VIRTUAL TOUR & TALK: Alexander Lindsay Exhibition: South African Landscapes


Alexander_Lindsay_South_Africa_photograph

Saturday 5 September, 11am

Members: use your access code for complimentary tickets

Register interest in Alexander Lindsay’s exhibition

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On the morning Alexander’s exhibition opens to the public, join us for a virtual tour of the show and talk, via Zoom.

We are delighted to present a solo exhibition by photographer Alexander Lindsay whose incredibly detailed panoramic landscapes – described as ‘microcosms in scale’ – aim to allow the viewer to experience a place as he did at the time of being there.

To achieve this Alex uses up to 80 photographs of a scene which are digitally stitched together to create large-scale images with a scale and depth of field that is incredibly rich and sharp. The resolution and detail are completely immersive and almost super-real and extraordinarily beautiful.

All attendees will receive a Zoom link on their order confirmation email.

PERFORMANCE: with Anthony Matsena


Saturday 5 September, 7pm, limited spaces, register interest
Saturday 19 September, available to view online, register interest

 

Those who witnessed Anthony Matsena’s ground-breaking performance When it Arrives, commissioned for MOVEMENT in 2019, will not easily forget it. Following that remarkable event, Anthony become our Performance Associate for 2019/20 and this September, we are delighted to present the result of that process as a new work, made in response to the Elisabeth Frink studio building and her work. A synthesis of the legacy and output of Elisabeth Frink and the seismic changes that have taken place this year is the starting point for this new performance. Composed in three acts, and influenced by three distinct locations, the choreography will address ideas of Humanity, Spirituality and Nature in an attempt to crush borders within the framework of a performance and also those between performer and audience. This will be a significant moment within a movement that has included mass uprising, civil unrest and cries for change by one of the UK’s rising stars in the world of dance and choreography.


The performance will be shown live to a limited audience on Saturday 5 September and then debuted online on Saturday 19 September.


Anthony was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and raised in Swansea, Wales. He began dancing from a young age, training in hip hop and street dance. He then started contemporary and ballet training aged 19 at Gower College Swansea, where he joined County Youth Dance Company and Turning Pointe Dance Academy Swansea. Anthony has been a company member of National Youth Dance Wales (NYDW), creating and touring works by Kerry Nicholls, Odette Hughes (Studio Wayne McGregor), Theo Clinkard, and Eleesha Drennan. His break out moment came as a Young Sadler’s Wells Associate in 2019, and he has since performed works by Ohad Naharin, Hofesh Shechter, Richard Alston, Joseph Toonga for Just Us Dance Theatre, and most recently a new play ‘Tree’ by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah at Young Vic Theatre and Manchester International Festival. Anthony is also the co- founder of Matsena Performance Theatre alongside brother Kel.

Ticket numbers are limited to allow for social distancing, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Material Textile: Nicola Wood speaks to Ashley Gray


Armada, 1965

 

The conversation below between Nicola Wood and Ashley Gray took place on 31 March 2020

Ashley Gray:
Thank you so much for talking to us and I am delighted that your textiles are included in this important exhibition, Material Textile: Modern British Female Designers with Vibration from 1964, April Showers from 1965 and from the same year Armada in fiery reds and oranges.

Can I take you back to early days as your journey as a designer and artist has been quite unique. It was your very earliest drawings that were spotted by one of your teachers that set you on your life’s journey?

Nicola Wood:
Yes, absolutely, Mr Aspdidge at Forefield Lane school in Crosby. I didn’t know that he thought I was a good artist. I lived near to the school. I could see the school yard from my bedroom window. In the summer holidays I would take a tennis racket and play against the wall in the school yard. He encouraged my mother to send me to Southport School of Art. I was 15.

AG:
How did you find Southport?

NW:
I worked at the cinema in Southport when I was at the Art School there in the early 50s. I used to sell the ice creams in the interval. The films were mostly American, and they shone with resplendent landscapes of sun, beaches, swimming pools, palm trees, and chrome-laden automobiles; nothing was rationed; all was colour ‘opulence’. I loved them. At Southport, the training was strictly ‘classical’, life drawing and anatomy, attention to ‘the line’ was embedded in my classes: lines of the human body, the cut of clothing, the contours of landscape, and the lines of architecture.

