As some of my readers know, when I am in London I live on a boat. This week we cast off our moorings and set sail on the River Thames with few plans except to go up the river. It is wonderful to be so free to chose how to spend our time. By day two we were chugging gently past Runnymede and thought we ought to take a look around.
History is everywhere in this place. I knew about the Magna Carta. I had at least done THAT much history when I was at school but it did me a lot of good to read about it again and consider what the signing of this document actually stands for. Obviously there is more to it than this and I know that King John was not quite as good as his word so it was some considerable time before we enjoyed the freedoms which is lays down but I am absolutely clear that during the time since it was originally enshrined in history it has been considered a true milestone in the fight for individual rights and freedoms.
Both the United States Bill of Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights owe a great deal to Magna Carta, to name just two. Without it the world would be a poorer place. When I reached somewhere with a wifi signal I did a bit of searching and found this wonderful clip on the British Museum website which, for those who are interested, gives a ‘nutshell explanation’ of this incredibly important document. It is worth a look.
There are a number of other memorials in recognition of the struggle for liberty at Runnymede and so, puffed up with pride that it all started here in Britain, we set off to take a look. Eventually we found ourselves on the hill over looking the river. Here there is a haunting reminder of the loss of life by Allied Air Forces during the Second World War. In one year, 1943, there were more than 30 men killed with the name Smith. That is to say there were 30+ men with the surname Smith who were sergeants in the RAF killed in that year. This does not count other ranks called Smith. Nor does it include members of other Air Forces: Canadians; New Zealanders; Australians to name just a few. Nor does it include anyone with surnames which include ‘Smith’ and some other suffix or prefix. as I looked at this particular column of names – one of 300 – I found myself shivering with some intangible and deeply sad emotion. More so that when I tried to digest the fact that 20,000 men are remembered on the monument. Maybe that number is too large to comprehend.
The combined Air Forces memorial at Runnymede.
I hate war! I cannot understand why differences of opinion cannot be thrashed out over a plate of Nachos and a beer or two. But the fact remains that in the early 20th century the world was plunged into despair and huge numbers of people died for the simple reason that they believed in Freedom. I have never felt more appreciative of their sacrifice than I did standing there in the solitude as the daylight was dimming.
I need to make something very special from the small handful of clay that I picked up in a tree throw on the slope of Cooper’s Hill below the memorial.
I want it to be as open and welcoming as possible.
I have started on a large dish which is as open as I can make it. I want it to look as though anyone might be able to approach it and rinse their hands. I also want it to be as fragile as possible in recognition of the fragility of the peace and freedom which we are so privileged to enjoy in this country. If I don’t get it right the first time I shall keep remaking it until I do because this matters!
Sorry, I am at it again. This time poor old Mark Twain is getting misquoted but not without just cause if you ask me. You see I have been out and about collecting mud again, this time in a torrential rainstorm, and the residents of a small, respectable town in Devon are probably expressing grave concerns!
This all started because I have been invited to be the featured artist in an exhibition called Escape by The Hybrid Gallery in Honiton this summer. I am excited by this opportunity and thought it would be sensible to begin my making by making a visit to see the space.
We lay like sardines in the back of the car
I remember Honiton. We used to have to drive through it on our way to visit grandparents in Torquay. Then we lay sardine fashion in the back of our Morris Traveller estate, watching the lights and the telegraph poles swoop by on seemingly endless journeys. Now you flash past on the bypass with children firmly strapped into child seats.
Then it was famous for lace and there was a pottery in the town employing quite a number of people making slipcast functional ware. Now many of the shops are gift or good food orientated and there is a Pottery Café on the site of the old pottery which hosts parties where you can decorate pre-fired wares whilst sipping smoothies and tucking into a panini.
It was years since I had visited the town and the rain on this particular day was not at all conducive to sight seeing but Honiton is a true gem! Having had a bit of a look around I squelched my way to the public library where a quick search of the local history section revealed that the original pottery had, for many years, made use of a seam of clay running behind the workshop. That was all the invitation I needed!
I was off – scampering up the main street and leaping puddles like the sure favorite in the National. Lo and behold the house beside the pottery was having building work done and so, swathed in my sodden jacket and dripping with rain clutching trowel and zip lock bags in my damp, little hand, I knocked at the door. Just then a young lad came round the corner of the house. His expression on hearing my request was one of mild shock and incredulity but he agreed to my request and so, before he could call for men with straight jackets, I was down on my knees. Three sandwich bags later (and, some would say, several short of a picnic) I was back at the car with my trophies and ready to start making.
There have been some lazy days this week – a combination of post Christmas lethargy, overeating and a serious case of man-flue causing my darling husband to occupying most of the liveable space we currently have. In the end I decided joining him under the duvet was the easiest option. The great plus point here was that I have been able to catch up on some reading. A friend lent me a whole stack of back issues of Ceramic Review a while ago and I have finally got round to enjoying them. How very different to today’s glossy features! It has been lovely to get stuck into some quite academic articles about such things as Terra Sigilata and some really interesting profiles of the likes of John Higgins.
