1. Inspired by…
Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964)
I have worked for the past few years on ceramic pieces that have been inspired by the work of painters, such as Giorgio Morandi and Joan Eardley. In this blog I’m thinking about the notion of ‘inspired by’, with particular reference to Morandi. In Blog No 2 I turn to Eardley’s seascape work.
In early October I was in Edinburgh, spending a large part of my time in galleries and museums. One exhibition that stood out for me and which I’m sure I will remember for a long time was Alison Watt’s ‘A Portrait Without Likeness’ at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street. Watt doesn’t talk about being inspired by the eighteenth century portrait artist Allan Ramsay (1713-1784). Rather she sees her work as a ‘dialogue with the painters she admires’.
This started me thinking about what sort of dialogue I would have with the painters that have inspired me. Of course it would be a one-sided dialogue since both are dead, as of course is Ramsay, but it is possible to imagine what they might say. And anyway they’re not going to contradict me…
As regards Morandi my understanding of his life is that he was highly reclusive and spent much of his time in Bologna, working in one room (dressed in a rather smart suit) on endless rearrangements of the pieces that figure in his beautifully serene still life paintings. What would he think of the trios that I have developed? Well, I am not the first to be inspired by his work, so he might just sigh, say nothing and return to moving a jug away from a pitcher that was standing rather too close to a bottle. His biographers Güse and Morat portray him as an outsider, and that appeals to me. After all, as the comedian Johnny Vegas said in Grayson Perry’s marvellous televised Art Club series of the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns there is no need to sign the membership form. Indeed it strikes me that keeping out of the club could be a good route for artists who want to stand out.
Perhaps Morandi might remark, not necessarily approvingly, that unlike his paintings where he decides which object goes where, in my ceramic trios the viewer/owner/potential buyer can take that decision. To some artists that is anathema (one said that it was a position that lacked ‘artistic integrity’) but I stick to it. The relationship between the viewer and the piece seems to me to be crucial – rather like Gombrich’s concept of the ‘beholder’s share’. For many the home is a haven, and having pieces of art there, chosen because of how they will relate to their context, seems to me to be life-enhancing.
Gombrich, E (1960) Art and Illusion, Phaidon
Güse, E-G and Morat, F A (2008) Giorgio Morandi, Munich and London: Prestel Verlag
Judith Glover, North Yorkshire, October 19 and December 13 2021
2. Inspired by …
Joan Eardley (1921-1963)
In my presentation to the University of Dundee College of Art (DJCAD) 2021 online symposium to commemorate the centenary of Joan Eardley’s birth I tried to identify the point at which I realised that my pieces in my Seascape Series were responding in some way to Eardley’s seascape paintings. It was not, I explained, that on seeing her work in Glasgow some years ago I thought I could reproduce the look or even the feel of her work in ceramics. After all at that time I was still doing my day job and making pots was still just a hobby. In my 2021 talk I ventured the possibility that traces might be left in the memory, or rather more metaphorically that the brain has a front and a back burner and that I had stored her seascapes in the back burner area, ready to be moved forward in reaction to a stimulus of some kind.
That stimulus came in 2020 when interviewing Yorkshire-based Scottish painter Lesley Birch for the Friends of York Art Gallery Q&A series that I organise. Birch, who also paints seascapes, mentioned Eardley as an influence, and this prompted me to revisit her work. I felt a particular connection with Breaking Wave (1960, ©Estate of Joan Eardley, accessed on artuk.org March 10 2020). It was at that time that I was experimenting with incorporating strata of clays of different tones and textures in a base clay, as in my piece Landscape2 (see Home page of this website). It was a small step to change my base clay from a rather smooth biscuit-coloured one to a more sombre and highly textured grey, as in Seascape3 and Seascape9 (see Shop page).
