Once More to the Dump, Dear Friends.

Moving house is proving very traumatic.  It is not so much the sorting, tidying and packing that is getting me down.  It is more the trips to the dump.  How on earth did I accumulate so much rubbish in the short time that I have lived in London?

The scary thing is that so much of what I have taken down to add to landfill is as a result of my ceramical activity; not something about which I feel terribly clever.

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Oh dear!

The problem with ceramics is that, once fired, they last for ever which is why they are so useful historically.  I wonder if, in the millennia to come some poor archaeologist is going to be subjected to sifting through a deep hole in south east England and will happen upon the efforts of my ceramics misadventures!

 

Fair enough, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs but when I think about the number of trips that I have done with car loads of experiments and errors over the past few weeks it drives home the responsibility that we all have to think before we fire.  I realise that the fact that much of this work was created as a part of my Diploma and from which I learned a huge amount mitigates this waste to some extent but at what cost?  I suppose there are a number of questions that we should ask ourselves each time we load a kiln.

  • What do I expect to achieve in this firing?
  • What is the likelihood of achieving it?
  • Which pieces already look like a triumph of hope over expectation?article-1104741-017C6CA2000004B0-617_468x286[1]http://www.dailymail.co.uk

     

I am not suggesting that we should not experiment, Heaven forbid!  Indeed I adhere to the view that every firing should include some kind of experimental piece.  I am simply suggesting that all of us have a responsibility to care for our planet and that as ceramic artists we are sending the planet a double whammy which makes it even more important that we examine our consciences on a regular basis:  We plunder our natural resources in order to make work which, if we are not happy with, we throw away where it adds to the problems of landfill.

Home Alone

Last week the lovely Regina moved out of my studio.  We had been sharing for about 3 years and it had worked really well.  I know for absolute certain that I would not be where I am now if she had not suggested that we might share a studio together.

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Regina throwing one of her minute pots just after we moved in.

I remember our first open studios.  I was so nervous that I simply could not sit still.  I had to go for a walk half an hour before the kick off because my leg muscles were twitching so much! We have both come such a long way since then.  Both of us have gained a huge amount of confidence.  I have completed the ceramics diploma and she has virtually completed a course in silver smithing and jewellery making which has seen her incorporating her ceramic work into beautiful rings.

 

Now we have come to a parting of the ways.  I suppose the time was probably right.  Regina needs somewhere to work where she can solder, which is difficult at Wimbledon due to the fact that they are not very keen on naked flames and, to be honest, I was spreading so much that I was in danger of backing Regina into a small corner much of the time.  So she has packed up her wheel and gone.  I shall miss her!  I enjoyed her company and I loved her work and I wish her well.IMG_20160610_091653  When I arrived at the studio for the first time since she had packed her bags it seemed very empty!  So, since this marks the beginning of a new era – the first time I have ever had my very own studio – I decided to give it a lick of paint and then spread myself.  I am very sorry, Regina, but it really hasn’t taken me very long to move into your side and I have to confess I am loving the fact that it is my mess.

You have been a great friend and I wish you all the best, wherever you end up making. What ever happens, don’t stop creating!

Meanwhile, Studio 403 is now open for business and for those of you who have been waiting to hear from me about some work: Thank you for you patience and I am getting right onto it now.

What I am trying to say is . . .

I find myself wondering whether I put enough information into my pieces to enable the people who look at them and say they like them to know what my thinking was during the making of them.  Part of me feels that I should leave it to their imagination; that people will read what they want into a piece and it is not for me to make it explicit.  On the other hand I make what I do because certain things matter to me and I rather want people to know what those things are.IMG_8684

Maps and found clay give a piece an identity and an idea of landscape; fragile layers and the image of a very thin piece give a sense of fragility.  Is that enough?

Richard Long uses the phrase ‘If I don’t walk, my art does not exist’.  When I was doing the final work for my foundation degree at Weston I altered this to ‘if you don’t walk my art does not exist’.  My work for that project was positioned within the landscape and I thought the meanings within it were clear.  I know better now!  But this is still, for me, a difficult debate.

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David Whyte, Riverflow: This speaks to me!

Are maps sufficient?  Are they too much?  Should I be including words as well or instead?  I rather like the idea of words, although for some reason I then want to make them difficult to read so what on earth is the point of that?

 

There is some beautiful poetry which resonates so well with what I wish to say in my work that a part of me would love to include it and some fabulous quotes which would also sit well with my thoughts.

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Sketchbook notes.

I carry a note book with me wherever I go and in it I record not just sketches and thoughts but quotes which I like.  Some of these are itching to find their way into my work.

Not long ago I was introduced to the work of James Goodman.  In his collection Claytown he has a remarkable piece which, just by using the names of Ordnance Survey symbols creates a fantastic image of the landscape through which he is travelling.  It is a great idea and one I feel tempted to play with.  On the other hand, Adam Buick adds nothing to his moonjars except the idea of landscape, letting them speak for themselves.  Is this the way to go?  There is absolutely no doubt that his work speaks volumes without words, images or maps.

“Adam Buick has imposed on himself the strict discipline of the simplest and purest of geometric forms. Don’t expect his spheres of fired clay to be standoffish or predictable though. Yes Adam makes white porcelain moon jars as chaste in their beauty as the old Korean dal-hang-a-ri vessels that first inspired him. But within the confines of his spherical ‘canvas’ he also conjures up worlds of spontaneous drama, pots so diverse in their scale and texture, so exquisite in their making, so alive with the Pembrokeshire landscape which they literally embody, that his passionate connection to his environment becomes unmistakable.”

