The Crest of a Wave

I make no apology for including a mass of links and no images in this blog.  The thinking being that you all just need to go and see for yourselves!

I have had a lovely time this week.  I have enjoyed my daughter’s dress rehearsal with the lovely Pindrop quartet, I have lunched at the Royal Academy (with said daughter), I have visited the spring exhibition at Erskine Hall and Coe where I especially loved the work of Sarah Flynn and Elizabeth Fritsch , I went to the book launch in Kew of a dear friend’s first novel (Congratulations to Mike Thexton for the Magistrate’s Son – available from other bookshops as well!) and last but by no means least, I have been at Ceramic Art London, the highlight of the contemporary ceramics calendar in the UK.

Ceramic Art London was a veritable feast of talks and stands showing gorgeous work by talented makers who, without exception, are happy to talk about techniques, ideas, glazes, skills – you name it, they are willing to share.  I have to say, the generosity of spirit shown by people who work in clay is greater than in any other walk of life that I come into contact with.  I picked up cards from many stands, especially enjoying the work of Rachel Wood – for her delicious surface decoration, Chris Taylor – for his use of colour and decals, Chris Keenan – for being Chris Keenan! and Megan Rowden for her delicious surface texture and alternative firing techniques and I went to a number of talks.

The talks, and I only managed three of the 15 on offer, gave me a lifetimes inspiration.  So here are just a few tidbits to scatter into the wind for those unfortunate enough to have missed this great show:

From Stephanie Buttle – ‘The need to push the clay to its absolute limits’, ‘If your life is off balance, where does that energy go?’  ‘You need a platform.  Without one, it remains inside your head.’

From Stuart Carey who set up The Kiln Rooms in London – The need to be able to bounce ideas around with other people when one is in the early stages of your career but the need also for a ‘Fortress of solitude’, the fact that ceramics is on the crest of a wave and we all have a responsibility ‘to get it out there; to talk about it; write about it; discuss our work.’  He had good advice about setting prices for ones work: About not underselling oneself; about watching out for (and avoiding) the ‘holes in the market’.  The impact of ‘The London Effect’, especially for new artists and the need to maintain the very highest quality in everything we do.

From the wonderful Kate Malone – about the flow of ideas (and glazes); about how her vast source of reference material is full of things which ‘hits her subconscious and moves her inner soul; about ‘the sense of a world in a pot’; about the ‘creative alphabet’ of the artist which is such that, whenever you see it, it just rings a bell somewhere and you draw on it time and time again; about the use of the kiln as a tool rather than a useful hot place, the very thought that for one project you might make 15 000 pieces using 5 different clays and 4 different glazes and fill 600 IKEA boxes in the process!

Possibly the two things I shall try to hold onto most are:

  1. The idea of brinkmanship when making.  Not sure who said it but I am sure it is essential that one pushes everything to the limits.
  2. It’s about hands, about fingers, about touch. (Kate Malone). Yes it is!

Putting Your Work in Context

College recently asked us to answer the following four questions and so I decided to share my responses with you in an effort to clarify my own thoughts.  Here goes . . . . . . .

  • What is my work about and how does it relate to other work, in ceramics or other visual arts fields, in a theoretical context.
005 (7)

I think that my over-riding need is for my work to have some kind of narrative; the relationship between the interior of a vessel and its exterior or between one piece and another in a group together with the origins of the idea is of vital importance to me and so it needs to shine through in the finished piece.

Jung saw a drive in all of us to become ‘the person we are born to be’; to achieve Individuation.  In my constantly shifting lifestyle I have often felt quite a loss of identity.  The starting point for my work is something profoundly Cornish in me. I am using it to express my desire to belong whilst also reflecting my fascination with contrast.   I want to work with the materials, incorporating their behaviours and characteristics into my work rather than imposing my control over them.  But, more than anything else, I want to incorporate an element of luck and chance into my work.  My work is based more in emotion and intuition than in logic and function and I think that I am drawn to certain sorts of art because of a rather romantic desire to escape from convention.  I can relate to ideas about giving strength to individuals, about their place in nature and opposition to oppressive social convention.   I find renewal in nature and in the wild places. I have a love of the fundamentals of life; the relationships which we build with each other and with our home and the fragility and vulnerability of those relationships.  At the same time I am not afraid to break the rules and try new ways of doing things.  Now I have discovered the delicious unpredictability of adding found materials to my work I suspect that there will be no going back.

  • Where is my work ‘located’ in relation to other ceramics or other visual art.

