Friday, 4 October 2013

British Ceramics Biennianl: Display of five of my pots in the Award Show 2013, at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery














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This post is in response to some of the questions I have been asked since my five pots went on display at the British Ceramics Biennial as part of the Award Show 2013.

The following links will take you to more images of the pots and some of the events and stories that prompted me to make them.

The above image is a selection of five of my pots at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent. From left to right the pots are: Travelling West, St. Mark of the Farm, Pageant, Nothing Like a Kiss, (slightly in front and lower down,) and, far right, ‘Remembering Atefeh.’

Travelling West
Travelling West was made especially for BCB and has yet to be photographed by itself. I have written a post, outlining the story that it depicts. The post is directly below this one. The images are phone photos taken in my studio. They are a ‘tour’ of pot, turning anti-clockwise.

St. Mark of the Farm
My blog post about this is as a companion piece to another pot, Wedding Procession, and can be seen here with images of both pots. The first image shows both pots, with St. Mark of the Farm on the left. The next two images are both view of St. Mark of the Farm. There is a detailed account of the story and landscapes that feature on the pot, (it depicts the funeral of Mark Duggan). It was done as a ‘tryptich.’ There are three main views to the pot, which borrows from the convention of the Renaissance altar-piece. There is more in the blog post to explain this decision and also the title. More images can be seen here.

Pageant
More images of Pageant can be seen here. A general introduction to the exhibition, ‘An Extraordinary Turn of Events,’ of which it was a part, is here.

There’s Nothing Like a Kiss
My Blog post is here. Images of this pot and the two others in Molly’s Odyssey, can be seen here on my page of Francis Kyle Gallerywebsite.

Remembering Atefeh
More images of this pot, including the interior imagery, can be seen here. There story of Atefeh and of the making of the pot is here.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Travelling West





























The Journey
Travelling West depicts the journey of my friend  Hossein, as he travelled overland from his home town, Qazvin, in Western Iran, to England, seeking asylum. He left at Iranian New Year, March 2006, and arrived at a service station on the M1 in June the same year.  During the three months he travelled by bus to a village close to the Iran –Turkey border. From there he went by truck to another village where he joined the smuggler route to get over the border, travelling through the mountain passes on horse-back to avoid check points. From a village on the Turkish side, he travelled by lorry and on foot: the lorry took the refugees by road but when a check point was in sight, they had to walk, at night, over the mountains to reconnect with the road and another truck on the other side of that check point. From the Turkish city of Van, he took a bus to Istanbul, using forged identity papers in case he was questioned at one of the fourteen checkpoints on the way from Eastern to Western Turkey. From Istanbul he went by lorry, with another group, to Ezmir and from there by boat to the Greek mainland and on to Athens. At every point of change, he was passed on to a new trafficker, each one arranged by the one before. From Athens he went by plane to Paris, Orly where he took the metro to Gare du Nord and took the train to Calais. At Calais, in the queue for food, provided by kindly French charity workers, he met an old friend. They made a sleeping place in the cabin of an old crane until, one night, after numerous attempts, they got on a lorry which took them to England, disgorging them all in the car park of a service station on the M1.

Hunger and Danger
This is the simplified outline of the journey, the bare bones, if you like. The full story includes constant and gnawing fear and anxiety, not knowing who he would encounter next, what the trafficker would be like, what his fellow travellers would be like, what the conditions of travel were like: the boat, for example, was not seaworthy and they only just avoided drowning. The traffickers varied, some intensely violent, others, kind souls, themselves trapped in a debt-bondage cycle to another, ‘more senior’ trafficker – a debt-bondage avoided by Hossein himself only because he took a risk and refused the financial demands of his trafficker-in-chief once in England. It was a risk that paid off.  At times he didn’t eat or drink for a week at a time, often at the most arduous points. In the mountains, for example, they had only berries and snow. Even when there was food, it was only bread and tea. The hardest thing though, was the powerlessness, not knowing until the last minute, if the next trafficker would come and if he could do the next stage of the journey or if he would be stuck, locked in a dingy room forever unable even to return to Iran.

