, pink, yellow and green, characteristic of West’s more recent work. The colours reminded me very much of Sam Bakewell’s ceramic pieces which I had seen the day before. I though the MDF was an unusual choice until I read about West’s collaboration with Heimo Zobernig who specifically chose tones associated with offices and institutions.

The exhibition followed West’s artistic development in chronological order, beginning with his ‘Passstück’s’ – objects with which to play and improvise with as physical extensions of the human body. His next work almost referenced the ceramic art of Gillian Lowndes in it’s mixing of materials, metal and clay for example. He called this later work ‘legitimate sculpture’ as opposed to the ‘interactive sculpture’ that came before. He thought of his newer work too as interactive sculpture, welded together and painted with the sickly green of old hospital walls. The tacky-looking surfaces reminded me of the latex-like texture of my own work recently glazed pink vessel.

I like the idea of displaying my work on concrete breezeblocks and have found very cheap/free material available on gumtree and facebook. However, I feel that as I am moving to a new rented property soon and don’t own a car to transport the bricks making plinths of some sort appears to be a more practical option.

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Professional Practice – Website Research

I’ve spent some time this weekend becoming familiar with the kinds of web layouts used by professional ceramic artists in order to begin designing the website for my own practice. One of the things which strikes me is the importance of having good quality images on the home page, immediately after you’ve clicked on the website, preferably images filling the screen. Phoebe Cummings, Clare Twomey, Rebecca Appleby and many others all use this format to some extent.

JACK DOHERTY

One of my favourites however is Irish potter Jack Doherty’s site which has a minimalism and lightness to the format which reflects the delicacy of his porcelain vessels. ‘Doherty porcelain’ is an interesting name choice for the site too, rather than putting his name foremost as a brand he is emphasising the importance of the material to his practice. To do this though requires a very definite idea of your practice which I’m not confident to commit to yet. Other things which make Doherty’s site stand out include the great quality images blending seamlessly into the white background, the small social media buttons in the top right of each page and an exciting to navigate site with lots of pages and content. This isn’t always necessary but it works for him since you get information about how the work is made and an appreciation of the process. Concerning the small details, I find it looks better when the artist’s name is written in block capitals, generously spaced out. The uniform height of the letters gives a cleaner aesthetic. Layering some writing over images too gives a depth to the visuals which I also like (Adam Frew and Rebecca Appleby have good examples of this). Doherty’s home page, like Adam Buick’s is also a slideshow which gives the page some dynamism and life.

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https://rebeccaappleby.co.uk/
Doherty porcelain (640x292)
https://dohertyporcelain.com/home

 

ADAM FREW

One of my favourite things about the layout of Frew’s site is that the gallery has a sideways format. As a result, instead of dragging down a scroller, you just press an arrow to the right of the screen to see a new image which feels a lot more neat and compact. I also like how each image has a title, description of materials and dimensions. Other potters whose websites I found, Tom Kemp for example, don’t include titles or dimensions for the work. Perhaps this is more important for functional pieces but for my own website I would like to provide a little background to the materials and firing method in a caption. I don’t want the process to remain a complete mystery to the buyer as I feel that devalues the material of clay. Another think I value about Frew’s site is that the first option on the top menu is a film about his work which is a great introduction to the artist’s process.

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http://www.adamfrew.com/

STEVE HARRISON

Having met Steve, I can vouch that his quirky website is a perfect reflection of his quirky personality! While I struggled to find much variety in the layout of the websites of ceramic artists (admittedly most from the UK), Steve’s is a breath of fresh air and succeeds in standing out in my memory because of it’s surreal humour. The home page is a giant image of his salt glazed vessels laid out in grid form on terracotta tiles on a porcelain smeared floor (presumably the artist’s studio). Beneath these is Steve himself, in the same outfit he was wearing when I met him, holding a sample of work. I want my website to include photos of myself too. I realise it’s important to me not only to show my face but to show some aspect of my personality which will help others to understand my work in the context of the maker. I need to get some good photos of myself for my website plan!

