Sunday, 15 January 2017

In Situ

Well it's about that time of year again for my yearly blogpost, although one of my New Year resolutions (AGAIN!) is to try to keep this blog more up-to-date.  Maybe this year I will actually succeed ;)

Anyway it has been a busy year in the Tinderbox!  Firstly, I was very excited to be able to join a new artist's collective based in Cork called Over The Line Studios.  It is really the first studio in Cork which actually provides for ceramicists, and we have access to a range of kilns and individual spaces large enough to cope with the general chaos which seems to be generated by anyone who works with clay.

As well as ceramics we also have a mix of artists working with various media such as painting, photography, textiles and sculpture, which is great for learning new skills and bouncing ideas.

The studios are situated over a kitchen showroom where beautiful high-spec kitchens are on display.  For our opening group show it was decided we would be showing our pieces inside the kitchens, which took a while for some of us to get our heads around. white walls?  No PLINTHS???  How is our stuff going to work in a room full of shiny marble and MIRRORS?? However, once we had freed ourselves from our mental straight jackets we could see how exciting and different the possibilities were.

It was entitled In Situ, as the work was, obviously, being shown in situ, and bar the odd crash and heart-breaking smash it was a roaring success, and firmly put OverTheLineStudios on the Cork art scene.  There was lots of wine, there was music, there was dancing and it was great to discover how well we could all pull together as a team when it mattered.

Anyhoo, here are some pics of the work on display.  If any of you are ever in Cork and fancy popping in to the studios to say hi, please do! ;)

Driftwood Disc:  Saggar-Fired Stoneware, Found Chain, Driftwood

Beach Stones:  Saggar-Fired Stoneware.  Photography by Dervla Baker.

Beach Stones:  Saggar-Fired Stoneware.  Photography by Dervla Baker.

Escapades of Chickens:  Saggar-Fired Stoneware, Found Toolbox, Found tools.
We found this old toolbox our rambling one day and it took a couple of years of subconscious festering before I finally decided what to do with it. Basically a chicken escaped and laid it's eggs in a tool box.  I got the idea from a painting hanging in the Crawford Art Gallery of a basketful of eggs.  Not sure who painted it, nor am I sure how my mind managed to make a connection to the toolbox but hey ho that is what happened and here are the results ;)

By The Sea:  Black and White Stoneware, Found Chain, Driftwood.
The black ceramic beach stones with white stripes in this piece were inspired by the beautiful stones on one of my favourite beaches here in Cork.  Obsidian?  Quartz?  Geology is not my strong point but I would like to find our more ;)

Dragon Eggs and Mordor:  Saggar and Sawdust-Fired Stoneware

Black Dog: Saggar-Fired Stoneware

Sunday, 17 January 2016


So when I rocked up at the fourth year graduate show at my college, lurching in my unfamiliar heels and tugging at my figure-suffocating dress, I wasn't expecting to win anything.  We had been told repeatedly that ceramics never wins anything.  Ceramics isn't really ART.  However, all my stars must have been out or maybe there was some giant shift in the cosmos because my name started being called out, and not just once but several times!  And I don't think anyone was more surprised than I was.  After all, I hadn't even studied art at school.  I had wrangled my way into an access college at the grand old age of 30 with a random googly mess of photographs and bits and bobs I had produced at various arty evening courses.  I spent the subsequent four years at art school feeling like I was surrounded by real artists while I was just a faker, wrestling with self doubt and a medium which is as complex as it is surprising.  Ceramics is, more often than not, a heart-breaking business. Cracks appear where they shouldn't, glazes come out completely differently from what you expected them to, a careless elbow can send two months worth of work crashing to the floor (yes, that happened!).  However, just once in a while, you get a result which makes all the crying and sighing and head banging worth it, and that is for me where the excitement lies.  The lure of the Great Unknown.

'Hanging Disc' - saggar-fired stoneware and driftwood

One of the prizes that fortuitous night was the CIT Registrar's Prize, which is bestowed by the head bigwig of the college our art college was affiliated to.  He has a keen eye and normally, we had been told, favours landscape painters so it was quite a shock to bag that one.  The prize was a solo show up in the main CIT campus, complete with all marketing and curating covered and no commission charged on the work. Wow.  I was bowled over at the generosity of the prize, while at the same time I was thrown into a flat-spin panic.  My fourth year show had, amazingly, been pretty much a sell-out.  I didn't have anything left for a solo show.  I had a job which I was due to go back to full-time, no studio, and, probably more importantly, I was completely burnt out.  I was looking forward to a holiday and not having to think about ceramics for a while.  Fourth year, for me, had been a trial by fire.  I had spent the year fighting with myself, aware I was on the cusp of something but being unable to articulate what it was exactly as everything I was doing was purely instinctive.  I knew that I would get there, I always had faith in this, somehow, but I wasn't sure when it would happen, and it certainly wasn't happening fast enough for my tutors ;)

Luckily I was also offered a three month graduate residency at the Sculpture Factory in Cork, which threw me a lifeline for which I am eternally grateful, and I met some wonderful people there.  It allowed me time to think and tinkle, and although most of the time I was there was spent preparing for another group exhibition the work I did there fed into the solo show.  I was able to build on the ideas I had started in fourth year and really see where I was going.

