From slip to stags: Ceramic Art London pushes the boundaries of contemporary craft

By Jenni Davidson | 13 March 2012
A photograph of some white ceramic vases
Vases by Ikuko Iwamoto© Ceramic Art London
Ice cream, chimpanzees, butterflies and bog oak are not what one expects to see at an exhibition of ceramics, but they are just a few of the unusual inspirations that appeared at Ceramic Art London 2012, along with the more ubiquitous vases and bowls.

Visitors to the exhibition came face to face with an enormous stag at the front door. The sculpture was made in situ in unfired clay, and became something of a virtual guest book, as a few visitors left their mark on the work in the form of fingerprints in the clay.

A photograph of a clay lion
Stephanie Quayle, Watching Lion© Ceramic Art London
The artist behind the stag sculpture, Stephanie Quayle, describes herself as “a sculptor who works in clay, rather than a ceramicist.” She would like to leave all her work unfired, she says, but would get too many customer complaints, as the pieces would start to crack within a few days.

Each of her large-scale clay sculptures of animals seems to have a personality, like characters in a children’s book, from the tiny squirrels to the fox preening with attitude and the cute big piggie.

Quayle’s work examines the way we attribute human qualities to animals, but aims to bring out their inherent animal-ness, reminding us that they are altogether different. She describes her chimp as “unnerving”, but says she couldn’t help but put a pair of specs in his hand anyway.

Another artist doing unusual things with ceramics is Anna Barlow. Her huge ice cream sundaes, banana splits and 99 cones are perfect in their detail and look good enough to eat, right down to the iced gems and pick ‘n’ mix on the side. They are dripping and spilling with joie de vivre. You can’t help smiling.

A photograph of jugs and bowls on a gold tray
Louisa Taylor, Fourche© Ceramic Art London
Even looking very closely it’s hard to tell they are not real and she spent a long time experimenting to get it just right. “If the colour’s wrong,” she says, “it actually affects your stomach.”

The cones and wafers are made in moulds while the ice creams and the running chocolate and strawberry sauces are shaped by hand.

Lesley Risby’s wire baskets and ceramic shells, explore fragility and vulnerability. They didn’t start out as eggshells, she says, but that is what they look like.

They began solid and became more skeletal, mirroring the way natural objects break down. Her wire baskets turn different ways, some giving the impression of protection, others of separation.

Martin McWilliam and Jin Eui Kim both work with optical illusions.  Martin McWilliam’s vases and bowls in natural clay and blue look like archaeological objects and manage to be both 2D and 3D. They give the illusion of being solid, but are in fact squashed almost flat.

Jin Eui Kim works with optical illusions on the surface of the ceramics, using concentric circles of difference shades and widths to fool the eye as the shape and size of the piece.

A photograph of a spiral made of porcelain
Porcelain sculpture by Fenella Elms© Ceramic Art London
Among the many other makers whose with interesting work on display were Mette Maya Gregersen, whose rock and coral-like ceramic waves are textured using wood, Fenella Elms’ tiny, delicate pieces of porcelain, some so fragile they have to be encased in acrylic, and Fred Gatley’s multimedia pieces based on finds from the Thames estuary accompanied by simple pots

Virtually the only thing the different exhibitors had in common was that they work in clay.

British crafts are having something of a moment just now. Last year the V&A showed a selection of contemporary craft last year at its Power of Making exhibition and even 10 Downing Street is now presenting a rolling exhibition of British craftwork to visiting dignitaries.

It may be a sign of the economic times that people are taking more pleasure in the handmade, things that have intrinsic worth, not linked to their monetary value.

Whatever the reason, there is a lot going on and ceramic art is worthy of its share of the attention, as Ceramic Art London demonstrated.

More pictures:

A photograph of a ceramic curve on some rough wooden boards
A ceramic wave by Mette Maya Gregersen© Ceramic Art London
A photograph of a ceramic bowl decorated with black and grey monochrome circles
One of Jin Eui Kim's optical illusion bowls© Ceramic Art London
A photograph of five ceramic ice cream cones
A tasty-looking ice cream sculpture by Anna Barlow© Ceramic Art London
A photograph of a pair of wire bowls with ceramic eggshells in them
A pair of delicate wire and ceramic baskets by Lesley Risby© Ceramic Art London
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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