Clay is more than a material of making. It is much contemplated, romanticised, opposed and transformed, central to fundamental artistic debates and diverse in its application. Clay is craft, art and idea: domestic, sculptural, industrial and architectural. Recent landmark exhibitions have highlighted clay as a material worthy of examination in its own right, but does the bringing together of art as ‘clay’ serve the variety and depth of ceramics?
In 2023 the spring season at Messums celebrates contemporary ceramic across its various spaces with a programme of exhibitions and events that seek to showcase the richness and breadth of the medium, profiling a number of significant contemporary practitioners and focusing particularly on the importance of the journey of making.
To mark this celebratory season, a symposium will be held at Messums Wiltshire on 1 April 2023 and will highlight the diverse potential of clay in art. The symposium programme will include presentations by the exhibiting artists and writers and curators of ceramic. The symposium will be paralleled by a ‘Young Clay Symposium’ on the same organised by Messums Creative where participants aged 10+ can celebrate contemporary ceramic through hands-on learning.
Lee’s works are the visual definition of precise skill. His thickly thrown vessels and totems are turned on a laith to create the spikey indentations. These fins make the form an illusion that plays with light and shadow and complicates the sense of inside and outside for the vessel.
Lees will give a presentation about his working processes and the piece exhibited in the Abstract Ceramics exhibition at Messums Wiltshire.
Natasha Daintry creates beautiful minimal vessels that are explorations of colour and gradation of tone, they interact with light, surface, and the landscape. The works are thrown on the wheel and coloured with precisely hued glazes.
Daintry will give a presentation about her working processes and the piece exhibited in the Abstract Ceramics exhibition at Messums Wiltshire.
James’ bold forms find their origins in graphic and geometric forms on paper, a visual language he has created that is abstracted into 3 dimensions. The works are often site-specific and react to place and space. His treatment of surface differs in his use of acrylic paint and metal leaf, not using traditional ceramic glazes.
James will give a presentation about her working processes and the piece exhibited in the Abstract Ceramics exhibition at Messums Wiltshire.
Smith’s ceramic practice acknowledges a deep history of clay whilst challenging the expectations of the medium. He does this through refinement of ceramic techniques, the development and invention of tools and mechanisms of making, and an intense examination of volume, surface, and geometry.
Messums London recently exhibited a selection of new works by Martin Smith. Martin will guide an ‘In Conversation’ event with Natasha Daintry and Nicholas Lees.
Thiébaut Chagué’s ceramic sculptures examine intersections between the natural and the man-made. Through physical manipulation of clay Chagué wills the natural into art. Blazing Embodiment is a four-metre megalith, a shrine to clay and flame, that symbolises a fiery rebirth. It will be fired on site at Messums Wiltshire in a 5-metre kiln on 30th & 31st March.
Thiébaut Chagué will present his work and the Messums’ Wood-Fired Kiln project.
The Butler Collection is recognised to be the finest collection of 17th century Chinese porcelain in the world. It was put together by the British Diplomat, Sir Michael Butler, G.C.M.G. (1927–2013). The collection started with the acquisition, in 1961, of a green glazed, bamboo–shaped wine pot for a couple of pounds, but gradually grew to over 850 pieces.
Katharine Butler is curator of the Butler Collection and will discuss trends in 17th century Chinese porcelain.
Paul Greenhalgh is a historian, curator and writer on visual history and ceramic history. He was previously the Director of the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich and is currently Director at the Zaha Hadid Foundation. In 2020, Greenhalgh published his major new history of ceramic, Ceramic Art & Civilisation (Bloomsbury). He tells the story of ceramics as a one of human civilisation, from the Ancient Greeks to the present day.
Paul Greenhalgh will present the history of ceramic in eight pots.
Natalie Baerselman le Gros is the Exhibition Coordinator and Assistant Programmer at Messums. She is a writer specialising in ceramics and has contributed to numerous publications, including Ceramic Review, Ceramics Monthly and Ceramics Now. Natalie is studying for her doctorate examining the Abstract Vessel in 20th Century British ceramics at the University of East Anglia.
Natalie will present her PhD research on the diversity of the Abstract Vessel in ceramic.
Alun Graves is Senior Curator, Ceramics and Glass 1900–now, in the Department of Decorative Art and Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He has written widely on 20th and 21st-century British ceramics and sculpture, contributing to a variety of journals, collected papers and exhibition catalogues. He has curated many exhibitions and displays, including Simon Carroll: Expressionist Potter (2014-15), Barnaby Barford: The Tower of Babel (2015) and Alison Britton: Content and Form (2016).
Graves will be launching his new book Studio Ceramics, a magnificent catalogue of the V&A’s collection of twentieth-century and contemporary British ceramics. In his introductory essay, Alun Graves, provides all lovers of ceramics – collectors, practitioners, historians and those interested in modern and contemporary art and crafts – with the historical context, documenting the medium’s shift into an expressive, and sometimes interventionist, art form.
An extensive visual catalogue, Studio Ceramics is the primary reference for 20th-century and contemporary British studio ceramics, and a record of the national collection of British ceramics held at the V&A.
A signed copy of Studio Ceramics will be available to purchase at the Symposium. Or pre-order your copy for posting or collection from the Symposium.
Join us for drinks and supper at Messum’s Restaurant after the Symposium. Booking for supper is essential BOOK HERE
Top image (left to right): Nicholas Lees ‘Blue Orbit’, ‘White Orbit’, ‘Green Orbit’