AG:
Were you able to specialise on the course?

NW:
Yes, I was told to do Fashion and Textiles. I wanted to be in the Painting School but was told – “no, no, no, Fashion and Textiles, you’re a girl, you should do Fashion and Textiles.” I was young, I did not object of course. I couldn’t, I had always been told what to do and I did it. I did not like cutting patterns. I saw the Textile department were splashing paint around so I transferred to Textiles so I too could splash paint around.

April Showers, 1965

AG:
That was a good move. When I think of your later textiles for Heals – Vibration and April Showers – it is their wonderful painterly quality that gives them their vitality. So painting was freedom for you?

NW:
Absolutely, yes, yes. I can remember one thing that I did there, looking through a microscope at a cut-up bumble bee – all the colours and abstractions in that inspired me. You can imagine a bumble bee just the wings – extraordinary abstract shapes. I would just look in the microscope and do a painting.

AG:
It was around this time that you first visited the Royal College of Art in London?

NW:
Yes, I had heard about the Royal College, that it was the tops, the place to aim for. I had heard about London and I was curious. When I passed my intermediate exam at Southport, I don’t know how I did this! I went to London for the first time on the charabanc. A 9-hour journey, to see if I could get into the Royal College of Art. Not knowing you had to apply formally. I found myself on Tottenham Court road not knowing where I was going to live and I just asked people and finally a policeman’s wife took me in. I must have been about 17.

AG:
Did you get to the Royal College?

NW:
Yes, indeed. Textile Professor Robert Nicholson took me into his office one day and the only sentence I remember him saying to me was: “It’s pointless teaching women art, all they do is get married and have children”. I get goose bumps thinking of that moment.

AG:
Yet in this exhibition we see living proof that it was women designers who changed the cultural face of Britain. Bringing your designs into people’s homes that radically changed the way that people felt about their, and lived, their lives.

NW:
Right! But I still got First-Class Honours from the Royal College. During the period I was at the Royal College I designed a lot, I was very inspired by the Thames & Hudson book published in the late 1950s or early ‘60s, Art since 1945, which covered Abstract Expressionist paintings from America and I got involved with Abstract Expressionism and really went to town on it. It was wonderful. I made a lot of designs and sold a lot that had this abstract feeling. It was the key inspiration of this period of my life. I was discovering texture and abstract shapes as opposed to conventional flowers that had always been very popular. We did I now realise change the course of design history. Tom Worthington of Heal’s who bought these and produced them to begin with was the instigator of all of this.

AG:
Your work at the RCA was recognised by the visionary Sir Robin Darwin, one of the most revered figures in the RCA’s history?

NW:
Yes, prior to graduation, Sir Robin introduced me in the Senior Common Room, announcing that I was to be a Fulbright Scholar to the Parsons School of Design in New York. I was only 21 and had never been to New York.

AG:
How did it contrast to your experience in London?

NW:
Oh, it was contrasting. I showed up to class wearing trousers and was told to go home and change into a skirt. The world was behind London when it came to the 1960s and the mini skirt. Everything was changing, fashion changed, textile design changed, painting changed, everything was in change. It was exciting. When I got to Parsons School, they put up a big exhibition of my abstract textile designs in the lobby of the Art School, which was very nice. I had a wonderful teacher called Emil Antonucci a graphic designer, a magnificent creative man and he believed in me. He taught me how to do book jacket design and how to set type.

AG:
You won commissions in New York?

NW:
Yes, I had more work than I could handle, and I was supposed to be only studying. Endless book jackets like the 1st edition of Tennessee Williams Night of the Iguana. Full page advertisement artwork for CBS TV. It never occurred to me that I might be a graphic designer.

AG:
So, when the scholarship was completed, how did you feel about having to return home to London from New York after having achieved so much?

NW:
I did not want to go back; I was not finished. I was living in Greenwich Village on Bleeker Street, which was the hub of whatever was happening with the youth in New York. All the artists hung out down there. I had the most wonderful time and I did not want to go back to England. But I had to go. I was dating a man who I had fallen in love with. He came back with me on the Queen Mary. We were married at the Registrar’s Office in Chelsea on the Kings Road. He got work as a copy writer at an advertising agency. I still have the trunk that we used for the crossing with the Cunard Line stickers all over it.

