Blog reposted from A-N.co.uk
With funding from an A-N bursary, this summer I met and interviewed five sculptors working in the field of ceramics.
This year I have been exploring making sculpture in ceramics and exploring the field and the makers who work with clay on a larger scale. In my previous blog I talked about the sculptural installation that I created and installed at Fresh Air Sculpture show this summer. Looking beyond that, I wanted to explore ideas around the interplay between ceramics and sculpture and what it means to be working in the field of sculptural ceramics.
As part of this process I applied for, and was awarded an A-N bursary to further my research and interview a number of artists working in the field of sculptural ceramics. The intention is to write about both the interviews as a whole, and to focus on each of the artists individually.
To do this, I approached a number of artists who’s work I was aware of. Some I had met at ceramics events, some I knew through social media and one had previously acted a mentor for me when I was a new graduate. My first interview, however, was with an Icelandic artist who I hadn’t had any previous contact with, except to have seen her work on show at the European Ceramic Context exhibition in 2018. Erna Elínbjörg Skúladóttir’s work was particularly outstanding as a large-scale wall piece featuring unfired clay on paper. I was asked by the editor for the online journal ‘Forth Door Review’ to interview her and this could not have coincided more perfectly with my plans the A-N bursary project.
I spoke with Erna about her path towards working with clay and her focus on sculptural work as opposed to more domestic scale ceramics. We spoke over Skype and she talked about her key influences and how she explored and expressed these through her work. It was exciting and fascinating to gain an insight into another artist’s practice and a privilege to write about those thoughts and experiences. The article is now with the editor and awaits publication.
Since then, I have approached and interviewed most of the sculptors I made contact with. I was delighted to have positive responses from all the sculptors I contacted. My first face-to-face interview was with Patricia Volk who is an outspoken advocate for sculpture in ceramics and is always keen to separate her work, and this field, from the world of domestic ceramics. Her work is bold and vibrant, and never melts into the background. I was somewhat intimidated in arriving at her studio but she was so warm, welcoming and open, the interview was a joy. Hearing her talk about her work and the way her latest pieces represent an ’embrace’ gave a new perspective to her work that I might have otherwise missed. Interestingly her latest work in the studio was monochrome but still contained the energy of her more colourful work.
Arranging interviews to fit in with my planned timetable led me to swiftly book three further meetings, this time in London. The first was with Jo Taylor who’s work is influenced by architectural forms. Though her making process begins with the potter’s wheel her techniques transform the results into something very far from a traditional thrown vessel. I had met Jo previously on number of occasions so felt at ease talking about her work and her plans. We talked about so many topics, covering views on the role professional societies in the arts, relationships with galleries, how her work is developing (including vessel forms that are not inspired by vessels, but by architectural columns) and her future plans that were, at the time, still hush-hush.
The following week I met up with my former mentor Katharine Morling who’s workshop is at Cockpit Arts in Deptford. In 2014 I had participated in the Crafts Council’s Hothouse professional development scheme for emerging makers and Katharine had spent time with me discussing my ideas for my own creative development. This time I was there to hear about her plans and past experiences. A studio visit is always a huge joy for me and brings in a great deal of context for an interview. We discussed how her path to ceramic sculpture had taken many turns in the past and I heard about her plans to introduce changes into her work in the coming year.
A final inspirational meeting was with Fenella Elms who is known for her striking wall pieces where ceramic pieces appear to flow and ripple. Meeting and talking with other makers, especially those working in clay, can lead to conversations that last all day, and this one I felt could have gone on all afternoon; it was so fluid and far-ranging. As with a couple of the other interviewees, Fenella had made the transition to working with clay from a very different background. But her individual style and process had led to successful commissions and opportunities. We discussed the pitfalls of commissioned work, the role that luck and opportunity play alongside skilful planning and business sense. Like all the other interviewees, we discussed how her future ideas were developing and the importance of a fresh direction.
I’d like to say that I have written up all these wonderful interviews and as I write now, I’m itching to get on with it. But my time over the autumn became increasingly congested and, as a result, the interview write-ups have taken longer to work on than planned.
In the interim I have shown my own ceramic sculptural installation at another site; The Pond House in Sussex. Here I had professional photos taken to help present the work to its best, both to accompany my writing and to help with applications for future opportunities.
I still have one interview planned but not booked-in that I’d like to do; and many more people that I would love to talk to. But that may have to wait for me to develop a new plan for further funding. In the mean time, I’m working on it, and I hope to have the the interview write-ups completed this autumn/winter. But the experience of meeting and talking to sculptors has been fascinating and transformative. Now, even more than ever, I want my creative journey in exploring ceramic sculpture to continue and grow.
Supported by a bursary from a-n The Artists Information Company