Work in progress at the Sculpture Factory

After the residency was over I still wasn't ready, however, and the clock was ticking.  I really didn't want my first solo show to be cobbled together from the scraps left over from other things.  I wanted it to be a cohesive culmination of ideas that I felt happy with.  When Kevin, who was coordinating the show, rang to see how I  was doing I ended up panicking down the phone to him and telling him there would be no way I would be ready in time and would it be possible to postpone it by, say, a year??  He was wonderfully understanding, however, came round on his bicycle one evening for a cup of tea and calmed me right down.  It was agreed that the show would take place in October 2014 (yes, I know, I am very late in writing this post!), which gave me an extra seven months from when it was originally supposed to be.

Phew.  When it was time to leave the sculpture factory I moved operations to our largely redundant front room in the house I shared with four other incredibly tolerant housemates ( as one of them remarked, while observing the mess of tree trunks and bits of metal "it's like the outside has come inside...").  I wasn't prepared, however, for how hard the next few months would turn out to be.

'River Ring' - found metal ring, saggar-fired stoneware, bicycle spoke, driftwood

I teach English as a day job.  Whilst preparing for the solo show I requested that my hours were cut so that I was only teaching in the mornings and had the afternoon to make ceramics.  I have long held a theory, however, that it is actually really difficult to switch between the two sides of your brain in one day.  Teaching uses the left, art uses the right.  If I had the whole day to purely concentrate on one or the other everything seemed to come much more easily.  Switching from one to the other in the same day is exhausting.  I soon fell into a pattern of napping in the afternoons after work and then working at the ceramics until the early hours.  The weekends were spent purely in the front room. Summer slipped tantalisingly past outside the window and I felt increasingly tetchy and claustrophobic. My relationship suffered, as my boyfriend at the time who is immensely talented and who helped me a lot with the wood and metal and drilling and soldering and all the things I wasn't so good at, became more and more impatient with the length of my fuse and what he viewed as my chaotic disorganisation.

'Churn' - found metal milk churn with black stoneware and sawdust-fired terracotta

However, by a combination of luck and sheer bloody-mindedness everything came together in the end and was, by all accounts, a success.  The photographs here are not so successful, unfortunately, but you can hopefully get an idea ;) I am aware that this post might sound a bit ungrateful but that is not my intention.  I am extremely grateful to everyone who had faith in me when I didn't.  I have been amazed at how my work has been accepted by a wider audience and how supportive everyone has been.  It has been the encouragement I needed to keep going and without that I might still not be making, because the purpose I suppose of this post and the reason it has taken me so long to write it is that it is hard to admit that creating art is HARD.  It has, for me, been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  For anyone who thinks that art students are dossers who don't do any work, try doing an art degree.  It will challenge everything you have ever known about yourself.  It will shake you to your core, make you question everything you thought you were capable of.  It will force you to excavate the depths of yourself and believe me that ain't pretty half the time. And then at the end you have to lay everything out on the table and allow yourself to be judged.  This, for me, is probably the hardest part.  I am not naturally a 'look at me!' kind of person.  Being an artist requires you to do that.  It requires that you put yourself out there and, effectively, sell yourself to the highest bidder. You have to put your work out in the public eye and weather the reaction, whether positive or negative. And as your work is usually a result of some serious soul-mining, that is a pretty scary thing to do. .I also always felt like if the solo show wasn't any good I would be letting a lot of people down, all these people who had put their faith and resources in me, and that felt like a lot of pressure.

'Driftwood Boat' - found bog yew with saggar-fired stoneware

On top of that, try doing an art degree in ceramics and then try being taken seriously as an artist. Ceramics has long been considered the lowest of the low.  It is, apparently, a combination of skill and function.  It has no place in fine art.  Every year representatives come from the RDS in Dublin to check out fourth year work.  They looked at mine and informed me that there would be no point in  applying for the RDS.  When I asked why not they said that they either had a category for fine art or one for craft, and wouldn't know where to put me.  I said I don't see why mine can't be considered fine art, and they said it was because I had used clay. Apparently it is ok to use paint, metal, rubber, wool, anything, really, apart from one of the most versatile substances on Earth. (Sorry, rant over ;))

Drift was a show about our relationship with our environment. It explored how nature attempts to break down our waste products and how the results can be unexpectedly beautiful, and it celebrated the natural beauty of the wild coastlines of where I am lucky enough to live, in the South West of Ireland. It remains the result of someone who struggled innately with herself to produce it, and to all intents and purposes it is something I can finally say I am proud of.  It is, I hope, part of an awakening which I think has been happening recently, that is the perception of ceramics as an art form rather than a craft.  It is also a testament to everyone who helped me achieve this, and to everyone who kept me going when I wanted to give up, and I will always be thankful for that ;)