Perhaps it is not a case of being ‘influenced by’ but rather ‘responding to’. That brings me back to the idea of ‘traces’ left behind in the memory. I think it is Eardley’s curving of the upper edge of waves that I have responded to particularly. When I build a piece I think of the sea almost always as a concave line. There is also the feeling that Eardley’s seascapes produce: they are sombre, unsettled, beautiful, but dangerous. She generally liked to paint stormy seas and indeed when the inhabitants of Catterline, a small coastal village south of Aberdeen, knew that a storm was in the offing, they would phone her Glasgow studio to tell her to come to the coast. She would take the train to Stonehaven, the closest train station, and then complete the journey to the village on her Lambretta scooter.
An interview in The Scotsman in the early 1960s that I saw on display whilst visiting the Eardley exhibition at Modern One in Edinburgh in October 2021 suggested that it was difficult to get her to talk about her work. Going back to Watt’s idea of being in dialogue with an artist, I think I might have ended up discussing Lambrettas with Eardley. The point about Lambrettas was that my father, an English marine biologist exiled to Edinburgh in the 1950s and 60s, also had one. Occasionally I would ride pillion; it felt daring (but also rather smelly from the exhaust fumes).
I have realised that my father must have been working on the north-east coast of Scotland at the same time as Eardley was painting there – the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was working on a research project that involved going out with the herring fleet from Fraserburgh and Peterhead. In the safety of an Edinburgh suburb, he would announce that he was going away ‘to sea’, sometimes for weeks. I now know he would have encountered the wild and unforgiving seas that Eardley depicted from the shore of Catterline. As a small child I probably thought he would be sailing on a calm and fun-filled mill-pond of the sort that I was used to paddling in whilst on seaside holidays. Many decades on I realise that was unlikely.
I don’t know whether Eardley and my father would have had much in common. Eardley seemingly liked being beside the sea, but not on it. My father did not suffer from sea sickness, and he seemed to relish the pubs and ‘white pudding suppers’ of the bright lights on the coast further north towards Aberdeen. The tiny village of Catterline might not have ticked his box.
So in conclusion it is difficult to pin down the process of how and when one artist influences another who is working in a different medium. It is not as if I am working with a print of Breaking Wave, or another of Eardley’s seascapes, at my side. It is rather that I have an image in my head of a curving line, and/or a feeling that has been provoked in me – and the line and the feeling have, I suppose, lodged themselves in my imagination and reveal themselves in my work.
Judith Glover, North Yorkshire, October 20 2021
In some of my ‘Inspired by Morandi’ vessels, and in my Landscape/Seascape series inspired by Eardley’s Catterline work, I have used what I call a ‘strata’ technique.
Using the technique of coiling, I incorporate bands of different clays into the clay body. The colour palate is limited to what I see as earth colours – greys, white, charcoal, spice. There is also the occasional glimpse of blue.
It has been suggested to me that incorporating a stain (an oxide) into the clay body would do the job just as well and would incur considerably less in the way of risk, since the shrinkage rates at the drying and firing stages would be constant throughout the piece. This is a well established technique – for example, as described by Whiting (2003), the much-admired ceramic artist and Loewe Prize winner Jennifer Lee (1956-) incorporates oxides into the clay and thus creates bands of colour. Andreae (1991) comments that Lucie Rie (1902-95) became attracted to using different coloured clays incorporated into the body of a pot. Rie’s pots were thrown on the wheel and the result is a spiralling of the different colours.
A further suggestion to me from seasoned potters is that mark-making on the surface of the piece would achieve the painterly quality that I am seeking. But, like Lee, I want to integrate the coloured strata in the structure of the body, not just its exterior face. Writing about Lee’s work Andreae (1991) says ‘these seams of color are both surface and body…. they link the inner and outer surfaces of the pot’s walls.’ In common with Lee, the bands of colour in my work are present and visible in both interior and exterior faces.
Unlike Lee, I almost always use already prepared stained clays, which I source from Ireland and Stoke-on-Trent. These are different in two ways from the main clay body – both in colour and in texture. The textures range from smooth to rough (ie clay that contains minuscule pieces of fired clay called grog). If it was just the colour that I was focusing on I would probably go down the route of staining the base clay body. But I particularly want to have different textures; being able to hold and touch the fired unglazed clay is for me an integral part of the piece.
