All the objects I make are in some part an expression of me, because they represent the way I see and understand the world around me. I suspect that materials, techniques, and the history of art and objects are the strongest influences on the work, but I hope that I’m adding some small part that is mine – or at least collaging together these influences in an original way! I certainly feel that making them is like pulling something out of myself, just to see what it looks like in there. So of course I can recognise myself in the work, and maybe because of the work I understand something about who I am.
I was a busy kind of child who was always making things, and I always loved to draw, so I feel as if my love of art goes back further than memory. Or further than the consciousness that it was art! As an adult, I fell in love with a material, rather than the idea of being an artist. Clay is just magical; so amorphous that it feels as if you can do anything, and yet so difficult (shrinking, cracking, changing colour) that it is always a challenge.
I’ve come to agree with the idea (though I’m not sure where I read it) that art is really just a special kind of ‘paying attention’. Sometimes I feel that special awareness when I’m in an art gallery, but I also feel it when I’m finding a flower in my garden for a small vase inside, or noticing the beauty of freshly sliced vegetables on a plate I have made. I love the way functional ceramic objects form a kind of frame around the ‘art’ moments in daily life, and how they initiate them by reminding you to pay attention, and to ask questions of the world around you.
Interesting question. I don’t have a particular mentor – your question reminds me that this is a good idea and something I really should seek out!
For many years I was interested in the pure expression of line, and worked mostly in black and white, so colour is a relatively new and tentative area of exploration for me. I don’t know much about it; I just use my intuition, and take great pleasure in experimenting with it! I’m drawn to dirty colours, and will always temper a bright choice with lots of grey nearby; I like the feeling to be calm, or slightly faded, like a memory. I heard an interview with the singer from the Australian band The Audreys, who said that any song sounded sad when she sang it – it was just her voice. I guess colour choice, or even quality of line, is like that for a visual artist; you choose the elements that feel like your natural voice, and they create a mood or feeling that’s right in the work.
The most obvious answer is that maybe it’s because I grew up on a farm, alongside pockets of wild, uncultivated country. Nature was my playground and original source of wonder, and I’m sure those experiences define or shape the adult you grow into. On a slightly deeper level, it’s because I’m interested in exploring patterns, and working between order and chaos. Nature is full of patterns – growth, decay, accumulation and disintegration, and finding them fills me with wonder. Observing and improvising with those structures or sequences, and the way they respond to interruptions, seems to answer some part of my question about my tiny place in the scheme of things!
In many ways they are opposites – drawing is immediate, ephemeral, abstract and imaginative, while ceramics is slow, enduring, and concrete, so I think there is always a tension, or the possibility of a wonderful balance when you combine them. Their similarity is that they are both very close to the hand and retain the slightest gesture or mark of the maker. As a result, the viewer may have the feeling of being ‘right there’ alongside the drawer, even when the drawing is on a ceramic surface and the potter made the mark millennia ago.
It’s certainly fascinating that people are still interested in hand made ceramics; it’s such an anachronism, isn’t it? But I see new students every month taking enormous pleasure in touching clay – a kind of guilty, child-like pleasure. I guess it takes us back to our child-selves, and rekindles the sense of wonder in creating something with your own hands. Despite the visual esplendor and abundant information made available through technology, our interactions with it are frequently poor haptic experiences, concerned primarily with the knowledge of others. To make something with clay is personal.
A ceramic piece is easy for me – I don’t re-fire or overglaze, so when it comes out of the kiln, it’s done. You can accept or discard the piece, but that’s it! A drawing, whether it’s on paper or on ceramic, is much trickier. I stop when it’s got a kind of balance, a fullness that makes it impossible to add another mark. However, I’m often disappointed in myself for going too far and I would love to be more minimal, so I’m not really an expert on this matter!
My copy of Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, non-fictional and occasional writing by Georges Perec, is well used. He makes the mundane fascinating and endlessly rich.
Films and songs are very hard to narrow down. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film The Return, and Ida, directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, are two films which I find inspirational. In music, I think Radiohead shares this atmosphere; I’d choose the song Street Spirit (Fade Out). Intense beauty, and heart-stopping devastation!