AG:
What of your fellow Royal College classmates?

NW:
Dereck Boshier, Pauline Boty destined to be icons of the Pop Art movement, Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney and Jane Percival, Zandra Rhodes were classmates and friends. We all saw ourselves as ‘one and the same: artists’. We all lived in Notting Hill Gate – Zandra, Hockney, Ossie Clarke who lived a couple of doors down from me. Michael Hastings the playwright lived upstairs.

AG:
Where you conscious of it being such a unique time?

NW:
No, no. It was just life. If I had been conscious of it, I would have respected it more. I would never have guessed that the people I was at college with would become so famous. We were just all so involved in our own work.

AG:
So, the commissions started to come in from Heal’s, Liberty’s, John Lewis and Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba.

Vibration, 1964

NW:
Oh yes, but Heal’s had already discovered me while I was at the Royal College. They bought work from my diploma show. I remember later walking back to my studio on Blenheim crescent and seeing to my surprise and delight my designs on the curtains in a window of a big house. Vibration, the one in the exhibition, was an early one from 1964, Tom Worthington, the Heals buyer and later Managing Director, even sent staff to New York to try and get me to give them more designs.

AG:
Who else commissioned your designs?

NW:
I had a runaway hit with Rasch in Germany. I did not realise how successful it was until I got a cheque in the mail. I didn’t know if it was for £1 or £100. I took it to Barclays and asked them to deposit it and the lady said, “Oh it’s for £1,000!” My designs had sold so well for them that they put me on a royalty agreement. I was exclusive with them so I couldn’t design for any one in England any more. They advertised me and the work all over Germany.

I am still in touch with the family, we talk as if I was family. After all they commissioned me for over 25 years. I only stopped when I started painting my oil paintings in L.A. I still visited Germany twice a year.

AG:
So, in 1978 you flew across the Atlantic and settled in Southern California?

NW:
I was invited to LA for a while and I liked it so much that I kept putting off going back and I stayed. I continued sending designs to Germany, I had wanted to become a poster designer. Then in 1984 in the middle of painting, I glanced out a window of my apartment in Hollywood, and caught a glint of sunlight reflected off the chrome of a car parked on the street below. The car was a 1959 Cadillac. I grabbed my camera and raced downstairs to photograph the car feeling as if its gleaming chrome and swoopy contours were magnetic forces pulling me. I knew I had to paint the car and that I would no longer be a textile designer. That was my artistic epiphany. From that moment everything changed.

AG:
25 years as the only woman member of the Automotive Fine Arts Society in the United States?

NW:
Yes, the renowned Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles exhibited a selection of my paintings in which the actual automobile featured in each painting was staged with my painting of the car. That exhibition was sponsored by Cadillac. I was commissioned by other automobile manufacturers to create paintings of their cars; Aston Martin being one of those firms. So, all those American Movies, featuring American cars and American landscapes, the films I used to watch in Southport, they never went away.

STUDIO STORY: Tuesday Riddell


Wednesday 13 May 2020

Join us for a virtual tour of Tuesday Riddell’s studio as she works on her new pieces through the fascinating processes of gilding and japanning. These new artworks will be launched on our website on 13 May on the same day they were planned to preview in our New York show, postponed due to the ongoing situation.

Our Emerging Talent artist from 2019, Tuesday Riddell defies easy classification. Her work is attractive, decorative and fantastical yet rooted in dark themes of mortality and contemporary environmental concerns.

Through processes of japanning and chinoiserie these creations are grounded in dramatic tones of black and gold. The ornate surface of the works, together with the depth of narrative, are traversed together in a rare marriage of the imagined world and the decorated surface.

Tuesday Riddell graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art Painting from City & Guilds of London Art School. She has concluded her Painter-Stainers Decorative Surface Fellowship at City & Guilds – the only Fellowship in the UK that provides specialist training in the craft of decorative surface techniques to ensure that endangered skills are kept alive and vibrant in contemporary practice, focusing on historic techniques such as gilding, japanning, chinoiserie and marbling.