Masoud
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What really colours the entire journey, however, are the relationships between Hossein and the people with whom he was connected. His task was to escort two people from Istanbul to London. These two were from a wealthy Qazvin family. The Trafficker-in-Chief, Masoud, was their older brother and Hossein’s former employer. Hossein idolised this man. ‘He was a like a prophet, well educated and always polite. I was only seventeen, from a poor family, and had little education. He taught me everything.’ Masoud’s business, where Hossein was employed, had failed, partly because he was member of an opposition group, the Mujahideen, and was endlessly obstructed by other traders in the bazaar, who were government supporters, and also because he was issued with bogus penalties and fines by government officials. By way of revenge, Masoud become a small-time crook, deliberately defrauding the other traders of considerable amounts of money, and eventually fled Iran, in 2000, to escape his debtors. Masoud had left Hossein in Iran to face both the police and the wrath of the other traders in the bazaar. In the police cell he was beaten and threatened with torture. He could hear the sounds of other prisoners being tortured. Some six years passed during which Hossein was unable to work legally because of his former connections with Masoud. When Masoud eventually contacted Hossein and asked him to escort his brother and neice to England, Hossein eagerly accepted, hoping their friendship might be restored and trusting that Masoud would acknowledge what he had suffered on his behalf and would, somehow, make amends. The plan was to meet Masoud and his brother and niece in Istanbul. Masoud would fly from England, the other two from Iran. They all had money and passports and could do this legally. Hossein had to make his way overland, alone, with no money, no passport and equipped with nothing but his wits and hope. He was to meet them in Istanbul.

The Meeting
When he eventually arrived in Istanbul, hungry, terrified, and with only the clothes he was wearing, his delight on meeting his old employer, friend and mentor was overwhelming. ‘When I met Masoud in Istanbul, we hugged for whole minute. He cooked me a meal. It was a feast.’ Then, later the same evening, came an unexpected twist: ‘They laughed at my clothes. I hadn’t been able to wash. I knew I didn’t smell good. Masoud bought me new clothes and a tooth-brush. Then he demanded I pay him back, even the toothbrush was listed on the bill. For the last six years I had endured beatings and threats in Iran, then risked my life travelling over the mountains and dodging military check points in Turkey. I did all this for him. In return, he presented me with the bill for a toothbrush.’

There was nothing Hossein could do. He was dependent on Masoud who would finance the rest of the journey and, even then, only on the condition that he escort his two relatives.

The realisation that he had lost, not only any hope of reparation and recognition for his loyalty, but also the man he loved most in the world, more, even, than anyone in his family, hit him harder than any of the dangers on the journey. His ‘prophet’ had been replaced by a dangerous criminal and trafficker, a cynical operator bent only on extortion and profit. For a young man, very much alone in the world, the emotional impact was, perhaps, a greater threat to his life than the furious Aegean Sea that almost engulfed them on the next stage of his journey. Though not technically alone at this stage, he was, in some ways, more alone than ever. He had responsibility for two, ‘incompetent and half-witted rich kids.’ He still had his wits but hope for his friendship with Masoud had evaporated entirely. He understood that, far from being a friend, he had sunk from employer, to servant to bonded-serf and, at best, would end up in London in debt to Masoud who would, doubtless, try to get him to become a trafficker too in order to pay off the debt.

Conclusion
Travelling West shows the physical journey. It also depicts Hossein making frequent phone calls. These punctuated every stage of the journey, confirming its progress or not.  They also, gradually, settled the nature of the relationships between Hossein and his family and between Hossein and Masoud. They indicate human connection but they also signify immense loss.

Our traveller arrived at an anonymous motorway service station in June 2006 alone, under threat of debt-bondage, and hungry. Since then he has been slowly rebuilding his life, free of all contact with Masoud and his family having refused to pay off any of the ‘debt.’ Journey’s end, for this first stage of one man’s odyssey seeking asylum in Britain, was in Stoke on Trent, where he was granted asylum in recognition of the political problems that dogged him after Masoud left.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to show Travelling West, for the first time, in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in Stoke on Trent, as part of my display in the Award Show, 2013, at the British Ceramics Biennial. This is a new work, made especially for the BCB. It is dedicated to my friend, Hosssein, and to all refugees and migrant workers and their extraordinary determination to succeed against the odds.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Letter from the CPA council circulated to CPA members about the future of the organisation as a whole and of Ceramic Review in particular.