The key technical point is that the clays that I incorporate have different shrinkage rates at both the drying and the firing stages. So splitting between the strata is quite likely as one clay pulls against the other. Drying a piece very slowly may help reduce the failure rate, but it is probably the encounter with the kiln that decides survival.
In terms of understanding the background to this approach the renowned ceramic artist Ewen Henderson (1934-2000) is an obvious person to think about. Having said that, his rationale for creating his pieces was distinct from mine – he was intrigued by rock formations and geology, particularly of Wales (De Waal, E, 2011). Henderson created pieces that incorporated terracotta, porcelain, bone china, paper. He actively wanted to take advantage of the different shrinkage rates of the clays that he juxtaposed; knowing that the clays would react differently in the kiln was part of the process. The holes and fissures that opened up were part of the piece. This is demonstrated in, for example, Upright Form (1988, www. anthonyshawcollection.org, accessed November 27 2021). I imagine its juxtaposition of different materials was regarded with rather more than politely raised eyebrows.
Earlier work of Henderson’s that incorporated different clays is rather more conventional. For example a 1979 piece in the V&A collection, Vase, featured in Watson (1993: 109), is described in the museum’s catalogue as ‘stoneware and porcelain, handbuilt from coloured clays’. It has a smooth surface and appears to have been worked on prior to firing. It can hardly be described as ‘patchworked’ in the way that Henderson’s later work could be, and which Upright Form is an example of.
Whilst researching Henderson’s work I’ve concluded that my work (see above for example, Seascape4_2021, image by Carol Clarke) could be seen to be rather similar to his early work (although of course Henderson might not agree!) but that it has less of a connection with his later pieces. Different shrinkage rates are a technical problem for me; I do not seek the holes and fissures characteristic of Henderson’s later work; I aim for clean lines.
Much of the final work on my pieces prior to firing involves lengthy scraping away of any ‘lumps and bumps’. This finishing process is sometimes quite thrilling, as strata that had been smoothed away during the coiling reveal themselves. Perhaps strangely I am reminded of the books that my mother used to buy at the nearby post office in the 1950s when I was in bed with some childhood illness: although they were apparently composed of blank pages the brushing on of water revealed an image below. It seemed like magic.
When my ‘strata’ pieces go into the kiln, to be subjected to temperatures of up to 1200 degrees C, they are at risk of not emerging intact. Surprisingly, there are rather few casualties, but one that occurred recently was some minor damage to the top-edge stratum of a large vessel. When the kiln was opened (a moment that is either exhilarating, surprising or desolate) the piece appeared to be intact but close inspection revealed the damage.
However, this piece was not put into the pot cemetery in my garden like many others have been over the years. I had been reading about the Japanese concept of ‘wabi-sabi’, the valuing of imperfection, and the related concept of ‘kintsugi’, where repairs to imperfect objects are emphasised. So this piece, Seascape9, is on the ‘Shop’ page of this website. It has three small cracks that were securely mended and then highlighted in silver. Seascape9 ’s journey in the kiln, and the potentially hazardous technique with which it was built, is thus not hidden but instead celebrated, its imperfection celebrated in line with ‘wabi-sabi’ and ‘kintsugi’ philosophy. The cracking is part of its hinterland; it has gone through fire and emerged – not quite unscathed but almost so, and it bears the scars of what I can only imagine is a traumatic journey.
Andreae, C (1991) ‘Graceful, Tilting Contours of Clay’, www.jenniferlee.co.uk , accessed on November 20 2021
De Waal (2011) The Pot Book, Phaidon Press
Watson, O (1993) Studio Pottery, Phaidon Press
Whiting, D (2003), ‘The Circumnavigation of Form’, www.jenniferlee.co.uk , accessed on November 15 2021
Judith Glover, North Yorkshire, November 28 2021