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http://www.steveharrison.co.uk/

First Draft of Artist Statement

In this first attempt at writing an artist statement relevant to my current practice, I’ve tried to follow the format of answering the why, how and what of my making…

My practice stems from a motivation to understand the thrown form. Through a cyclic process of fracturing and reconstructing I hope to achieve an instinctive understanding not of the process of throwing but of the forms that result from this method of making. My belief is that through this process of reworking, of pulling apart and stitching together the various components of a vessel, it is possible to come to a truer understanding of what a ceramic pot really is.

I approach the breaking apart of my thrown forms almost as an autopsy, a dissection of the thrown sections. My process is an iterative response to the nuances of each thrown vessel which I slice, squeeze and punch, responding instinctively to the shifts in tension and balance in the form. It is a fraught and risky dance with gravity which I don’t always win.

I enjoy feeling the tension held within the undulating walls and the subsequent exhaling of that tightness as the clay is sliced, pierced and turned inside out. The surfaces of the vessels show traces of these operations in their scars and stitches. Through the cracks in the surface the viewer glimpses their interior, the void which is as integral to the vessel as the clay itself.

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.

Makers Markets

This term I’ve taken part for the first time in a number of makers markets. The first of these was with Nam at Tiny Rebel’s Autumn Makers Market in Cardiff town centre (Nov 25th), the second was at CSAD’s School of Management as part of the fundraising for our degree show catalogue with the rest of the course (Dec 5th), and the third was last Saturday at the Cardiff Quakers Meeting room organised by Hannah (Dec 8th).

Carlota, a graduate from the CSAD fine art course had set up the autumn makers market at Tiny Rebel. It was a successful day and exciting to see the public engaging with the work. Sharing a table with Nam and her co-worker Richard my first time helped calm my nerves. There was lots to remember – boxes to display the work on, a cash float, scissors, sellotape, bubblewrap, paper bags, business cards, price tags…I was worried I would forget something. The venue itself was cosy and not very big although unfortunately Tiny Rebel weren’t able to advertise outside their premises except through social media so most of the visitors had heard about the market online or through word of mouth.
I felt that my work (a mixture of different sized functional stoneware storage jars and bowls) was in the higher price range for this kind of event. Most people appeared to be buying things that were £10 or less, especially stickers and cards. My jars ranged from £26 to £60 while the bowls were £15 to £30, prices I had decided on after a last-minute tutorial with Natasha the week before. I’m happy with the prices I’ve chosen and so far the public seem to agree that the prices are justified.

Richard’s work sold well and while it was also ceramic, he buys in bisque ware which he decorates with brightly coloured splattered glaze and overglaze, meaning he can afford to price his mugs at £10 while mine were going for £26. For a ceramics student outsourcing in this way feels almost like cheating but then I’m reminded that even Bernard Leach probably didn’t make most of his own pots, although he decorated them. It was a little disheartening to see that the public seemed to see no difference between ceramics which had been handmade from a lump of clay and ceramics which had been decorated but not made by the artist. It made me think about how much of my work I would be happy to outsource either to industrial manufacturers or other makers.
I suppose I already outsource the processing of the clay and glaze materials, I’m also happy to use tools that I’ve bought or that have been made by others. The enjoyment I get from the process of throwing and control over the form is too much for me to compromise though.

The Quaker’s Market this weekend was a little different – a three hour market over lunch time instead of a whole day. We were made to feel very welcome in the ground floor meeting room and regularly supplied with mince pies, tea and hot mulled apple. I had positive feedback about my work although again I felt my work was the highest priced of everything in the room. Rather than art college graduates and craftspeople this was more of a second-hand shop with an Avon sale and a few craftspeople. I managed to make over £200 from these two markets but in order to work out if these kinds of events can be lucrative I need to work out how much I’m spending on materials, firing, transport costs, business cards, wrapping etc. I hope to take part in more makers markets in the new year but with smaller, cheaper items such as eggcups, plates, lemon juicers and plant pots. I had visitors asking me if I made vases and jugs too so perhaps adapting my products to the desire of the public can encourage me to try out new forms.