The letter above, in two separate images, is the one circulated to CPA members. It seems clear and innocuous enough but is startling in its deceit. The reality is much simpler. The independent editor has been removed and has not been given the choice to return. The new 'guest' editor is a CPA member and, I believe, former chair of the CPA council. The editorial, far from being 'no longer in-house' is about as 'in-house' as it could get. The notion of a 'guest' here is meaningless since there is no editor, as such, to invite the guest. Moreover, and, arguably, even more worrying, there is no mention whatsoever of the writing, editorial, or publishing experience of any of these people comprising this new, collective, editorship. The appointment of Jack Doherty as the new 'guest' editor has now been announced on the Ceramic Review Facebook page. The first comment it attracted sums it all up nicely: 'The maffia (sic) strikes again.'  The first comment to arrive on my share of the document above was, 'What worries me is that the same (one or two) people are now in charge of who gets into the CPA, who gets into Ceramic Art London AND what is published in Ceramic Review.' Quite. I wouldn't argue with a single word of either of those two comments. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

We Are Ceramic Review! An open letter to the CPA regarding the future of CR


This is a post I thought I would never have to write and now do so with considerable regret and concern.

You may have heard - either from Bonnie herself or from other sources - that Dr Bonnie Kemske's contract as Editor of Ceramic Review was recently terminated by the Craft Potters Association. No new editor has been appointed. There are no adverts so far posted seeking a new editor. There appear to be no plans, as yet, to appoint a new editor, and, as things stand at the moment, there is nothing on the CPA website concerning these upheavals at Ceramic Review. Moreover, most CPA members know nothing of these changes. The only member of the CPA council that I have spoken to 'didn't know enough about it' to discuss the issue with me.

** Latest update **  CPA have now informed their members that the Jack Doherty will be the first guest editor but there is still no news on the long term plan for an editor as far as I understand.

In addition to this, we know that promotion of Ceramic Review abroad has been terminated and the focus of the magazine is now to be national only. 

A small group of us have written the following open letter to the CPA calling for an Extraordinary General Meeting so that we can put our concerns to them directly. You may have many more questions you would like to ask. 

Please take a look at the letter here below, which we plan to send to the CPA council with a list of signatories, and, if you agree and would like to add your name, please send an email to weareceramicreview@gmail.com with a YES as your subject line and your name as the message - with any comments you may wish to make, by midnight Friday 20th September. Please also email or share this post via twitter or facebook to anyone you think might also like to add their name. 116 people have so far added their name via email and many more via facebook. Don't forget to send the email or let me know via fb by Friday 20th! 

Many thanks from The C Word


Dear Craft Potters Association Board Members,

We write to express our deep disappointment at the recent removal of Dr Bonnie Kemske as editor of Ceramic Review.

We feel strongly that, under her editorship, the magazine has taken on a new lease of life. Over the last three years we have welcomed the publication’s broader perspective, particularly enjoying the international dimension, and the inclusion of a wide variety of ceramic production. The range of articles about industry, studio pottery, installation work, sculpture, and public and community art projects, have provided an excellent overview of the breadth of production and the scale of ambition that defines our field. 

It is this mix, combined with the international coverage, that gives Ceramic Review its considerable, and currently unparalleled, national and international status.

Our shared concern is that the broad-based appeal of Ceramic Review, its inclusive, democratic, and international content, and tone of open debate, is set to become increasingly conservative and narrow. This would be a great shame. At best, these are very challenging times for magazines. Narrowing the Ceramic Review remit will, almost certainly, reduce its readership and threaten its survival.

Many of us are CPA members, Ceramic Review subscribers and contributors as well as readers. We are all stakeholders in the Ceramic Review enterprise. The welfare and future success of this magazine affects us all. We urge you to retain a progressive and inclusive agenda for Ceramic Review, under an independent editorship.

We would welcome an opportunity to discuss these issues further and call for you to hold an extraordinary general meeting for that purpose.

Signed:


Saturday, 2 February 2013

The SCUB Manifesto: The C Word reports from a literary hinterland


The C Word has recently taken up membership of the Society for Cutting up Books. No, this is not the militant wing of a dodgy political pressure group, it is a celebration of that Ur moment when exasperation becomes the creative act that results in the taking up of a Stanley Knife to slice through the spine of a very fat book.

