Out of the ashes … and floods!

York Floods
York Floods

Between Christmas 2015 and New Year 2016 we headed up to the north of England to visit family and friends in York and Middlesbrough. On such a short, busy visit there was little time for art, especially with the dreadful flooding in York, but we still managed to squeeze in a visit to CoCA. They have a wonderful ceramics collection there and an impressive installation by Clare Twomey, but I was most interested in the Anthony Shaw Collection with its emphasis on art, particularly ceramics, seen in a domestic setting.

CoCA at York Art Gallery
Anthony Shaw Collection

I had far too short a time there and intend going again – but there was quite a pricy (and controversial!) entrance fee so if anyone is interested in going I recommend making sure you have plenty of time to make the most of it.

The Anthony Shaw Collection is there until 2017 I think.

We headed up to Middlesbrough with the assumption that this time we wouldn’t get to MIMA as the website showed that it would be closed the entire time we were there. However we happened upon it while it was open for an event and had 10 minutes to make a truly flying visit round the Localism exhibition – also well worth a visit but this exhibition finishes 7 February 2016.

While there I found a piece of work by my old tutor, David Greaves, Cleveland College of Art – atypical in size and form, I think, but showing his trademark marbling technique. I was saddened to see only the words David Greaves, the title and ‘Date of Birth and Death unknown’. It wouldn’t have taken too much effort to at least get that little bit of information I would think. Not to mention the fact that he was Head of Ceramics in Cleveland College of Art for several years.

David Greaves, Ceramic Form
David Greaves, Ceramic Form

David brought significant ceramics exhibitions to the art college – Hans Coper and Lucie Rie, Martin Smith and Gordon Baldwin. I was lucky as a past student to be invited to Baldwin’s brilliant lecture shortly before leaving the North East of England for South West Wales. As I understand it David worked quietly behind the scenes helping develop a great contemporary ceramics collection for the newly created Cleveland Craft Centre.

MIMA rose from the ashes of the Cleveland Craft Centre, Cleveland Art Gallery and Middlesbrough Art Gallery – another unsung gallery that was the original host of the wonderful and much missed Cleveland Drawing Biennale. I can’t help my thoughts turning to these lost spaces as the Arts, yet again, face such bleak times.

Clare Twomey, Installation detail
Clare Twomey, Installation detail


Gordon Baldwin
Gordon Baldwin

Photography copyright Alastair Duncan

Vulcan Black and Earthstone

While producing this work for Maker in Focus at the Mission Gallery in Swansea, I’ve used, it turns out, several different clay bodies – two different blacks, terracotta, white earthenware, at least one earthstone, and three different paperclays. I think the most enjoyable for the actual making have been the two clays in these pieces – the white form – ‘House of Leaves’ (at least it’s a working title but really how could I resist when the book is sitting in my studio!) is made with Earthstone and the dark form ‘Sea Change II’ is Vulcan Black. Both are beautiful to work with and not so heavily grogged that they rip my hands and nails to shreds as others have. Both these pieces though have other clays and materials incorporated in them.

The images below show the work in progress.

House of Leaves in progress

House of Leaves detail

Lost trees, rising seas.

‘Ebb Tide’, work in progress.

When starting out on this work I intended combining the urban/industrial with elements of the natural world, envisaging the main signifier as being the tree. To an extent this has happened but as time went past I found that other major signifier of the natural environment – the sea – beginning to seep into the work, evidence of my increasing concern with global warming and rising sea levels.

My worries about the loss of trees showing in the work as exactly that – by impressing hedge cuttings, leaves and seaweed into the clay and removing or burning out these things creating an absence, loss.

Detail, 'Lost', work in progress
Detail, ‘Lost’, work in progress

But will it get through the firing?

These photographs show that, despite the headlong rush to cover as much land as possible with new-build, there are still some truly liminal, and surreal, sights/sites to be found in Pontarddulais.

bath edge

In the meantime some works at different stages – biscuit fired and raw.

work in progress

work in progress

work in progress - raw

But will it get through the firing?

No School, Not Too Precious and Flora.

I recently travelled to North Wales, with husband and younger daughter, visiting some galleries that were either new to me or that I haven’t seen in many years and that have undergone significant development.

Oriel Mostyn Shop
Oriel Mostyn Shop

Oriel Mostyn was first on the itinerary – the main exhibition ‘No School’ – Camille Blatrix was intriguing but there was little in the way of information and I have to admit to spending most of the too-short time we had there in the lovely craft shop area. So much to see and admire but no money to buy unfortunately.

The next day we went to Ruthin Craft Centre and had a wonderful time at the international jewellery exhibition ‘Not Too Precious’. Here I should say I’d intended this trip for a month or two later but having a daughter, Hannah – a final year student on the Contemporary Design Craft course in Hereford desperate to see this exhibition I brought the trip forward.

So pleased I did as this is a brilliant show in a beautifully designed gallery. I loved not simply the jewellery but also the video of people trying some of the exhibits on – also enjoyed being able to try one on myself! It was a piece I wouldn’t choose visually but was wonderfully tactile. My favourite piece was by the Hungarian jeweller Flora Vagi and I thought it might have been ceramic but it isn’t!

Adam Buick at Ruthin
Adam Buick

The retail space is fantastic too (I coveted an Adam Buick pot with a ‘crack’ snaking up one side!) and the member of staff there was extremely welcoming and helpful especially to Hannah as a student. We could have spent much longer there but instead had a delicious lunch in the cafe then headed off to Oriel Davies in Newtown.

This is a gallery that is completely new to me and another very attractive exhibition space quite different to the other two with a different focus and a retail space with little in the way of craft but a great selection of books. The ‘Flora’ exhibition was on at that time and we all enjoyed it – it is moving on now to Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen so it will be interesting to see it there too and see how/if it changes the experience.

I had a great time in all these galleries and can’t wait to go again. Maybe next time I’ll even take some photos. I was too busy drinking it all in so these photos are courtesy of my husband, Alastair Duncan – thank you Alastair!

Anya Galaccio at Oriel Davies
Anya Galaccio at Oriel Davies

Tests and Trials

Waiting with somewhat bated breath for the outcome of today’s firing – lots of test pieces and one much larger form than I’ve made in a while. Also trying out a new, to me, clay body – Vulcan Black – on another largish piece. Fingers crossed!

test firing
Here’s one I fired earlier.