January 19, 2015 § 9 Comments
Towards the end of last year I wrote a post that was part of a blog hop; in it I mentioned that I haven’t really done much in the way of experimenting. As I said in the post, this is entirely to do with the desire to repeat the same forms endlessly in an attempt to increase my skill level. I also mentioned that there were a couple of shops wanting me to create something unique for them and this might be an opportunity to begin an experimentation process.
This I have now started to do. I had a meeting at Tate, in London, at the beginning of December to discuss the possibility of supplying the exhibition shop for the duration of their Barbara Hepworth exhibition, scheduled for this summer. For the meeting I needed to produce some images of a range that I might create for them – those images, that range, needed to be inspired by the sculptures that will be on display. The prospect was a little daunting and, initially, I found it quite hard to respond to the list of works I was sent. I make useful, functional, practical tableware: the sculptures are modernist, abstract forms created in the 1940s and 50s.
If you need thinking time, though, I find a four and a half hour coach journey back from London usually does it!
The forms of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures are often spherical or elliptical; they are self-contained, held within their circumference. The lines are extremely clean and sharp, precise. There are no frills, there is nothing extraneous to the form. I struggled in front of these sculptures looking for a way in, looking for how I could respond to them. But thanks to my coach journey, I found a route. It was all in a particular line of a particular sculpture. I was always drawn back to the same sculpture (posted below), which immediately felt vessel-like; and this became the inspiration for the range.
Apart from the bowls, the pots that I currently make are not turned, they are all taken directly off the wheel-head. The Hepworth sculptures, though, as I said, tend to be rounded and clean lined, ‘finished’, if you like. I decided, therefore, that all the pots for Tate needed to be turned to reflect this aspect.
The photographs of the drawings are a bit dark but you should be able to get the rough idea. I have tried to make a coherent range, I want them to feel unified – and they are very different to what I have been making. This is both exhilarating and terrifying. As I said at the beginning of the post, I have been extremely one-dimensional in my making. My fingers have just pulled outwards in a curve for bowls and straight up for everything else. By the end of this month, I have to send a photograph of each piece of the range finished and glazed to my contact at Tate, so since the New Year I have started to get a feel for the shapes. It has been the most liberating experience!
Here are two examples: the coffee cup and milk jug. I have loved making my fingers do things on the wheel, with the clay, that they wouldn’t normally do. Making them push and pull the clay in directions they have never done before. It is mind-altering. Working with your hands and brain together, finding solutions together – your whole body engaged in discovering new paths. I am beginning to have a little confidence in my throwing now, so that I can think through shapes on the wheel as I throw, concentrating on the form rather than the throwing. The throwing is becoming a deep pleasure, whereas before it was really a deep frustration as the throwing continually let down the form. At the wheel is an exciting place to be.
The order is relatively big – the pots will also be sold at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, Tate St. Ives and online – but it is a new phase in the workshop. The workshop is busier, I have taken on an assistant one day a week and ordered a larger kiln. The year has certainly begun with a bang! There are orders, too, from some other great shops and galleries. The work starts here…