Work by John Higgins: image by Beveregallery.com
What a great artist! I love his sculptural pieces with their fabulous dry decoration using slips, oxides and on-glazes and curved shapes. I also feel an affinity to them given their makers love of digging about in waste pits!
In the same edition I also found an article by Jenny Beavan about geological forces and the link between ceramic art and human existence. Fascinating! In it she talks about the work of Joseph Beuys and his views on the interaction between science, art, nature and society and of Peter Voulkos who’s work reflects the violence of geological forces and she included some of her own work, which has long fascinated and enthralled me and a long section about Satoru Hoshino.
But one of the artists was a name that I did not recognise, Jacques Kaufmann, and I feel compelled to investigate him further. There is no excuse for not knowing of this man. He is only the current President of the International Academy of Ceramics!
Jacques Kaufmann: www.waba-co.com
I am intrigued by his interest in the relationship of human origins and geological processes and I want to know more! First impressions are that his work is rather controlled and yet I found a piece by him which seems bely this thought. It reads: ‘The question of the legitimacy of forms is recurrent in my work. One of my hypotheses is to think that all energy put into a material, first in an intuitive way, than fully structured as one goes along, is the generating principle of the work. In order to achieve this goal, my gestures are simple and accurate and are generated by the material itself. What is at stake is that the form is invented as a concrete experience of a relationship. For me, the imaginary is originated in the material, in its qualities and in its poetical energy. I belong to a line of artists who questions the limits: those of the materials as well as those of the cultures I meet’. I can relate to that! Beavan talks about how Kaufmann’s work begins with a ‘letting go, a relaxation of the will.’ Now that seems like a great idea. So often I find myself fighting with myself over the making of a piece. There is this tension with wanting something perfect which is not perfect. It isn’t easy and it can’t happen if I am tense. So beginning with a letting go would be a fabulous idea. Maybe it’s time to take up yoga!
So here we are. Christmas comes again! What a year this has been. Full of surprises, tragedy, political upheaval and the rest! The end of 2016 cannot come fast enough in some ways and yet, for me personally, it has been a remarkably good year too: Sales have been good; interest from important directions has been exciting; activity on my social media sites has been incredible and the learning curve has flattened out a wee bit giving me time to consolidate some ideas and try a few new ones. So here are some of the highlights of my ceramic year.
A piece of my work has been photographed and now hangs large, proud and clear for all to see in Battersea as part of the redevelopment of the Power Station site.
2017 will see the ‘Grand Migration’ to Cornwall which is an enormous step – one that I have been wishing for since I was about ten years old, so not long really!! I am hopeful of collecting some more exciting and interesting commissions; I am taking part in a 3 person show in May – 2 painters have asked me to provide the 3D element to an exhibition at highlighting the best of Surrey’s landscapes at the Fountain Gallery in East Molesey, close to Hampton Court – and it kicks of with Top Drawer which is a huge trade show at Olympia in January. I wonder what, if any, surprises That will send me!
So I would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a successful, healthy and happy 2017. Let’s hope for calm waters and sticky mud!
Things have been a bit strange since the Open Studios in November. There have been some massive highs, some horrible lows and everything in between. To cut a long story short I have decided that I am going to bring forward the moving of my studio to Cornwall. The building plans are no further forward but I don’t want to work in London for various reasons and so I am going to rent a studio on the Roseland until my own studio is ready sometime next summer.
I have agonised over this. Things have been taking off in London and I didn’t want to lose out just as it was going so well. However, I have given myself a stiff talking to; pointed out to myself that, if I am any good, I don’t need the big smoke; gone for one of my favourite walks on a fabulous December afternoon and reminded myself that I have a lot to be thankful for.
With somewhere such as this to inspire me why would I not want to hasten my westerly migration!
To paraphrase the words of Paulo Nutini I have the view from my window and a nice warm bed; I have a great place to work and a bucket full of mud; I have some great ideas and a nice warm kiln; but most of all, I’ve got my Roseland!
For those of you that have been following me avidly, thank you by the way, you will know about my love of Richmond Park and about the pieces which I have been making in response to the project to improve the ecosystem of Beverley Brook which runs through the Park from Robin Hood Gate to Roehampton Gate and on into the Thames at Putney. I was really pleased to have one piece ready for the Open Studios this week and even more pleased to sell it! Another£225 will shortly be on its way to the Friends of Richmond Park to support its program of projects ‘protecting the peace and natural beauty of the Park.’
Beverley Brook Vessel No.2
The interest in these pieces has been huge and the third piece , which I have been making throughout the weekend has attracted a considerable amount of attention and people love the story. But for me, the best bit of all is the knowledge that the park is benefitting from these sales. Beverley Brook Vessel No.3 is being constructed during the show and will be completed sometime in the next few weeks. I am looking forward to giving it a good send off and being able to contribute more to the protection of this valuable, fragile resource.
Biologically impossible, I know, but my Dad has always called Richmond Park his third lung. If you live close to London and spend much of your time struggling with the volume of people, the traffic, the fumes and all the other things that living near a big city involves – as well as all the great bonuses such as galleries, events, courses and so on – then having Richmond Park on your doorstep is a truly wonderful plus point. I treasure it so much and its conservation is of considerable importance to me.
