“an air of robustness and strength is very prejudicial to beauty. An appearance of delicacy, and even of fragility, is almost essential to it”
Edmund Burke (1756)
Visiting a friend in Cardiff this weekend, I took advantage of the opportunity to see the contemporary ceramics exhibition at the national museum of wales. the exhibition features some of my all time ceramic heros and I was pretty excited about seeing their work. I was definately not disappointed and it’s made me remember how special my material of choice is, clay, and its incredible potential to create the most wondrous and thoughtful of things. I hope you get to visit it too, in the meantime heres a few of my favourites….
phoebe cummings, raw modelled clay.
I’ve followed Phoebe cumming’s career since her residency at the V&A, London a few years ago. She creates an imagined world of raw modelled clay. She constructs her pieces on site as temporary installations. This installation is a small room she has built which you walk through to see her tiny and seemingly delicate creations up close. I was in awe at how the unfired clay had managed to survive so many visitors. Above your head was also a collection of leaf like structures which somehow manage to stay there unspoilt. Heres a link to a video I took… Phoebe Cummings
Claire Curneen, ‘in the tradition of smiling angels’ (2007)
I was really excited to see Claire Curneen’s sculpture as when I was a student she very kindly let me visit her studio in Cardiff. I was able to see some of her pieces in progress and to get a glimpse into her fascinating process. I was very inspired by her at this time and still am today, she spoke of the importance of meaning to her work and made me reevaluate how I approached my own projects. She made me not want to follow the crowd and to create something from the soul. She creates sculptures of angels inspired by the saints of Christianity,
“Angels as the heavenly bringers of news are made of commonplace terracotta, yet are dripping with gold which signifies high value and status’.
Anne Gibbs uses bone china, silk thread, pins and wire to create this intriguing arrangement of mixed materials.The ceramic pieces are slip cast from found objects, some resemble body parts. She was fascinated with the sensory qualities of materials, colour and texture. I really enjoyed the way the pieces all sat together and the mix of forms and surfaces as well as the colour mix. It made me remember fondly times at University when you had lots of experimentation time and you would end up with rows of little test pieces to evaluate. Heres a video of the full piece: Anne Gibbs
Edmund de waal, ‘porcelain wall’, (2005 and 2007)
Also having followed the work of ceramic master edmund de waal since university, I couldn’t believe my luck that I was able to see his work having only ever seen it in pictures. I stood in awe for a good amount of time trying to take in the numerous shades and forms of each of his wheel thrown vessels. I have recently watched the BBC program ‘what do artists do all day’ featuring De Waal so I truly felt like I was in the presence of something special. The time, skill and attention to colour blew me away. I felt like I couldn’t quite acknowledge all the pastel shades, like there were more there than my eyes could register. A little video here for you too: Edmund de waal
various manufacturers, wales, ‘twenty-four bricks’, 19th and 20th centuries
Who knew how fascinating bricks could be! this collection of various bricks of differing clays stood out beautifully against the white walls of the gallery. As one who is a little obsessed with clay does..I’ve read into the making of bricks over the years and the technical process and hurdles are really quite incredible, so its hard to view them as simple objects now. It gives an insight into the variety of clay available and the various colours different clays produce when fired.
staffordshire, manufacturers unknown. (1840-1900)
These ceramic figures were popular in the Victorian era to decorate ordinary homes. Subjects often included royalty, soldiers and criminals. a row of the figures lined the stairs within the exhibition and they really are a very sweet collection and in such good condition. It reminded me of my own growing collection of craft objects I have at home which are filling my shelves. I love to collect pieces from different independent makers and each one tells a different story to me each time I look at it. I hope one day that my house looks like a treasure trove of interesting finds, my own little inspiring place.
Halim al-karim, ‘soul archive’, (1982-91)
A difficult one to show by photograph but too beautiful a story to miss out, Iraqi artist halim al-karim created 9 notebooks during the saddam hussein regime which included comments on the political situation. In 1991, halim managed to flee baghdad with his family but decided to destroy his notebooks in order to “protect his testimony”. He covered each notebook with liquid clay and fired them in a kiln he constructed. Now no agent of Iraqi or other government could alter their contents or his memories.