The shifting landscape of the studio

August and early September were spent making Cylinders and Ellipses for an imminent exhibition at The Albany Gallery. This deadline gave me enforced time out from the Material Matters project work. I felt frustrated at first, but realised that this was necessary time out to allow thoughts, feelings and ideas to percolate and rise to the surface after the intense month of research. Spare moments were spent sorting through photographs from the research, looking through my sketchbook at drawings and notes made and staring at the expectant pages of a new sketchbook. In efforts to maximise space in my comparatively tiny Cardiff studio I began hanging drawing and pin boards on the front of shelving units and suspending a storage platform from the ceiling for the large drawings that returned to Cardiff with me.

When drafting the initial Material Matters project plan I had set myself parameters to work within, sufficiently broad allowing me the experimentation and spirit of discovery I felt I would need in order to play and create but with boundaries robust enough to ensure the production of a new body of work fit for exhibition. 

My starting point was asymmetry, specifically in relation to the cylinder and ellipse vessel forms I’ve worked with for the past seven years. I wanted to take them on a journey. I’ve often wondered what would happen if the forms became more individual, dynamic and expressive, how would this affect their surfaces and how in turn would this affect the way that I feel about the work and engage with it? Would my creativity become freed up as the forms distort?

The time spent around Aberystwyth and Snowdonia revealed to me ancient commanding forms that weren’t all right angles from vertical and horizontal planes. The dominance of diagonals and curves were more exciting as they made the landscape for me, unpredictable, my eye and mind could not assume what was coming next. The sensations experienced when coastal path walking or driving along the rural roads and the way ahead suddenly dropped, raised up or veered sharply away kept me very much alert and in the moment. It was exhilarating and I felt alive and at times on my walks, vertiginous, finding myself on hands and knees seeking level ground, breathing to calm my adrenaline and rising anxiety. Minutes later feeling measured euphoria having survived another fearful situation I would continue the journey. The sense of mental and emotional balance I experienced was influenced by the physical imbalance I often experienced: to find the balance you’ve got to have both the ups and downs!

From the Aberystwyth drawings I selected two forms to focus my initial clay explorations on. The first seemed straightforward, a cylinder with a curved protrusion from top to bottom. Straightforward it was not! The protrusion came too late rendering the overall form reminiscent of a leg. The curve frequently changed it’s course. The foot was made from the cylinder press mould and proved way too small to balance such a form on. I used existing extruded coils for this piece and found them limiting in their thin uniformity. The rim was impossible, at first seeming unfinished where I’d first left it, then wholly incorrect as I thickened it taking it back into the void.

This first piece sign posted all of the problems and issues that the subsequent work has thrown up for me so far: feet, rims, curves, angles, balance, unwanted zoomorphism and limiting making techniques – I’m finding that thick, uneven hand rolled coils and slabs are quite liberating!  It’s an engaging journey of discovery in developing new forms, at times frustrating, at others disheartening and bewildering. In each successive piece there are a dozen things I want to improve and maybe one or two that I’m OK with and that’s alright as I have the luxury of time to make, fail, reflect, reject and make again. Overall it’s fully engaging and pushing my creativity, nourishing me much as the research did, waking me at early hours of the morning, consuming my time, energy and thoughts. And gradually, the landscape of the studio is shifting from the symmetrical cylinders and ellipses; there are now lines and planes going off at all angles and the energy that is usually found on their surfaces is now being channelled into the asymmetrical forms populating my shelves.