Halfway through my undergraduate degree I switched departments, from Sculpture to Ceramics. I think I had come to a point where I realised that my interests were very much material and process based. Clay, being intrinsically malleable, leant itself readily to these sorts of interests.
A good example of the sort of thing I am drawn to is work of the Gee’s Bend Quilters. In their quilts, regularity of shape and precision in colour matching is not of priority. I like seeing the significance of something having been worked through, shifting naturally, and the importance of parts becoming whole.
The selection and placement of colour, for me, is a very subjective process. I never use colour for symbolic, emotive or representational purposes. Learning to use colour is a bit like learning to cook. You learn to grasp how combinations of ingredients reach the right balance in taste. Over time, you will instinctively know when the dish needs a pinch of something to get the consistency right.
When I use clay, I work very quickly, producing many things at once. I use oxides and stains to colour the clay. These colours only show through properly once the work has been fired to about 1260 degrees centigrade. So I spend a lot of my time guessing what things might look like! I often build up pieces with liquid clay (slip) and mix newspaper pulp into it, to give it texture and strength. I also often approach my work like a collage: I cut out shapes from coloured clay and flatten the pieces together.
If I am honest it is not something I think about very much. The priority for me is the surface and material. For some reason everything I make seems to be flat and wall-based at the moment, but I wouldn’t say no to making a bowl or two!
I visited the Isle of Mull in Scotland to prepare for a show that I have on the island later this year. I spent a month in Neumünster, Germany at the Künstlerhaus Stadttöpferei, where I was able to work on my own projects. Aside from the benefits of being in a new place, the best thing about these experiences has been the opportunity to meet some very wonderful and generous people.
Living in London, I find that I can easily lose several hours of the day just getting to the other side of town and back! So far, my residency experiences have been in places that are much smaller than London. When I was in these places, it felt like I had gained time to think and breathe as much as make. In turn, my work benefitted.
I think the important thing is to keep playing, and I try to remember this when making my work. As we become adults with serious things to think about, it is sometimes hard to keep playing. When children make things, up to an age they are not concerned with accuracy. They just want to enthusiastically complete something and enjoy themselves. I find it a bit sad when they stop doing this, and start wanting to perfect things.
I worked for a year as a secondary school art teacher, before heading off to study for my Masters degree. This was a brilliant and very rewarding experience but very challenging work. I think that good school teachers deserve a lot of credit. I now teach painting and drawing privately. I encourage my students to believe that every mark that they make is useful. Even when you want to change a mark because you feel it is wrong, the original line has always played a useful role.
I am currently working towards my debut solo show, which will be at An Tobar Gallery on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, in October. In September my work will also be part of a three-man show at Vox Populi Gallery, Philadelphia, USA. In the future I would love to work on collaborations with other people. So if you have any ideas, please get in touch!