The inside of this vessel is decorated with images which remind me of the life in and around the brook.
It was with that thought in mind that I arranged with the park manager to make a few pieces using material from the park and selling them for its benefit: 50% of all sales proceeds is donated to the Friends of Richmond Park for their use in conservation projects. Having sold the first one at Kew Gardens during Handmade it was with great pleasure that I presented the Friends with a cheque for £300. In response they posted a link to my website in their newsletter and on Facebook. The result has been dramatic! I am enjoying peak viewings on my website and have had a number of requests for similar vessels. Given that I am short of work ready to sell during the Open Studios, which starts in less than a week, I had already decided that I would keep my space as more studio than gallery and would make Beverley Brook vessels throughout the weekend, as a kind of ongoing demonstration. It seems that this is a good plan because, if activity and enquiries are anything to go by, I am going to need a couple!
A new Beverley Brook vessel is already under construction.
At the moment I have one, slightly smaller one which is half finished so it looks as though I am going to be a bit busy before, during and after the show and that the coffers of the Friends of Richmond Park are in for a boost.
I seem to have had the best of all problems recently – I do not have very much to put on the shelves at Klay and almost nothing at all for the Open Studios which starts on 10th November because I have sold so much work over the past few weeks. This is a wonderful feeling in some ways but it does leave me with a problem!
I should be in the studio every day at the moment frantically making so that I can put something on the shelves. Somehow that seems to miss the point of what I am trying to do though. I want, more than anything, to enjoy my making. I want to have time to experiment, to hone my skills and to learn new things. So it really does not suit me to be having to work hard. I am sure that it would suit my bank balance, mind you!
Actually it is worse than that because if I feel that I should be making it puts me off and I don’t want to do it at all. So here I sit finding all kinds of excuses for not getting anything done and just letting the clock tick quietly on.
Nothing looking very ready at the moment!
Experimenting with monoprinting
That said, I have been getting a bit of experimenting done and here is lots of stuff wrapped in plastic which is half made and I do have a bisque firing on at the moment which will hopefully yield a few good pieces but finished work, ready to sell off the shelf is going to be in short supply in November!
So I have decided that I am going to do something completely different this autumn. I have been making a number of pieces for Tregony recently and I know that they have sold at least one so this time I am going to make no bones about my activities over the four days that the studio doors are open. I shall have my hands in the clay and, in tune with Poldark Series 2, I will be continuing to create more of my Cornish Mining pieces. I am looking forward to showing people how I work and I can always give my hands a quick rub if anyone wants to take a closer look at the work that I do have ready to sell or to make notes for anyone who is after that very personal piece which reminds them of a time or place which is special to them.
Beyond doubt the best thing about working on a commission is the moment when the client sees the finished piece. That is when you know if you got it right or not. So it was with my most recent commission which I had the pleasure of sending on its way this week.
Ready for handover.
I was delighted with her reaction to her vessel. It is a special birthday present for a member of her family and includes material from the woods on their land and details of the location and architects drawings for the house.
The colours which have come out in the patterns on the vessel apparently match those of the house, which is not surprising given the origins of the material but it is still gratifying to know.
Surprises even on the base.
I am particularly pleased with the idea to put the drawing of the house on the base. It is as if everywhere you look there is another surprise waiting for you, even when you turn it over there is something else to see.
But without doubt, it is the reaction of the client which gives me the best feeling. She was really happy with it and it clearly meant so much to her – considerably more than it did to me as I have never been to that part of the UK. Up until that point it felt like a job well done but as I handed it over it became so much more than that.
The finished commission
I felt as if I was launching a ship or something. I find that these vessels, which are so personal to the person who orders them, are so much more than any of the other work I am doing and I love the warm fuzzy feeling that the hand over gives me deep inside.
It seems that you did – I have had the most activity on my website this week that I have had for many months. Were you all hanging on to know what has been going on?
The truth is that I have been hard at it all week trying to get work ready for Kew Gardens. I want to have a really good body of work and, whilst it was all under construction before my trip to Canada, the finishing is a lengthy process. I have no images of work yet because I didn’t want to do snap shots and it has been more important to get the work ready.
I am particularly looking forward to responses to my ‘piece de resistance’ though: the Beverly Brook vessel. Beverley Brook runs through Richmond Park, one of my favorite places on earth. My Dad calls it his third lung! Poets Corner, within the gardens of Pembroke Lodge was restored partly with money collected in memory of my mum. I grew up ‘in the park’: on long walks in the company of a procession of family dogs; horse riding; pond dipping; making dens; climbing trees; yes, OK, I was always a bit of a tom-boy.
So I gives me a huge sense of excitement to be able to make with material from the park which was give to me, by permission of the management, when they were restoring the brook. It is my plan to have one large piece for sale at Kew and I have agreed with the Park that 50% of the proceeds of the sale will go to the Friends of Richmond Park for use on a project of their choosing.