Let me explain. Scubbing is the act of cutting along the length of the spine of a large, heavy paperback  - either a normal ‘cheap’ paperback or one of the glossy text-book sort – and dividing it into smaller, lighter sections, thus creating a number of portable booklets rather then one book which is so heavy you can barely lift it off the shelf. The scubbed sections can then be placed in those nice transparent ‘pockets’ with holes punched down the side and placed in a file for safe-keeping. When taking the tube, bus, a train or just for reading in bed, you need take only one of the sections which is light enough to carry. This vastly increases your chances of reading the book, since, in its original published form, it was too heavy to be taken out of the house and too heavy to read in bed. Let’s face it, how many of us lead the sort of life where we can ‘read in the library’ or ‘in the drawing room?’ Quite. Scubbing, in short, is what you do with books which are not available on Kindle. Where art books are concerned, that’s most of them.

The first book I scubbed was Glen Adamson’s ‘The Craft Reader,’ a magnificent book if only one could hold it up longer than five minutes. It seemed particularly appropriate that this should have been the first. Adamson’s book is published in sections (1-7), – all sewn together in one volume – daft, but no matter. It is an anthology of craft writing. Section 1 deals with the ‘how-to’ writing. In his introduction to the section he writes:

            As is obvious from the sheer volume of instructional publications produced annually, most are never put to direct use. Books are given as gifts or bought on impulse, page through and left on the shelf.

He goes on to say that the voluminous heaps of unread literature have an additional purpose to that intended which is to attest to the aspirations and identity of the would-be reader. Bearing this in mind, and considering that I had only just started reading the book, how could I allow myself to leave this book, unread – or at least unfinished- on the shelf simply because it was too heavy to read on the tube? So began my membership of SCUB. That was almost three years ago. Since then I have scubbed a Lonely Planet Guide to Iran, Salman Rushdie’s, ‘Midnight’s Children,’ and now, I’m happy to say, James Joyces’ ‘Ulysses’ has been so honoured – neatly cut into three manageable morsels and may well be cut again if I need to study another section at close range, as it were. (See the The C Word Supplement for more on this – it concerns my next body of ceramic work, Molly’s Odyssey.) So, my aspirations to being a well-read potter, and the instructions in Adamson’s book as to how to achieve that, are now assured. One more thing: The Craft Reader IS a magnificent book. Much has been said already of its vast scope, its richness and its breadth of understanding of what craft is. I will just add it's worth getting for the excerpt from George Sturt's, 'The Wheelwright's Shop,' alone. Read this and weep! And not just for reasons of the writing. The following extract is from Adamson's introduction to the excerpt:

            Sturt had a basic conviction that it was only through direct, physical experience that one could understand workmanship, or even raw materials: ‘My own eyes know because my hands have felt, but I cannot teach an outsider the difference between Ash that is “touch as whipchord”, and Ash that is “frow as a carrot” or “doaty”, or “biscuity”.’

Ends

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Last Sane Man, Michael Cardew, Modern Pots, Colonialism and the Counterculture, Tanya Harrod, Yale University Press, 2012

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Introduction

Michael Cardew, (1901-1983), was, and still is, one of the most highly regarded potters of the 20th century. Along with Bernard Leach, he pioneered both the aesthetics and the technical know-how of the modern studio pottery movement, or what we now call ceramics.

Tanya Harrod’s detailed journey through his life and work is an epic sweep across the social, political, and art history of the 20th century. Her biography opens before Cardew was born with a brief look back at his ancestry, introducing his well to do, highly educated, upper-middle class family, and closes after he dies, looking forward to the impact of his extraordinary legacy which crosses well beyond the borders of craft pottery and the arts to embrace anthropology, politics, and the ecological and alternative movements of the 20th Century.

Early life and love

Cardew was born and raised in Wimbledon, South-West London, with regular family holidays at a seaside house in Staunton in Devon, where he grew to love the traditional English slipware pottery still being made at nearby Fremington. As a teenager, while doing agricultural work with his school during WWI, he experienced his first male love and subsequent rejection. While his love of slipware flourished, his love of other men became highly conflicted and was largely closeted throughout his life; he longed for ‘normality,’ for marriage and children.

He studied Classics at Oxford but then rejected the expected career of a socially privileged, scholarly male and, instead, pursued his love of pottery. He trained with Bernard Leach in St. Ives and, within a few years, set up his first pottery, retrieving the abandoned kiln and workshops at Winchcombe in Gloucestershire. Here he had success in both his pottery ambitions and in love but, nonetheless, longed to return to Cornwall. It was at Winchcombe that he met and married Mariel Russell and where their three children were born. Here too he developed his life-long preference for ‘austerity.’ He rejected what he referred to as ‘bourgeois’ affectations, preferring the sometimes harsh conditions of the struggling rural potter.

