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.
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.
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.
The Country Potter
Yorkshire - and the Hungarians
Arguably, my most important encounter during my time in Yorkshire was with Lubaina Himid and the late Maud Sulter, (1960-2008), then both living nearby, in Preston. I was meeting two of the most important and inspirational women of my art-life. Maud was opening a new gallery in London, 'Rich Women of Zurich,' and invited me to do a show there. There gallery was short lived but the friendship endured until Maud's death in 2008. They helped to take me out of the then somewhat parochial world of craft pottery and return me to the wider art world from which I had come. It was in their gallery that I showed 'Collection for the Zolnay Sisters,' my first London solo show in a private gallery.
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