Our collaborative mug sale at the CSAD Christmas Market was organised through the Centre for Entrepreneurship. Yixia and I liaised with Giorgia to secure a couple of tables and I put together a rota so we would have students manning the stall add day. Luckily none of the makers markets have required me to pay to be there (Richard paid our £15 for the Tiny Rebel stand and the Quakers only suggested a donation of 10%) but I realise that usually the cost of the tradestand would need to be deducted from the overall profit.
I lowered the price of my mugs from £26 to £18 since this market is aimed at students. A number of us from L6 had made mugs for the sale and we made a total of about £130 from the day. Unfortunately we hadn’t realised we would have also been allowed to sell on the Friday of that week too so that’s something to look out for in future.

 

Finding Your Voice…The Log Book

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In order to better understand how our ceramics practice may fit in and contribute to the wider field, we have been tasked with identifying a journal from the Cardiff Met collection which aligns with our methods of working and which can support us in our future practice. My chosen literature is ‘The Log Book‘, the international wood-fired ceramic publication. Having tried out wood and anagama firing at HDK’s Nääs site outside Gothenburg last spring, I feel that I’ve finally found a method of working which suits my values and the qualities I admire in ceramic art. The close connection of the potter to the final work and our primitive ancestors imbues this method with a kind of magic and lack of control which excites me.

The Log Book (ISSN 1470-1812) began in 2000 and has been published quarterly ever since by a duo based in Ireland – Coll Minogue and Robert Sanderson. Currently, subscription is £25 annually. The most recent publications each include about six or seven 1000-1500 word articles which are all contributed to the magazine by artists , kiln builders and those with an interest in wood firing. Over the 18 years it has been running, the log book has published articles about wood firing from close to every continent in the world.

Article submission guidelines can be found on their website (www.thelogbook.net) and suggest a proposal for your desired article is discussed with the journal before sending a first draft in. First person writing from the artist/potter themselves is preferred and articles are checked for accuracy before publishing in order to avoid inaccurate or misleading information. In their online guidelines they state that in order to write about a new kiln design, the kiln must be fired successfully at least twice before it’s details can be shared publicly.

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Wood-fired Earthenware by George Metropoulos McCauley in The Log Book No.72

In the first couple of issues, a correspondence section is included at the back which is mainly comments from potters showing support for the new magazine. In the later issues however, there is no section for letters from readers which is a pity as it could open up the journal to a closer relationship between readers and writers, enriching conversations.

There is very little advertising in the journal. You’ll find nothing like the pages full of pug mills, pottery tools, kiln and workshop adverts like you do in Ceramic Review. Instead, the journal occasionally dedicates a couple of pages to a review of a new book about wood firing or wood stacking and advertises where to buy it from. At the back of each issue is a ‘backlog’ which is a list of up-coming wood-fire related events, fairs, exhibitions and conferences which readers can contribute to. Some articles inconspicuously advertise workshops such as the most recent issue in which is an account of EMA-CNIFOP, a prestigious but unfortunately named ceramic centre in France which offers short courses and claims to welcome 300 professional ceramic artists for short specialist courses each year.

The journal is interested in any articles relating to wood-firing, whether they be about functional or sculptural work, contemporary or historical. Technical details are important, many include diagrams and firing cone temperatures and times, although it was difficult to find glaze recipes. While issues at the beginning seem to take a more practical approach, recent articles are more storytelling and philosophical in their style. An article that particularly interested me was called ‘New Wave’ by Angus McDiarmid and was featured in issue 72 from 2017. In it he discusses the potential future of wood-firing and issues surrounding the environment (such as carbon emission levies) as well as economic viability. He asks ‘Can we move forward from our Japanese influence and all that wabi sabi speak?’ which is something I find myself questioning often. It has become fashionable to make work influenced by traditional Japanese ceramics in the west, but by doing so are we losing touch a little with the folk pottery of our own culture in the UK? McDiarmid also suggests that in a world of digitisation and virtual realities ‘woodfiring offers something very human.’, a comfort and connection to reality.

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The Log book Issue No.72

I hope that reading further into these journals will help me find opportunities for workshops/residencies which I may otherwise have not found. They will also be useful for learning about the journeys different potters take to get to the stage they are at currently, since lots of the articles are autobiographical. I am considering proposing an article describing my own recent experience of wood firing. Overall I’m very impressed with this valuable resource and of how international it is with writers from a multitude of different culture contributing.