STUDIO STORY: with Charles Poulsen


Tuesday 28 April, 11am

“I am a maker of things… I don’t call myself an artist.”
Charles Poulsen

Charles Poulsen is the third in our Studio Stories online feature, a podcast interview with curator Hannah Hooks which will be available on the same day his online exhibition launches on our website with a virtual tour.

Drawing has, in recent years, been Charlie’s primary means of expression. Whilst traditionally regarded as a secondary, or preparatory, activity, drawing has an immediate, direct and simple effect. He says, “it evokes and suggests rather than fixes, it feels transitory and ephemeral, echoing the lives we live”.

Charles was born in Kent in 1952. He trained in Fine Art, specialising in sculpture, at Loughborough College of Art (BA Hons) and Nottingham Trent University (MA Fine Art, 1986). Since 1993, he and his wife, textile artist Pauline Burbidge, have lived and worked in the Scottish Borders, nine miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed.

STUDIO STORY: with Photographer Alexander Lindsay


Friday 8 May, 6:30pm, online via Zoom

Photographer Alexander Lindsay considers the great outdoors to be his studio as for the past forty years, Lindsay has brought his cameras to the most extreme situations and environments on the planet. We are delighted to be joined by Alexander on Friday 8 May live on Zoom at 6:30pm as his online exhibition opens on our website.  Alexander will talk us through the images and locations in South America also the fascinating stories behind the works.

Alexander Lindsay creates photographic landscapes of extraordinary beauty. From his earliest experiences with the Maasai tribe, a five year spell in Afghanistan during Soviet occupation and his expeditions to photograph and film the wreck of the Titanic 4km beneath the oceans waves, Lindsay has always sought to immerse himself in situations where, as he explains, ‘the imagination is rendered unnecessary’.

Having recently photographed in Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa, Lindsay’s lifelong project is to continually further our appreciation and comprehension of what is possible in photographic landscape art. His work has been exhibited internationally, including France, London, USA and South Africa. His prints are included in major private and corporate collections in the US, UK and Europe.

THE LONG READ: Ceramic Artist Thiébaut Chagué


by Tanya Harrod, design historian and co-editor of Journal of Modern Craft

In May 2012 I visited Thiébaut Chagué at Taintrux in north east France. Taintruxis in the Vosges, an area that has witnessed battles and bloody conflict over many centuries. The Vosges retains a secret fairy-tale quality and Chagué’s home is surrounded by meadows and encircled by small mountain peaks, dark with fir trees and with deciduous trees on the lower slopes, just coming into bright spring-time leaf. One surviving industry in this remote area is logging. It is a good place for a potter with a wood-fired kiln. Chagué lives in one of the austere farmhouses characteristic of the region, with windows and doors framed with red sandstone.

On that visit we drove to the nearby town of St-Dié, razed to the ground by German troops in 1944. It was rebuilt after the war as a place of parks, fountains and good housing. Chagué showed me the famous Usine Duval, a garment factory designed by Le Corbusier as part of this rebuilding process. At the nearby Musée Pierre Noel an exhibition dominated by fine African sculpture and masks included a monumental piece by Chagué, Béance, and a pair of massive pierced forms by Chagué’s friend, the Anglo-Nigerian potter Lawson Oyekan. Both artists looked at home in the company of these historic and contemporary sub-Saharan objects. Nonetheless neither Chaguénor Oyekan borrow directly from other cultures. They are not neo-primitivists.

The awe and wonder that Chagué’s work excites has more to do with being grounded in a place, or rather, a series of places. We visited the town’s metalwork shop where young apprentices are taught the skills of welding, cutting, raising and working metal. In this cavernous space Chagué’s L’Enfer dominated. It is a majestic conoid stoneware form, split open and secured with turquoise coloured epoxy putty, its surface dotted with blobs of melted earthenware body. L’Enfer was cradled within a steel frame, made with the help of Fabrice Perrin who teaches in the workshop. Perrin accepts the strangeness of the collaboration without question. Indeed, throughout the day I spent with Chagué I was struck by his role within the local community.