'Ag Na Farriage' - Black and White stoneware, found chain, driftwood

'Whalefish' - saggar-fired stoneware, found chain, driftwood

'Morning Glory 'I - saggar-fired stoneware, found metal frame, slate

'Morning glory II' - saggar-fired stoneware, found metal frame, slate

'Iron Sky I' - saggar-fired stoneware, found metal frame, slate

'Iron Sky II' - saggar-fired stoneware, found metal frame, slate

'Iron Sky III' - saggar-fired stoneware, found metal frame, slate

All set up

Opening night 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Glasgow Ceramics Studio Residency

Well one of my New Year resolutions is to keep this blog more up to date, and as it has only taken me a year to write this post I feel I am not doing too badly so far ;)  In 2013 I was offered a graduate residency in the Glasgow Ceramics Studio for six months by the wonderful Susan O'Byrne, so after I had got the solo show out of the way and had been kindly funded by the Arts Council I stuffed my life into the back of my birdshit green car and hotfooted it back to my native Scotland.

Glasgow looking cold ;)

Glasgow in January is cooooollllld.  So cold in fact that the first person I met when I arrived at the WASPS studios was a snowman, leaning drunkenly over and wearing a rather fetching beanie hat.  However I was warmly greeted by Emilke, one of the studio members, and shown around. Located just to the East of the centre in Dennistoun, the WASPS building is an old tobacco factory which has been converted into studios for more than 140 artists. Home was a cosy flat above the studios which I shared with two painters (both whisky drinkers, which was good ;)). The ceramics studio is home to 18 ceramicists and has a wealth of facilities including six different kilns and a range of wheels.  Everyone was lovely and very supportive and I was given my own space and free rein to do what I wanted, which after all the pressures of the previous year was exactly what I needed.

Happy chaos in the studio

The first couple of weeks I spent just reacquainting myself with the city.  I used to live in Glasgow but it had been several years since I had been back for any length of time, and I was more familiar with the West side than the East.  I visited several museums and galleries, ate a lot of macaroni cheese ( a Glasgow will find it on every menu in every restaurant) and did a lot of street pounding, muffled up against the wind.  Down past the soot-blackened buildings of the Saltmarket, the Barrowlands, the Gallowgate, the old Fruitmarket, Rottenrow, Merchant City...wonderful names that beat like drums in your brain... the views from the Necropolis, following the River Clyde through Glasgow Green and over the bridge into the Gorbals.

Piece from an Alasdair Gray exhibition at GOMA

I was also given the opportunity to visit the Glasgow School of Art post-fire as my friend Christabel Geary (wonderful stuff - check her out ;)) had an exhibition on while I was there as part of her Masters degree.  My father studied there, a well as a good few of my friends, and it had been extremely saddening to hear of the fire and the loss of the library in particular.  It still smelled a bit smoky, but it was great to see art still being produced and the determination of the students to carry on.  There was a great sense of everyone pulling together which was encouraging.

I also started revisiting artists who I love, one of whom is Joan Eardley, a firm family favourite.  She studied at the Glasgow School of Art and in the 1950's produced colourful collaged paintings of  Glasgow street children, highlighting inner city poverty at that time.  She had a wonderfully free expressive style which charged the canvas with life, and later she moved to Catterline which is a small fishing village near to where I grew up, and painted the force of the storms on the landscape there.

Joan Eardley 'Little Girl with a Squint''

Joan Eardley 'Little Glasgow Girl'

Joan Eardley 'Sea and Snow'

I wanted to take some of this energy and apply it to ceramics.  Usually I love smoke-firing and shy away from glazing, as I find Nature usually does a far better job of decorating than I do, and glazing is so often a disappointment (in my case, anyway ;)).  However, I thought I would take advantage of the fact that for once I wasn't under any pressure to produce anything to a deadline and that I was free to play and experiment, and I had great facilities at my disposal, so I began to muck about with different printing processes and glazes and just had fun.  Most of the work I produced while in Glasgow was flat so that I could transport it easily, and some of it ended up being jewellery (which can be seen on the facebook page...etsy shop to follow!).  Mainly, however, the work was about trying to shake myself out of the shackles of college and what I thought I was expected to produce.  For me, art is about pushing the boundaries and exploring as much as possible.  I don't want to have to keep producing the same kind of stuff all the time.  That might gain me a measure of success but to my mind it doesn't make me an artist, and I don't measure my worth in the number of pots I sell.  You can spend a lifetime learning about clay.  There are any number of techniques and processes which invite experimentation, and therein lies the excitement and joy of it for me.

Having said all of that, you will no doubt find me covered again with sawdust and copper carbonate before too long ;) Happy mudding ;)

Fabric-printed pieces waiting to be fired

Fabric-printed tile

Fabric-printed tile

Fabric-printed tile

Glazed tile with Lucie Rie Gold

Stencil-print tile

Stencil-print tile

Stencil-print tile

Fabric-printed porcelain and sterling silver ring (source)

Fabric-printed porcelain and sterling silver ring (source)