Can you tell me about your practice? How do you get started on a piece of work?
I find myself in a constant cycle of working on a number of pieces at once, taking inspiration from things around me. Clay lends itself well to a cyclical way of working and I’ve found I am often struck by an idea for a work or several works in the early hours of the morning. These are sketched out and I can at least attempt to fall asleep again. While the sketches can seem quite fixed, getting the idea down is what is most important, and this evolves and changes at each layer of the process.
Habitually, I take lots of pictures and the cultural scavenger in me enjoys picking up everyday detritus that are sometimes integrated into works. The pictures are of objects, forms and or surfaces (sometimes surfaces I have created), then cut out into either the shape of the object or of a form from a library of symbols I have been gathering over several years. These paper cut outs are collaged together to create rough ideas for future clay works. I’m excited by gathering and assembling these different pieces and weaving them together.
These paper collages are used as sketches for the start of the clay process. I start by mixing two clays of different colour and origin to create a marbled surface as a reference to the topography, strata and contours of the landscape. Once I’ve mixed the clay, I flatten it, stretching the layers to create a plane of space. While this is happening, I am looking closely and beginning to choose sections that will become the main components, accentuating the stretching in particular areas until I am content with the composition of each slab. I like to think of these slabs as portals, windows or maybe even tears in space. While often my pieces start this way there are divergences and it isn’t always the same process; some will be simpler collages of slabs layered on top of one another while other cut collage pieces might sit on a hand built gridded clay base. I have also started working in metal more, cutting large sheets, bending, and welding them together often feels a similar way of working to the paper collages I start with. For my large-scale pieces these strata slabs become armoured cladding for a bigger structure. For my most recent large-scale piece ‘Portal’ these strata slabs and the copper wire structure touch on ideas of fluidity, strength, fragility, and deterioration.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
In many ways, Assemblage as a methodology and way of working has played a key role in my thought processes for the last 10 years. Though it has sometimes taken a back seat in my mind when making, it has now come to the fore again and I am feeling really empowered by this. Assemblage theory has been an important influence – the idea of groupings having a unique impact on all the components in and around it particularly in relation to collective social complexity and its interconnectivity and exchange. The artistic and theoretical idea of assemblage has been evolving and will continue to evolve as our society, the way we are, what we use and how we think evolves. This has run parallel alongside the practical grounding of assemblage in the physical and material sense.
Thinking of artists, Betty Woodman has been an enormous influence on me for many years. Her wall-based pieces I find particularly exciting – she works in a very painterly way. Her compositions reference those of still life. The form of the clay doesn’t necessarily fit with the painted slips she uses on the surface and there is a freeness in her making that results in a subtle complexity. The recent Turner Prize winner Veronica Ryan is another artist whose sculptural assemblage works stick in my mind, her careful compositions of found and made objects to create new meanings for them as a collective whole has been a vital to my thought process and making. Finally, in Frank Stella’s layered mixed media on aluminium works, his use of layering, collage and differing textures encapsulate lots of ideas of assemblage and these have influenced some of my more recent works.
The exploration, excavation and exposing of layers of material is central to your practice, can you tell us more about this?
Since about the age of 9 I had a very strong desire to become an archaeologist and study archaeology and anthropology. My mum took me on a weeklong dig in Suffolk, an activity during the summer holidays where we spent time excavating a Roman bath site. While I did not go on to study archaeology and anthropology, this way of working, researching, constructing narratives and excavating sticks vividly in my mind. On the dig, we found several bits of pottery with incised markings on and I started to learn about the some 32 petroglyphs that were used by cultures worldwide over 30-40,000 years BC – peoples who had hardly any interaction with each other, yet these symbols have been used repetitively across time, leading some archaeologists and researchers to believe in a collective consciousness.
During my BA, I was working in clay and with found objects, but the found objects were much larger and the clay parts were final additions. Over time this has reversed – the clay works are now centre stage while the found detritus is the addition. Often these are now gilded and immortalised, I often wonder what our generation will leave behind and be remembered most for - probably smartphones and vapes.
Working with clay as my main medium is paramount. It is made of the land and I am making with the land. Working with clay connects my work into the artistic lineage of the last 35,000 years going all way the back to works such as the Venus of Dolni Vestonice, one of the earliest known handmade ceramic objects. It is also the possibility of clay, constructing an entire sculpture in the full knowledge that it could last for tens of thousands of years or can be broken down and recycled and made anew. It is a fantastic way to work.
By using the same material as that of the millions of people who have lived on this earth before us, I feel a transcendent connection. The very fact that I am mixing the clay together, flattening it out in a particular way and often carving into it makes reference to an imagined space – it becomes a microcosm of place. As I carve the layers, I am revealing a new surface, a new place beneath.
Company! I find working with others and sharing ideas, discussing their and my ways of making as a really important part of my process, I am not one to lock myself away to hunker down for a big project, I can find that very stifling.
Most recently, Landmarks by Robert McFarlane, particularly the last chapter. The childlike ability to imagine and create transcendent spaces in what already exists and “time is fluid and loopy” and peppers in references to book such as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland. At the end of each chapter there is a list of increasingly rare and specific words that describe the idiosyncrasies of the landscape and its conditions across the UK. I find these forms of communication on the cusp of being lost and re-found fascinating.
Also, Lapidarium by Hettie Judah, in which the author seeks out the wide-ranging histories of rock. Clay and glaze are made up of many different geological materials, primarily alumina and silica, and it is often small fragments of metal and non-metal additives that can transform something from the mundane to the extraordinary, and it is important to understand the history behind each of these materials.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
For the last few months, I’ve been working on a large scale project, a large sculpture as part of a group show which is closing tomorrow evening (1st April,2023), Unfolding Traces at the Royal College in Battersea.
Tonight, I’m in a pop-up exhibition opening at Safehouse in Peckham and I’m exhibiting with OHSH projects in June.
Finally, my cohort’s Degree show is open from the 30th of June till the 4th of July (Royal College of Art), so a busy few months ahead!
1. Ceramics and Glass work in Progress show Exhibition shot, several pieces dimensions variable, 2023
2. Arch with Vape, Stoneware Ceramic, found object, gold leaf, 35 x 27 x 3 cm, 2023
3. Criss cross 2 Stoneware Ceramic, 28 x 26 cm, 2023
4. Large Chalice, 190 x 50 x 50, glazed stoneware ceramic, 2021
5. Studio shot, 2022
6. Arch with shapes install shot, dimensions variable, 2023
7. Unfolding traces, Portal, Glazed stoneware ceramic, copper wire mesh, digitally printed lycra, sand, 340 x 190 x 38 cm, 2023 - Photo credit to Louis Thornton