Nicholas Bourriaud’s term esthétique relationnelle, describing art that produces or prompts human relations, sociability and even conviviality, comes to mind. Of course, Chagué spends time alone in his studio, with its view of meadows and mountains. But his natural playfulness and gift for friendship have led him into communities of all kinds. He has worked alongside the women potters of the Gwari village of Tatiko in Northern Nigeria. He makes the firing of larger works performative and very public -most memorably in the garden of the Victoria and Albert Museum where in 2010 he created an improvised kiln around his mighty sculpture La Soif et La Source.

Chagué’s modus operandi unselfconsciously employs contemporary strategies of interactivity, just as his old teacher the great potter Michael Cardew embraced esthétique relationnelle long before the term was invented. Chagué once organised a community dinner and concert, with 250 people eating off his plates, each one playfully inscribed assiette en glaise. Like Cardew’s Wenford Bridge Pottery in Cornwall (carried on after his death in 1983 by Cardew’s son Seth but now completely gone) Chagué’s house is a collective where he, his children and his friends, students and helpers eat and discuss together at a long wooden table. Chagué’s particular choice of raw clay, is brought as dug from a village near the pottery town of La Bourne. At high temperature it acts temperamentally. Forms split and shapes sag. This is not a concern for Chagué, indeed he relishes the uncertainty of the ceramic process, finding uncertainty a useful provocation –in French a word that has powerful artistic associations. The clay is not purchased for its efficiency but for its tactility and materiality. He disregards conventional ceramic technology, and all his work is fiercely sculptural. It is therefore surprising to discover that all his pieces are built from thrown elements. The discipline of the potter’s wheel with its drive to repetition and symmetry appears remote from the dramatic, fractured nature of these complex objects.

In different ways, therefore, Chagué’s oeuvre recalls natural objects that are willed into becoming art objects –like the rocks mounted on wooden stands and placed by Chinese literati on their desks for contemplation. Today we do not really grasp the significance of Chinese ‘scholars rocks’. To understand the sources of Chagué’s inspiration is a challenge also. He directs me to Michael Cardew’s great essay The Fatal Impact in which Cardew writes on art and the child. According to Cardew ‘being aware that the world is overflowing with some tremendous significance the child has to do something –or rather make something –as a kind of acknowledgement of the mystery. He does it by making certain things mean something, by giving esoteric names, properties and meanings to certain stones, sticks, animals or places. He invests them with supernatural significance and potency’.

Most children lose that faculty with adulthood, but, Cardew goes on, ‘there are always a few who for some reason do not allow that to happen. I wonder what the reason is: were they specially happy in childhood, or specially unhappy?’ Nowadays Cardew’s conflation of the child and the artist, in which the child represents an innocent ‘other’ to which the artist should aspire, is dismissed as a form of Orientalism. But Cardew expresses the urgency and concentration of children’s creativity accurately. His imagery recalls Chagué’s own childhood, when he first encountered clay in his grandfather’s sculpture studio and was delighted by its ‘bonne odeur’ and when, fascinated with fire, he made ‘some memorable fires –one in a dustbin, and a remarkable one on the carpet in my bedroom’. Looking at the trajectory of Chagué’s work –towering and recumbent forms, small, utterly convincing tea bowls, torn, complex, honeycomb structures –is to encounter a continuing sense of urgency and daring, traceable back to those juvenile passions and transgressions.

In this exhibition we are both guided and playfully confused by the titles that Chagué has given each individual piece. Some come under the category Albarelle and indeed these upright forms faintly echo their namesake, the highly collectible Renaissance maiolica jars known as Alberelli. But these are jars turned biomorphic and matched by an equally haunting series that come under the rubric Blastoïde –a poetic reference to the fossils of long extinct seabuds, once anchored to the sea floor. Both sequences belong equally to the natural and made world. They are the work of Chagué’s hand while offering echoes of primordial growth during some remote period –Devonian or Silurian perhaps –long before humans walked the earth. At the same time these are highly sophisticated examples of ceramic facture that allow chance to play its part but which also testify to a long-learnt control over clays bodies and glaze materials. And of course they are remarkable because they braid ceramic and sculpture. Chagué’s work has deep roots in ceramic history –but that is not the whole story. Rainer Maria Rilke, writing in 1903, explained that sculpture was ‘a complete thing about which one could walk, and which one could look at from all sides.’ He concluded that sculpture also had ‘to distinguish itself somehow from other things, the ordinary things which everyone could touch’. Ceramics, of course, belongs in both worlds described by Rilke –that of the ‘complete thing’ and of ‘ordinary things’. What Thiébaut Chagué gives us are sculptures that everyone can touch.

