Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Ceramics in the City (23-25th September) Review

The Geffrye Museum did not strike as an obvious location for ceramics fair. Charting the history of English domestic interiors since 1914, the Grade I listed 18th century Shoreditch almshouses and its preened gardens seemed more fitting as a period drama prop. Then again this was my first visit- appearances can be deceptive.

No sooner had I entered did I find myself in a walking time capsule of lavishly decorated living rooms, from the 16th century to present. Fitted with furniture and decorative arts that were integral and cherished at the time, it dawned upon me. Perhaps this was not such an odd location for a ceramics show. After all, most of us buy ceramics to do just that.

The 3 day selling event in its tenth year, Ceramics in the City’s eclectic selection of 43 potters ranged from the established to emerging talent across the country. Spanned across 3 rooms, the intimacy and informality was immediately apparent- a warm welcome to the stressful crowds and intimidating atmosphere of some exhibitions. There were no airs, moody, straitlaced expressions or pressure to buy (although with many items priced £10-50 it was certainly tempting). Rather it was a friendly meet and greet with makers genuinely passionate about their craft. From vessels, tableware, lighting to figurative, non functional pieces in distinct styles and diverse techniques, there was something different for everyone.  A sense of belonging to the home was the only coherent theme.

Amongst the seasoned ceramicists the works of Claudia Lis, Sue Paraskeva and Ruth King lent a soft, feminine edge to the show.

Lis is known for her celadon-glazed ware imprinted with rust flakes that bleed into pale green glaze. The marks are random yet convey a sense of deliberate precision, while imprints on her aptly titled 'Petri dishes' were reminiscent of spreading bacteria.
Claudia Lis

Sue Paraskeva's wheel thrown bowls were intentionally dropped with heavy objects to cause cracks, which are accentuated with coloured oxides. The relinquishing of control was a refreshing contrast to her previous industrial shapes.

Bulbous curves and geometric lines converged seamlessly like magic in the forms of Ruth King’s pots. Glazed in subdued iridescent greens, browns, blues and lilacs, I would dare anyone to resist the urge to touch the inflated pillow-like shapes.
Ruth King

In terms of pattern Ben Davies and Yo Thom stood out of the crowd. Davies’ university background in geography and geology was apparent in his work. His ‘Stone’ series involves layering slips over coils with marks created by tools, which are scraped back to reveal intricate stone-like surface reliefs. Equally mesmerising were his ‘Strata’ pots characterised with marbled patterns resembling mille-feuille chocolate swirls.
Ben Davies

Yo Thom’s Ai-indigo range of stoneware tableware featured graffito lines over indigo slip and matt white glaze. The variegated blues, elegant markings and unsophisticated forms an effective ode to her Japanese heritage. 
Philomena Pretsell

For a celebratory mood, there was Philomena Pretsell’s playful earthenware creations. Gently poking fun at contemporary culture with her transfers (William and Kate's Royal Wedding memorabilia for instance), gold lustre and cheerful colours, they would bring a smile to anyone’s face. Lou Rota’s animal and botanical transfer plates were also part of the humorous, quirky ceramics on show.                    
Lou Rota
Newcomer Claire Lovett, who graduated in 3D Design from University of Plymouth in 2009, stole the show with her peeling wallpaper vessels. Lovett’s’ paperclay vessels were inspired by the concept of family ancestry and traditional English wallpapers. Like excavated treasured relics passed along generations, they would not have appeared out of place in the museum’s 19th century rooms.

On a whole I felt the presentation could have been more polished-tables with white cloths were a bit too informal and did not do the works justice. It was impossible to compare Ceramics in the City to high profile exhibitions such as Origin, akin to comparing home brewed cider to chardonnay. If you were expecting cutting edge, controversial ceramics you would have left feeling underwhelmed. Ceramics in the City was an understated, no frills event of ceramics to enrich the home and the lives of people in them. Plus it gave the museum’s barren ceramics collection a much needed rejuvenation.

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