007 (5)My work is non functional, ceramic, abstract art.  Often it seems to be more about process than about the finished piece.  I am excited by the work of Adam Buick, who makes moon jars using locally dug clay and finds which convey a sense of place.  He draws paths as a motif on his pots which he uses to represent his actual and metaphoric journeys through a place.  He considers that the understanding of a landscape arises from moving through it, providing context with paths, like common routes of experience, guiding us through it.  I also find inspiration in the work of experimental abstract artists such as Gillian Lowndes, a ceramicist, and Richard Long, a land artist.

  • Where do I see my work being shown and sold.

That is a very good question!  I have already exhibited at exhibitions and have succeeded in selling through galleries and also at the Open Studios in Wimbledon, but where would I really like to see it sold?  I have a suspicion that it needs to find its way into a contemporary gallery before I start to be successful but that seems like a distant dream at the moment.  I would love to show at Ceramic Art London and at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre.  I do not envisage selling at craft fairs where the buyers are looking for useful things like mugs and bowls which I do not really have any interest in making.  Having said that, I can envisage a time when my work might return to some level of functionality but never on a scale of mass production.

I would love to have my work shown here!

I would love to have my work shown here!

  • What price will I put on it and why.

Last year at the Wimbledon Artists Open Studios I was told that I should triple my prices.  At that show I was charging a maximum of £200 for what I considered to be my most interesting work.  How did I come to that figure?  Well it certainly wasn’t about the cost of materials.  My work was more newspaper than clay and had only been through a single firing. Nor was it related to the time it had taken to make, which amounted to many hours of careful, laborious and at times rather dull effort.  So what was it that I was selling?  I suppose it was the execution of the idea, and possibly also the metaphor with which I had imbued the piece.  What ever it was, not only did I sell that, most expensive piece but I sold a good deal more besides.  This year, having followed the afore mentioned advice I charged in excess of £600 for some pieces and sold virtually nothing.  Now there could be any number of reasons for this change in my fortunes; the right people did not happen to come along; my work has changed and is no longer so appealing; I was tired from all the recent effort and did not shine, hence neither did my work.  But I cannot ignore the possibility that this time people decided that my work was over priced!  So how on earth do you decide?

What should you charge for a few small pieces of clay which are so fragile they risk blowing away in the next high wind?

I Went to a Marvellous Party . . .

Amazing work by Jong Jin Park

Kyra Cane’s work has a beautiful subtlety to colour and tone.

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Drift Net, Annie Turner: A wonderful example of a unique style in ceramics.

Well, it was actually an exhibition: Ceramic Art London at the Royal College of Arts in Kensington.  It is one of the great annual showcases of ceramic art in London every year with eighty makers selected from across the world and it is always a fantastic place to see what is new and listen to some useful hints and tips in the various lectures taking place.  So, what is new?  I was particularly intrigued by the work of Jong Jin Park who is a relative newcomer on the scene.  He makes use of paper and clay slips, just as I do, but he works in a very different way and his work is certainly different.  I was amazed to hear that he does not create the final shapes until he cuts into the piece after having fired it to 1300C.  I cannot wait to try that! In fact, seeing Jong Jin’s work and then spending quite a while chatting to Robert Cooper about his work, other peoples work and then, rather less significantly as far as the exhibition goes, my own work might well have set me on the course for my final semester.  Thank Heavens I hear you cry, no more heart searching then!  Robert was selling well at the exhibition, which was great to see – I certainly think he deserves to!  It was also wonderful to see that another of my tutors, Annie Turner, had been presented with the Emanuel Cooper Prize.  That was a fantastic choice.  Annie’s work is certainly different; fragile, coiled pieces which are about being rooted.  It resonates with me on so many levels and it is great to see her skill being given recognition. I was also drawn to Kyra Canes wonderfully evocative work.  Once again I was touched by the generosity of the artists who I talked to.  I do not know of any other world in which the experts would be so willing to share their own special tips with a newcomer.  It never ceases to amaze me and to fill me with joy that my chosen medium is peopled with such kind and open people.  The discovery program lectures which I attended were a fine example of this with Derek Wilson telling us all kinds of experiences and pitfalls which, for a mere beginner, seemed invaluable.

All in all this was a great day and if I came away with one important message it was the need for a group of pieces to work together.  All those exhibiting had taken a considerable amount of care to present a coherent exhibition which worked in terms of colour, groupings and the level of variety.  So now I need to take that on board, throw away the rubbish and start making an exhibition rather than a bunch of experiments.  No more excuses, Macklin!