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Ceramic Art London 2017: The Talks

Out of the five talks offered on the day, I chose to attend four leaving me a bit of time to look around the stands. They were all very different.

The first talk was "Stephanie Buttle in conversation with Duncan Hooson". I wanted to see this initially just to see Duncan, who for about four years was my pottery teacher in the weekly evening class I attended at Morley College in London years ago. He hadn't changed that much except for his dress sense - I knew him pre-hat. Anyway, I got a quick word with him to just say 'hello' and it was nice that he recognised my face.

What impressed me most with Stephanie Buttle's presentation was her self assuredness. She used to be a ballet dancer and actress, who also directed commercials, which have given her the tools for public performances. Stephanie started off by showing us her newest performance film "Position Six" in which she dances around a clay figure construction and then went on to how us a few other photos of her other clay work.

Personally, I found there was disconnect between her dancing and the figure. Somehow, there wasn't much interaction except for a few mirroring positions Stephanie did. I would have found it much more interesting if in performances she would have used the materiality of clay by breaking it or, as in the photo of her below, the plastic clay.

The next talk was by Stuart Carey: "Professional Development: A guide for early career ceramists". Stuart is a successful potter and the co-director of The Kiln Rooms ceramics studio in Peckham, London.

Stuart's talk was a mixture of general advice and more specifically his own experience in making a name and career as a ceramist. He touched on points such as the value of a formal education and/or apprenticeships and internships, showing at trade shows, social media as marketing and selling tool, 'The London Effect' to value and pricing of your work. Probably his most valuable advice, despite it being fairly general, was the need of being proactive, to invest time into all your activities and to make sure that you aim for quality of work.

It is obvious that Stuart himself has invested large amounts of commitment and energy into being the maker he is today by not only having a successful table range, which he sells through Calvin Klein New York, but also by founding and directing The Kiln Rooms, which offers both pottery courses and open access studios to potters.

Stuart has managed the level of success that at the age of twenty-nine he has decided to retire his current table ware and more on to new things. I guess, this is possible as he started early with his pottery training (at 16) and has worked hard ever since. However, he also has the ability to express and present himself well.

The third talk was "Micro-organics, Rob Kessler in conversation with ceramic artists Tessa Eastman and Ikuko Iwamoto", which was more like three presentations with an Q&A session at the end.

Rob started talking about his work he'd done by using electro microscopes looking at pollen and other organic matter not visible to the naked eye and how then coloured them up to make the images that many people know him best for.

He didn't actually show much of his own ceramic work but his emphasis was more on how other people used close up images of the natural world in their works, especially within ceramics.

It was a pity that Ikuko's presentation skill weren't quite up to the job, probably because she is Japanese and her English isn't that good. Her work is very delicate and actually really interesting. She works mainly in porcelain but combines her wall pieces with other materials such as twisted telephone cables and metal wires. Her ambition is to have her work to be shown within a fine art context and not as a pottery maker. She is both influenced by the microscopic world and surrealism.

After Ikuko, Tessa presented her work. Initially I didn't take to it at all. It felt too whimsical and has a childlike quality to it. Now, I'm still not sure whether I like it but I can see that it has qualities, at the very least technically. Maybe, I just need to see them in real life.

The last talk I went to was "Moving, Flowing, Running... Kate Malone in conversation with makers Anna Barlow and Helen Evans", which was taken up mostly by Kate talking and showing slides. I didn't mind this really as she is a good speaker and very engaging and seems very down to earth. It did explain her love for highly decorated and colourful pots. She does a lot of travelling to India and loves the colours and architecture and religious images. It was also enlightening to see on what sort of scale she operates, which is a lot smaller than anticipated. What will remain with me the impression of her enthusiasm for pottery.

Even though I didn't like the pottery by Anna it was clear that Helen and her strengths are with their knowledge of glazes. Not only did they both learn a lot by working with Kate but also contributed to the work of Kate's studio.

Anna Barlow
Helen Evans

As an overall observation to the all the talks I'd attended, I found that they were all rather London-centric. Whereas that is partly due to the location of CAL but also left me with a certain sense of being an outsider to this hip and happening community. It would have been nice if the talks had been more rest-of-the-UK inclusive. Nonetheless, they were well worth attending.

So, bye bye London, I had a great day out filled with pottery and ceramics and it was a total buzz!


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