Andrew Renton, Head of Applied Arts, National Museum, Cardiff

At the moment I am very conscious of our tutor, Annie Turner at City Lit who tried so hard to impress on us the idea of less being more.  So for the time being, since I cannot decide what to say, I think I shall say nothing at all.  People can make up their own minds and the vessels can speak for themselves.  Can you hear them?

And we have lift off . . .

I can hardly believe that our pop up shop is now open for business.  It was only mid January when we had the first beginnings of an idea and it was only on Monday that we got the keys to the premises.  Previous to that there was a huge amount of planning and preparation to do and since Monday it has been all hands to the pump cleaning and decorating ready for our first day of business on Thursday. 12802780_589962844503429_4591393063765265220_n[1] The results of all this hard work is a great little gallery which all 12 of us are truly loving!  Equally important is the feeling of camaraderie which this project has generated.  The jobs to be done have been taken on willingly and happily by all and I am only aware of a sense of contentment derived from us pulling together to create something new, exciting and, in its own small way, amazing.  It is extraordinary how well our work sits together.  Obviously, since ten of the twelve met and trained together, we have a shared sense of values and there is a feeling of harmony within our work and yet, in addition, the City Lit Ceramics Department impressed on us the need for originality and independent thinking which now shines through the entire gallery.  Quality functional ware sits comfortably side by side with contemporary vessels and sculptural work and the entire look is one seems really comfortable.

One of our visitors yesterday was Luke Bishop.  he is a former graduate form Ciy Lit too and is now doing really well in the field of ceramic art.  he confessed to me that he was mildly envious of our project and we chatted for a while about how it had come about.  Honestly, I think if it hadn’t been for the wonderful way in which we had related to each other and supported each other through the trauma, excitement, exhaustion and sheer hard work which was the diploma, we would not be here in Camden now and I know that my life would be less rich as a result.

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The Klay Gallery tucked up tight at the end of its first Saturday.

I am not aware of any other group graduates who have embarked on something like this but, if you are out there, please get in touch as it would be great to share our experiences.

Popping Up

This week I have joined a number of my City Lit Diploma graduate contemporaries in signing the least on a small unoccupied premises in Camden.  The council in this most enlightened borough of London believes that it is bad for the area to have too many empty shops and so they have come up with a fantastic idea to support emerging businesses.  For a short period they pay your rent and electricity bills and you contract to open the shop and make the area look more lively.  Well it seemed to us like an opportunity too good to ignore and so Klay was born!

We are a group of 12 ceramic artists, some making functional pieces, others decorative, but all of us working in the realm of contemporary ceramics.  The shop doesn’t look like much at the moment but with a lick of paint and some clean shelving, it has real promise.  There is a great little café next door and a couple of other galleries in the area and transport links are great; Kentish Town and Chalk Farm stations nearby and a bus stop right outside.  So now the hard work begins – designs, bags, bubble wrap, decoration, payment methods, rotas for manning – and, oh yes, making!  Going to be a frantic few weeks I feel!

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It only needs a lick of paint!

 

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It only needs a lick of paint!

The Doyenne of Ash Glazes

There are a number of reasons why the subject of ash glazes has been on my mind in recent weeks.  One of the best is that, just before Christmas, I was given a lovely little dish by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie, one of Britain’s real pioneers of studio pottery.  She was known for the subtly of the colours on her pieces which she achieved through the use of ash glazes.  This little dish looks as if it might have been a test piece.  It is only about 10cm diameter.  Mind you, if my test pieces looked as good as this I would be in Heaven!

Pleydell-Bouverie

My very own little Pleydell-Bouverie

The glaze is a very subtle green.  The crazing is interesting as it is smaller where the glaze is thin and larger where it has pooled in the dish.  It has also drawn a lot of iron out of the clay causing a delicious toasted ring.  Every time I look at it, and I do so very frequently because I cannot quite believe it is mine, I think about the experimental ash glazes which I tried for the diploma.  Most of my test glazes are sitting on a shelf in the studio and I begin to wonder why on earth I am not having another go with them because they certainly showed some promise and, given the relationship between my pieces and place, there is a good reason for using local ash as well.  It might give my work something even more.

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Probably high time I explored my own ash glaze tests a bit further.

 

Testing Times

This week I have been experimenting with a new clay.  I love the feel of working with porcelain but I would really like to reduce the amount of warp which I get in large pieces so I thought I would have a go with some molochite grogged porcelain.  I confess that the jury is well and truly out over this one.  It came out of the bag wet and floppy but when I left it to dry for a bit it became rather fractious and crumbly.  It was a beast to build with – it felt horrible to the touch and did not really want to join to the found materials at all.  I have gone large because that is, after all, the point and I am going to fire to at least 1230 to see how it behaves but I will certainly need a lot of convincing!

grogged porcelain

Give me Audrey Blackman every time!

yesterday, at a get together of the Diploma students we were talking about clay as you do at 10:30 on a Friday evening, and a number of my contemporaries have also been having a go with a few new clays.  There were some very favourable reports of a white stoneware/porcelain blend from some and so that might be the next one to try but in the meantime, I am open to suggestions – how do you get a lovely smooth, workable clay with the qualities of porcelain but without the warping?