Cornwall and West Africa

In 1939, he left Winchombe with Mariel and the children to realise the dream and set up the Conrnwall pottery at Wenford Bridge. This saw the beginning of a series of disastrous firings and relentless, unforgiving struggle. With the onset of WWII Cardew decided to leave Mariel and the children to cope with the inconclusive chaos at Wenford and, in 1942, got a posting to Ghana, then called the Gold Coast and still a British Colony. Here, at Achimota, he set up what would be the first of three pottery workshops in West Africa. It was also here that he met and formed a lasting relationship with a young man called Clement Kofi Athey. After Achimota, he went with ‘Kofi’ to Vume on the Volta River, and set up the second workshop. The third was near Abuja, in Northern Nigeria.

For five years, the failed firings continued but, at the point of transferring to Abuja, with an adjustment to the kiln design, they began to yield much needed success. It was also in Abuja that Ladi Kwali, an immensely gifted Nigerian potter, using traditional handbuilding methods, joined Cardew and his team and learnt to use the wheel and work with stoneware and glazes, while also doing with her own work. Ladi Kwali later became a major star, touring the USA with ‘Kofi’ and Cardew and also visiting the UK. Cardew left Nigeria in 1963, after independence, and returned to Wenford Bridge. Mariel was living in London now but regularly visited Wenford. 'Kofi' also came to Wenford for some time but returned to Ghana and Cardew continued to visit him there. Over the next twenty years, Wenford Bridge became a magnet for aspiring studio potters from all over the world and Cardew did numerous speaking tours to USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

Conclusion

Michael Cardew’s working life spanned sixty years, (1923-83), in Britain and West Africa. Tanya Harrod navigates this vast and complicated historical terrain with formidable political agility. She applies forensic critical scrutiny to the colonial context of working, personal and romantic relationships as well as to the wider social contexts. We learn about Nigerian contemporary art movements and evolving independence movements in both Ghana and Nigeria. Cardew’s tours of the USA and Canada and his relationships there are all explored in the context of the civil rights, anti-Vietnam war, gay rights and ecology movements.

We hear the voice of Clement Kofi Athey from his letters and through others who knew him. He does not appear only as a colonial ‘subject’ but as an active player with his own concerns and priorities. We also hear the opinions and memories of the villagers at Vume and Abuja from interviews and site visits. We hear from Mariel’s friends, colleagues and associates, as well as from her own letters and diaries. Harrod brings an admirably cool head combined with considerable compassion to the complicated tangle of both homosexual and heterosexual relationships, enabling a fully rounded picture of all concerned to emerge.

Cardew eschewed industrial processes, insisting on developing a pottery ‘from the ground up,’ starting with making and firing the kiln bricks, digging up local clay and grinding rocks for glaze materials. Undaunted, Harrod deftly picks her way through the details of craft pottery - the firing temperatures, the nature and feel of the clay, the machinery and general grub and grit as well of the science and aesthetics of the business.

This is painstaking historical research combined with fluent, inspired storytelling. It’s a glorious book, one that will live near you and will be read and reread, argued over and discussed. Buy it new - second hand copies will be rarer than hen’s teeth!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

On The Record: writing my own art history


Writing one’s own art history is always going to be risky; it’s subject to human memory, which is notoriously unreliable. Fortunately, I am a diary writer and an avid collector of exhibition catalogues so there is at least some documentary evidence for the claims I might make. The following is an account of the artists, exhibitions and movements which have had a significant effect on my work and on the way I think about ceramics.

Marc Chagall

An exhibition of paintings (1967-77) by Marc Chagall, at Palazzo Pitti in Florence in 1978 was the first to make a real, memorable impact on me. I went to see it time and again over the course of a month that summer. They looked beautiful and made sense to me, more so, if I was honest, than much of the rather grandiose religious art that I was supposed to be studying at the time. They seemed to be telling a story, though what that story was, was wholly obscure to me at the time.