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

Bouke de Vries – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

I start every day at 7am – when the world is still relatively quiet. The inspiration for my work comes from my background as a restorer and I still do some restoration for a few clients I have worked with for a long time. I always start my day with any restoring there is in the studio before doing my own work. As I use a lot of resins with varying drying times I am always working on several pieces at the same time, which makes the work very varied. I am fortunate to have my studio in the garden of my home, so usually have lunch in the house with my partner. I generally work till 4.30pm and then go to the gym and do another hour or so of work after that.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

A large blue and grey antique German salt- glaze jug my parents had, which had to be turned into a lamp after my brother and I broke it while playing.

What was your first use of clay?

I made a few small figures out of hand- rolled clay in kindergarten, which my mother kept. I still have them.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

Finding good-quality broken pieces to work with. It is important to keep to the standards I have set myself. Finding good things is difficult but exciting.

What is your favourite fable?

Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau, of course).

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

Artist. In my view a ceramicist is someone who makes ceramics. I don’t. I use existing ceramics as a tool to express myself.

What is the argument for learning / honing technical skills in today’s world?

For a long time, technical skills were regarded as irrelevant but things go in waves and there is now a time when technical skills are being re-evaluated. The nature of my work requires these skills (which I have been able to develop during my decades as a ceramics restorer). There is definitely a renewed appreciation of such skills.

Have we moved beyond the need to make with our hands?

Never. As with everything, when new methods of making things come along it is always claimed that what went before is irrelevant and will disappear – but it never does. There is always reason for people to work with their hands. It seems dexterity is integral to human life.

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

The Sioux by Irene Handl. Surprise!

Why is your studio where it is and what does it mean to you?

My studio is in my garden and it’s my sanctuary. It’s never a chore to be in there. The 20-second commute and the door I can lock at night are important – to keep that work part separate from my home life.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

Because it is such a versatile material, what it can do is like magic: what begins as the basic raw materials of the world, earth and water, infinitely manipulate-able, becomes something very durable by the alchemy of fire, an amazing and primal technological advancement. You start with rudimentary storage vessels. These get decorated. Then glazes are discovered… and it has never stopped. It’s amazing how every culture has developed their own styles of ceramics and we can still identify these cultures by their ceramics.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

Grayson Perry (he already is LOL).

What would you make if money were no object?

If I wanted to make something and it would cost a lot of money I would find a way of raising a lot of money.

     

Beyond the Vessel exhibition page…view details

Beyond the Vessel exhibition catalogue…buy now

Carolein Smit – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

It starts early in the morning after morning walks with the dog and I prefer every day to be the same, the radio is on a network with only talking people, I don’t listen really, it is just a murmuring sound. I work and sometimes my assistant comes for glazing, she works mostly silent. I want it to be quiet. Dog is snoring under the table.

What is your first memory of ceramic?

I come from a family of artists, there was always all I could wish for to work with. Friends of my parents were artists too and I remember how in the sixties I was in the studio of Rosemarie van Oort, a friend of my mum’s and she worked with clay. She always gave me high praise for my attempts. Sometimes she would ask me to make something, a duck or a pussycat and she would fire it and give it as a present to someone’s birthday, this I do not remember but my mum told me.

What was your first use of clay?

At home and at the studio of this friend of my mum’s, also in art school I have made several clay pieces but I studied graphics so I did not do much with clay at that time. In 1996 I started at the European Ceramics Working Centre in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands as an artist in residence for a three month working time with clay. It changed my life.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

When a piece has hair or small holes, I have to keep my concentration to stay on it, it takes a long time to finish these pieces.

What is your favourite fable?

