There are many wonderful moments in the life of a potter but few are more satisfying that loading your kiln with freshly glazed work. I think there is an element of the gambler in me because the mixture of excitement and fear of still not knowing quite how things will turn out is, frankly, almost better than cracking open the kiln in a couple of days time and finding out. When these photos were taken on Monday I still had no idea whether the glazes would run, the pots would crack or exactly what colours I would end up with. The strange alchemy that goes on in a kiln means that, no matter how hard I try to control these things, I am nearly always in for a surprise. Obviously if you are keen to see how this lot came out do pop along to the '50 Dorset Makers' show and book launch this weekend.
Contemporary Ceramics have a wonderful Blogspot which has been asking Ceramicists to talk about how they arrived at a career in Ceramics. For those of you who missed it, here is my entry below, together with a link to their blog which is well worth a read.
It's hard to avoid being sentimental when writing about how I found Ceramics, and the world of talented people and beautiful objects I have had the good fortune to inhabit since.
In my last year at school a wonderful teacher first opened the door for me. There were no artists in my family, only engineers; under gentle pressure I had accepted that a career in architecture was the thing for me. That would have been that were it not for Mr. Galloway, my Art teacher. A fantastic teacher and very much a rebel. He saw something in me that I hadn't yet understood about myself. One afternoon he mentioned that he was visiting the Art College and wondered if I'd like to come and have a look around. Oh ...and why not bring my portfolio as he was sure they'd love to see my work. Unbeknownst to me, he had set up an interview and, of course, I loved that place from the moment I walked in. Years later I went back and just the smell of the place made me cry.
That years Foundation at Cheltenham Art College was such a joy. The luxury of having the time and space to make and draw things all day, every day changed my world. James Campbell was teaching Ceramics there then. His beautiful and expressive work, love of hand building and gentle but persuasive teaching style were everything I needed and it was not long before the Ceramics department became my home.
Two other encounters had a huge influence on me at that time. The first was at the Cheltenham Museum, where, among a dusty collection of miscellaneous objects there was a Roman grain storage pot. Though horribly smashed, glued together and wearing a large hole, this pot mesmerized me. It was perfect. I drew it over and over again, hoping my pencil marks could unlock its secrets of balance, proportion, weightlessness and subtlety of curve.
My second encounter was in a new gallery that had opened in Cheltenham, The Montpellier Gallery. Peter had a passion for Ceramics and regularly showed pieces by Tim Andrews. There was something impossibly beautiful about Tim's work. The scale and exquisite surfaces marked a standard to aspire to, albeit one that seemed utterly unattainable: the embodiment of possibility. Years later the Montpellier Gallery became the first Gallery to show my work and over the years since I have been immensely grateful to Peter for his continued loyalty.
Being young I bent to the will of my parents and, despite reservations, did my degree in Architecture after all. Largely I enjoyed it but my love of Ceramics was too great and I found a space in a small studio as soon as I had finished. Two things stayed with me from that training though. Firstly, the aesthetic of the architectural drawing and a love of the qualities of black line. Secondly, a training where function sat unapologetically at the centre of our design work. Purpose and purposefulness of object, intention and intentionality of maker as I like to talk about it now.
After a teacher training and a few years working as Head of Ceramics in a secondary school I suffered a crisis of faith. The world of the children I was teaching and the world of Studio Ceramics seemed such very different places. I feared that making handmade pots might be a purely self-indulgent and elitist activity in a world already so full of things. A Theory / Practice Masters at the John Cass School of Art under the guidance of Chris Smith allowed me the opportunity to wrestle with this dilemma. My research, 'Finding a Home', was an exploration of Western ideas, a cultural excavation that enabled me to identify and carve out a space where my work could become meaningful in my world. With that I returned to studio practice and managed to rent a corner in Archway Ceramics, a wonderful group studio in East London.
I cannot underestimate the importance of my years at Archway Ceramics. I learned more there about the business of making pots than any formal training could have given me. Daniel Smith's outstanding skill and purity of form, Jacqui Ramrayka's bold shapes and stunning glazes, Alice Mara's personal and witty imagery, Kirsty Adams' soft edges and expressive mark making and Mo Jupp's flagrant disregard for accepted technical norms. I learned not just how to make things better but how to become a Ceramicist. We did many memorable shows together.
Finally, in 2014 the needs of young children took me away from London to a rural life in Dorset and a new start. With it, I think, has come the opportunity, once again, to shake up my thinking. A lightening of spirit that comes from country living has allowed a bit more colour to creep into my life and into my work and I'm excited about the new possibilities this has begun to throw up.
Having been slightly shocked by the high price and poor quality of tiles marketed as 'handmade' by large tile retailers, this Autumn I have decided to set about demonstrating that handmade tiles don't need to be badly made. Here is my first scheme for a contemporary kitchen in London. More to follow!
Encountering Ceramics in a home environment is a very different experience to that of a gallery. Sarah's wonderful annual shows are the perfect opportunity to do just that. For me the work is able to tell the stories it set out to tell and speak in its own voice. I make things that belong on people's kitchen table and not on a plinth. So it was perhaps no surprise at all that my work sold out. Thank you Sarah for your effort on all our behalves.
New work made for the Contemporary Ceramics Centre in Bloomsbury
I've had a lot of feedback over the years, some good, some bad, about my resistance to using much colour in my work. I've always felt that use of strong colours might distract from the beautiful curves of the forms themselves. However, what better way to test my new kiln than to step out of my comfort zone and try out some new glazes?
Central to the planning and restoration of our former stable block to create working studios was the re-landscaping of the stable yard. Creating a calm and sensual space to bring visitors to and a place for quiet contemplation was pivotal to the overall design. Also, having installed water in the studios, there was a practical need to run waste water away from the yard and into an old well in as clean a state as possible. The solution came in the form of an elaborate sump and rill system, designed to allow the heavy clay and glaze particles to separate out before reaching the well. First, the waste water falls into a large reclaimed stone trough where the majority of clay particles settle before it cascades into the overground rill. A set of three interlocking circles fill the yard, echoing the aesthetic of my work. The ceramic rill runs through the central circle, a sweet smelling and rich green camomile lawn surrounding a pool of deep blue glass. Finally the water disappears into a subterranean chamber under a large rock. Nestling against the lawn is a circular stone seat, built from our local forest marble, providing a magical spot in which to gather together or to sit and muse.