Later, studying ‘fine art,’ which at that time was painting, drawing and print-making, at Camberwell School of Art and Craft, (1981-85), my depraved and superficial taste for such ‘illustrational, decorative’ works as these was dismissed as woefully unserious and uneducated. I was introduced to Bonnard and got a season ticket to an exhibition of paintings by Pisarro, apparently these were the acceptable face of figurative art which Chagall, curiously, wasn’t. I was painting landscapes at this time, but I was a village girl and now lived in London and hadn’t learnt to love the London landscape yet. I was getting interested in its people though and, in particular, their stories which were so different from mine but with so many meeting points.

Kathe Kollwitz

An exhibition of graphic works by Kathe Kollwitz at Kettles Yard, in Cambridge, in 1982 was the next ‘Ah – YES!’ moment. These were intimate, everyday stories about ordinary people and their extraordinary struggle to survive. It was a struggle which Kollwitz shared, in that she inhabited the same place and time and lived through the same wars, but from a distance: she was comparatively well off and her subjects are mostly people profoundly oppressed by poverty. Even so she seemed able to capture something of their lives, experience, concerns, and above all, their humanity. They were not objectified as ‘The Poor.’ Again my interests were at odds with those of the institution: ‘Manifesto,’ hissed the head of department, with unrestrained contempt.

Soviet Porcelain

In 1984 the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in partnership with the Crafts Council in London, mounted an exhibition entitled, 'Art into production: Soviet Ceramics and Textiles.’ The ceramics, Soviet Porcelain, was breath taking. The Imperial porcelain factory in St. Petersburg had been requisitioned by the Bolsheviks, in 1917, and hordes of young, idealistic, revolutionary artists eagerly joined the factory to paint the porcelain ‘blanks.’ These works were explicitly propagandist and magnificently designed and painted. Here was an extraordinary moment in art history, quietly overlooked by established art historical discourse, which fused revolutionary fervour with art – or rather craft and industrial production – but it was painters, Kandinsky, Goncharova, Popova and the constructivists, Suetin among others, who were the main exponents of this work. I remember thinking I had found the answer to all my questions about how to proceed as an artist. I was, by then, working towards my final degree show, but in the back of my mind, simmering quietly, was a growing understanding that, contrary to the tired dogma of the art school I attended, there was a way to bring political activism and art together. I had seen two examples in as many years, both recognised by highly respected and authoritative art institutions and both had stood the test of time.

Taking action

After four years at Camberwell, I understood that painting was not for me, but what to do? I had learnt which medium I didn’t want to use, but not which ones I did. I continued drawing. After graduation I joined a women’s life drawing group. There were five of us. Buoyed up with voluminous feminist idealism and determined to rip through every last thread of the patriarchal fabric, we decided that the notion of the artist’s model was a grotesque misogynist conspiracy and we would boldly challenge the entire concept and, in so doing, rock the history of art to its roots. Thus it was, that in the top room of the squat in Peckham, in summer 1985, the five of us got naked and drew each other drawing each other. I do still have the documentary evidence. It is in my shed and there it will stay. Charmingly absurd though it may seem in some respects, it was an immensely productive time as well as being probably the best life class I have ever attended – we were meeting for at least a year. The history of art plainly didn’t register so much as shiver never mind anything else but, for my part, a new chapter of art practice opened up. 























The Think Black Line and so much more

The life-class was on Monday. On Wednesdays we went to exhibitions. ‘The Thin Black Line,’ curated by Lubaina Himid, was at the ICA that year. The first exhibition of the work of black women, it was, both explicitly activist, on the part of the artists, something which we well understood, and ‘notoriously tokenistic,’ on the part of the institution. Either way, it was a hugely exciting exhibition. Himid’s magnificent cut-outs, (Tate Britain), and Sutapa Biswas’ now famous image, ‘Housewives with Steaknives,’ (Tate Britain), burnt themselves into my consciousness and have never departed. Four years later, ‘Along the lines of Resistance,’ also an explicitly feminist show, introduced me to the work of Nina Edge, the first contemporary potter I came across whose work truly excited me. It looked good, was colourful, decorative, ornamental and told stories – interesting ones. Lubaina Himid later became a much needed adviser for my PhD. One of the most significant aspects of this strand of contemporary art practice was its non-hierarchical position on craft, shaped largely by anti-imperialist / post-colonial politics combined with feminism.