It is about a scorpion and a man who have to cross a river and there is only one boat. The man offers the scorpion a place if he promises that he will not sting the man. So they agree and they set off to the other side. When they arrive on the other side however the scorpion stings the man anyway and the man asks him why. The scorpion says, because it is my nature.

What is the relevance of myth today?

Myths and other old stories, fairytales and biblical stories can make you see a point of view that is not necessarily your own. Most of these stories were not only told because they were fun but also to educate and to tell right from wrong.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

Artist, I just use clay and glaze and such because I can make the things I want with them. Normally in the morning I have a small hesitation before I stick my hands into the clay, I am not fond of the consistency and the dampness, but once I have started it does not bother me anymore.

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

It seems that more artists with no ceramic training are beginning to make works in clay, it is good to see what boundaries they push and cross being not bothered by ceramic conventions that trained ceramicists sometimes have.

What is the argument for learning / honing technical skills in today’s world?

Technical skills make it easier to achieve what you want. If you are constantly held back in making something because you have no technical skills, that is irritating. For me, it is not something I think about much, I invent as I go along. It is nice if you are not clumsy and have an open mind to possibilities and solutions that are unconventional.

Have we moved beyond the need to make with our hands?

I see more and more how artists are returning to the ‘old’ techniques. But also very exciting developments where clay is being 3D printed or designed by a computer, I like both. Important is what you do with it.

Why do you think ceramics is becoming popular amongst today’s youth?

That is also because a lot of contemporary ceramics are very exciting. I always say that there is nothing I cannot make from clay, it has no limits for me.

Why do you think there is such an international vogue for ceramics today?

Because there is such a lot of exciting ceramics, both in art and design.

Who is your hero or heroine?

Bertozzi & Casoni and funnily enough they look at me in the same way.

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, a story that keeps turning around and around, a lot of horrible details and beautiful images are being depicted. Unusual way of telling a story, surreal.

Why is your studio where it is and what does it mean to you?

We had our house built about ten years ago to the size we needed. My husband is an artist as well and we have two large working spaces and a modest space to live that is adequate for two people and two dogs and the best roof terrace for miles around with stunning views. We live in a very small village just beside Maastricht. From my studio I can see into the garden, it is quiet.

What technological or other advances have made you able to push the boundaries of your material / practice?

Having a large kiln and a device to lift heavy sculptures. Working with larger galleries and knowing that transport is not my business.

What is the biggest problem or challenge you see with ceramics today?

Transporting the works and getting the sculptures to their destination in one piece.

Why do you think ceramics has endured from ancient times?

It is a material that can serve any artist or craftsman to make what they want. And the result is mostly beautiful, I am a sucker for beautiful things.

Who would be in your ceramics collection?

Bertozzi & Casoni, Simone van Bakel, Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, Claire Partington, Katsuyo Aoki, Bouke de Vries, Phoebe Cummings.

What would you make if money were no object?

The same as I am making now. I don’t think that ceramics materials are very expensive and thus see no limits.

What is your philosophical approach to making?

It is not very difficult to like my work. Everything shines and glitters, is adorable and the details of eyes, tongues, noses and ears are endearing.  People love that kind of refinement, it can bring back memories of precious Meissen porcelain. That’s just the way I like it. I want people to love my sculptures. I want them to lose their hearts to it and I use all I can to make them do so. At the same time, I want to make this loving not too easy. It’s painful, fragile, unfulfilled and sometimes dangerous. Where are the boundaries? Where does innocence become guilt? Life become death? That is what my work is about. The tension brought by emotional dilemmas, trying to separate right from wrong where everything evolves out of clumsiness, coincidence and misunderstanding.

In my work these dilemmas exist as a complicated knot of conflicting messages. I think that the turning point where seriousness becomes melodrama, beauty turns into overkill and love becomes hate, makes a subtle balance that is very annoying and at the same time very interesting. Humour sneaks into my work when I am making it, I never make sketches before I start, I need it to be an adventure. The highly detailed works allow my thoughts to wander and combine several things that sometimes are not very logical together but do make sense in the end. When I am working in my studio, I go from one work to the next, combining several thoughts and fascinations. I love cabinets of curiosity, Wunderkammer, scientific collections, museums with devotionalia. All these collections contain images that are related to art, but also to other areas. They show the exceptional, the strange, the rare, to secure the scientific order. They lift up the supernatural to restrain the whims of nature. They suggest order and security. At the same time they warn us for chaos that will occur as soon as we let go of this proposed order. They are images that scare us and also restrain that fear. The ambivalence makes us look with admiration and disgust.