By means of a mildly eccentric life-drawing class, and a series of important exhibitions of work by contemporary feminist artists, I had found a way to be an artist that could embrace both ceramics, which I now loved, and other peoples’ stories, which I also loved and understood in their wider, socio-political contexts. The repeated mantra I had received at art school which stated that ‘art and politics don’t mix,’ was plainly bunkum. The key was a sophisticated, educated understanding of all the elemental parts: art, narrative, and the social impact of politics on the lived experience of people.

The Country Potter

It was September 1985, with the new term starting, that one of the life-class women announced she was going to a pottery class and asked if any of us would come with her. We all went but I was the one that continued for next three years. I had found the medium that was, without question, the right one. In 1989 I moved to Oxford and started an apprenticeship at Winchcombe Pottery with Ray Finch. To say the least it was a culture shock. I was back in the village. It was a sharp reminder of why I had moved to London. The landscape was like something out of Thomas Hardy at times but so were the social attitudes – it was sometimes depressing, other times highly entertaining.

Yorkshire - and the Hungarians

The subculture of ceramics was also a culture shock. This was an art practice apparently untouched by feminism or, indeed, any of the social movements or art discourses which had become part of my social and artistic norm in London in the 1980s. So here I was, first in Oxford, then in Yorkshire, in the 1990s, wondering in which part of the 20th century I had landed. My nine years in Yorkshire were highly productive in terms of my own work but something of a desert in terms of influences. Ceramicist Paul Scott, who has pioneered and popularised the development of printmaking techniques for potters, was an important teacher and introduced me to the work of Hungarian maker Maria Geszler. A visit to Hungary and to her workshop included a trip to Szentendre where I found and was captivated by the work of Margit Kovacs, (1902-77). The museum in Szentendre holds almost all of her work which has not, to date, been seen in this country. The Zsolnay Museum in Pecs, home of the Zsolnay Factory, introduced me to the estimable Therese and Julia Zsolnay, the Zsolnay sisters, in whose name I produced a collection of work: Collection for the Zsolnay Sisters, (1999).

My one other memorable ceramic encounter of this time was when my sister sent me a newspaper cutting, a review of an exhibition by someone called Grayson Perry who was showing pots at Anthony D’offay Gallery in London. ‘Someone’s stolen your ideas!’ she exclaimed in the accompanying note. There was just one tiny picture. My heart sank and I felt sick. I worried about this apparent incursion for days. After the initial shock, however, I quite quickly came to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do about it even if it were true, which, I suspected, it probably wasn’t, and resolved to continue with what I was doing, and let life take its course. I also resolved not to look at the imposter’s work, and that included looking at pictures of his work. A couple of years later, in 1999, I had a show in London at a gallery called, Rich Women of Zurich, (directors Maud Sulter and Lubaina Himid,) and two people came in wanting to meet Grayson Perry. They had looked through the window and thought my work was his. I was told there were a couple of his pots in the Crafts Council Gallery down the road and the following day I went to see them, in person, as it were. The personal encounter was hugely reassuring. They were completely different. They were big painted pots, and had printed images on them, which mine did too at that time, but there the similarity ended.

Back to London

The move back to London in 2001 was prompted by a trip to Australia in summer1999 where I met Edmund de Waal, who was giving the key-note speech at a conference. He talked about Bernard Leach in ways I recognised, in the same way that Nina Edge had talked about Leach-influenced pottery in an essay in Feminist Art News in 1988[1] and, rather more damningly in, ‘Your Name Is Mud,’ (Sulter, 1990: 155-67). Ceramics, it seemed was beginning to acknowledge the twentieth century, just in time for the twenty-first.

In the last ten years, I have encountered a few truly inspiring contemporary ceramicists. They include, Tehran based, Iranian artist, Bita Fayyazi, whose work I first saw in Contemporary Iranian Art, at the Barbican, 2001, and who I now count as a good friend; Klara Kristalova, whose magical fairy-tale, figurative work is represented in London by Alison Jacques; and Israeli / Australian potter, Avital Sheffer, represented by Beaux Art in England and numerous outlets in Australia. I am eternally grateful to Grayson Perry for his success since, I suspect, it has opened doors for me. It has certainly made it much easier to tell people that I make pots with pictures, (as opposed to patterns), painted on them, and that I show this work in art galleries. There was once a time, not long ago, when that was considered inconceivable, it is now regarded as almost normal, a process of change in which he has played a significant part alongside increasingly open minded curators and institutions.


[1] Also in ‘Artists Stories,’ A-N publications, 1996