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Kim Simonsson – Beyond the Vessel – Q&A


What does a day in the studio look like?

Days are very different. I usually work with a few sculptures at the same time. I like to listen to podcasts or music when I sculpt.

What was your first use of clay?

I started to work with clay seriously when I was accepted to Aalto University to study ceramics. I applied as a joke. I wanted to be a painter but didn’t get into the Art Academy. At the Aalto University I realised that sculpting is natural for me so I stopped making any kind of functional ware.

What is the most challenging element to your practice?

Everything outside of the studio work that is demanded of the artist nowadays. In studio I guess it’s the first 50 cm of the sculpture.

What is your favourite fable?

I think that all of the fairy tales that we are grown up with in Scandinavia from Hans- Christian Andersen to Astrid Lindgren can be seen in my work. Maybe Moomin is my favourite fable, if you can call Moomins animals.

What thing or person is your greatest influence?

I use as an inspiration for the faces of my characters a bust made by Camille Claudel that is displayed in The National Museum of Norway in Oslo. I live in the countryside surrounded by big forests. They are also my sources of inspiration. On the other hand, popular culture, contemporary art world and video games influence my works. I have always been interested in history, art history and mythology in particular. They play an important role in my works. I was raised in a home that belonged to the Seventh- day Adventist Church. The trauma from secession of the religion in my teenage years is part of my works.

What is the relevance of myth today?

As the western world is getting more secular, we want stories that don’t have a moral element to them. We want to believe in something more than the everyday life, that gives as reason to wait for something exciting that will come or happen.

Are you an artist or a ceramicist?

When I was studying I always wanted to make sure to everybody that I was a sculptor and not a ceramicist. Later on, when I have gained better self-esteem, I didn’t really care how people would characterise me. I do all the ceramic work myself with a skill that I have achieved by working a lot, so I have a skill and I am a craftsman.

What is the relevance of ceramics today?

Ceramics is indeed very popular at the moment in contemporary art. It is affordable for young artists who want to do sculptures, since for example casting bronze requires large infrastructure around you. With ceramics you can do pretty much anything you want; express yourself in any kind of shape or though from modernist to figurative and narrative.

What is the argument for learning / honing technical skills in today’s world?

For me it was necessary to learn the skill to make my sculptures because I couldn’t afford somebody else to do them.

Have we moved beyond the need to make with our hands?

It’s not all about making something concrete to this world but also about the therapeutic part of working with our hands. The human hand is so amazing and we have trained it over tens of thousands of years – that it is something humans have to use.

Why do you think ceramics is becoming popular amongst today’s youth?

It is an affordable material and you can sculpt or do anything from clay. It also has a lot of reference points in our culture from utility ware to sculpture.

Why do you think there is such an international vogue for ceramics today?

Ceramics has been for so long in the fringes so there is the excitement of something new.

Who is your hero or heroine?

A Canadian friend always joking told me “Don’t be a hero”. Maybe we would need less heroes in the world.

Name a book that everyone should read and why?

The Bible to understand what the fuss is about and understand that it’s written by mortal human beings and not God. I suppose most Christians haven’t read the Bible.

Why is your studio where it is and what does it mean to you?

I work and live in Fiskars Village, Finland. It used to have manufacturing of the famous orange scissors. Nowadays the factory is situated ten km away and the village is known for its artists, designers and craftsmen. One third of the population is in a creative field. It is very inspiring to work there and it enables many kinds of cooperation. I also have a studio at the Arabia Art Department in Helsinki, part of Iittala & Arabia Design Centre. The Art Department was established in the 1930s along with the ceramic factory and the main focus has always been unique ceramic art. Nowadays the factory no longer exists but the Arabia Art Department Society carries on and develops the Finnish ceramics art heritage in the same space it was established decades ago.

  

Beyond the Vessel exhibition page…view details

Beyond the Vessel exhibition catalogue…buy now

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