Potheads: why everyone is fired up for ceramics | Ceramic
IIt’s Saturday morning and a group of women are nervously gathering, waiting to see if the vases and bowls they put in the oven last week have survived. “It went really well,” said one student. “Oh wow!” proclaims another, raising a small bowl. “I am so proud of myself.”
Freya Bramble-Carter, their 30-year-old teacher, looks at this studio in Kingsgate Workshops, London, like a mother watching her children bake fairy cakes for the first time. “It’s really fun to see their reactions,” she says. “Especially after applying the polish. Then the clay went through all its transformations.
Artist and teacher, Bramble-Carter recently exhibited her work at the Collect art fair in London. Channel 4 viewers may also remember her from the 2017 series of The Great Pottery Throw Down, which she left after failing to make a successful flush. She has over 26,000 followers on Instagram and is highly admired in this class. Watching her at the wheel, gracefully transforming a wet ball of clay into an elegant vase primer, one of her students dubbed her “the goddess of pottery”.
She studied at Chelsea College of Arts, but it was her father, Chris Bramble, who has been teaching ceramics for 30 years, who passed on his craft to his daughter and twin sister, also a ceramicist and performer. It’s hard to get a place in Freya and Chris’ classes right now. “They’re always full,” says Emily, one of today’s students. “You have to keep trying.”
It’s because, lately, the world has become pot for pot. The ceramic is on fire. The craft that was until recently associated with 1970s gritty seriousness and relegated to the bottom of the cabinet of embarrassments throughout the minimalist 1990s and 2000s, has resurfaced and is now considered hot.
The strangeness of this modern appreciation for one of civilization’s oldest activities – just a short anthropological movement of hunting and gathering – is perhaps best expressed in the number of mega-celebrities who have voiced a passion for getting their hands dirty. Serena Williams admitted on social media in 2019 that she was “really getting into pottery.” Actor Seth Rogen has become so enthusiastic about pots during lockdown that he has built a studio in his garage and is selling his own ceramic marijuana paraphernalia.
Brad Pitt doesn’t just sculpt in clay, he uses other materials, apparently listening to Frank Ocean – he’s also occasionally joined by Leonardo DiCaprio. Spider-Man: Homecoming star Laura Harrier has her own pottery studio, while Josh O’Connor, who played Prince Charles in The Crown, regularly posts pottery appreciations on Instagram, praising the late Lucie Rie. Acclaimed British ceramic artist, once known to a niche audience, Rie’s name is now wisely hailed by anyone who has bought a set of four wonky cereal bowls from a clay-splattered parent at the school fair.
In fashion circles, it’s gotten to the point where you’re nobody if you haven’t already launched a micro collection of organically shaped containers. Last year, designer Jonathan Anderson, ceramics collector and super fan, collaborated with both Kenyan-born and Surrey-based artist Dame Magdalene Odundo, known for her handcrafted and highly polished works , and young American ceramic star Shawanda Corbett on a collection of blankets for the JW Anderson Fall/Winter 2021 collection. French designer Isabel Marant took time off work on Monday so she could pursue a ceramic practice in her own studio recently completed pottery. “I don’t want to do business with it,” she said. “It’s a dream come true and it’s very satisfying for me. Although I think my friends are going to be pissed because they won’t have clothes as gifts, they will have ceramics.
Henry Holland, the former London Fashion Week star who dressed Alexa Chung and Rita Ora, has gone entirely to the fun side of the oven. When his fashion brand, House of Holland, went into operation at the start of the pandemic, he sought creative solace in a bag of clay. The morning after posting some pictures of striped bowls on social media, he woke up with 150 orders and is now at the helm of a new ceramics business, a collection of graphic tableware made from colored clays contrasting in the Japanese tradition. by nerikomi, sold by Liberty and Soho Home, among others.
“The ceramic industry across the country is flying,” he says. “When I ask my suppliers if they can create new colors for me, they say, ‘We don’t need new business.’ They’re totally outdated. There’s a resurgence of household items in general, and of handmade processes and craftsmanship, a move away from mass production. People are becoming much more conscious of what they’re buying. and attach more emotion to objects. And I’m not going to lie: its relevance has definitely increased thanks to Throw Down.
Jovial, inclusive and messy, The Great Pottery Throw Down, which recently aired its fifth series on Channel 4 after launching on BBC Two in 2015, has done much to educate Britons about ceramics, making them too by the way with the dangers of soft rims as they are with Bake-Off’s soaked bottoms. Helen Ritchie is curator at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which holds the most important collection of European, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern ceramics in the country, and exhibits the works and inspirations of Odundo. She sees more engagement with ceramics from visitors these days. “They ask more questions about how things are done,” Ritchie says. “They don’t just walk past saying, ‘Nice pot. Although I think people find it easier to have an opinion on ceramics in a way that they won’t have on a painting because they are such familiar objects. We all have ceramics at home. Everyone uses ceramics on a daily basis.
She cites two eminent artists – and brilliant communicators – who brought ceramics to the fore: Edmund de Waal and Grayson Perry. “De Waal writes books, Grayson is on TV, so you have these well-known people talking about pottery and making it popular.” As a result, she says, mainstream art galleries have started showing more ceramics, and collectors who previously wouldn’t have invested are buying up. Ceramics are also increasingly being sold at art auctions. Odundo, whose work entered this year’s Venice Biennale, continues to break his own record price for a single work by a living ceramic artist: his Angled Mixed Colored Vase fetched £240,000 in November 2020.
But far from the high galleries and explosive six-figure prices, there’s a feeling that pottery can give us all something more, that its earthiness reaches parts that other arts, crafts and even jobs can’t. achieve – even if the job in question is featured in hitting Hollywood movies or winning the tennis grand slam. “Honestly,” Rogen said of his pottery habit, “I was surprised how much I got out of it. It forces you to be very present.
In a predominantly digital world, its tactility is increasingly appealing. “The physique and the sense of accomplishment is so rewarding,” says Holland. “When I was a designer, I was so far away from making clothes. I would work with my team in the studio on fitting samples, but you only wait for factories to make them. Whereas now I go into studio and a lump of mud is all I need for a finished piece.
Back at the Kingsgate workshops, Maryam Pasha, a “storyteller” and director of TEDxLondon and TEDxLondonWomen, prepares to glaze a vase she made in late Owen blue. “I like the fact that you have to be patient and not always know what’s going to happen,” she says. “I find that as you get older you rarely do things you’re bad at, so that teaches you a bit of patience.”
In her daily work, Pasha helps scientists and experts communicate about the climate crisis. “It’s quite heavy,” she said. “Here, I have three hours during which I don’t have to look at my phone. I can’t think of anything else – because if you walk into the studio and get distracted, it’s a disaster. You have to leave it all out. It is a type of active meditation. It allows you to be in your hands rather than in your head.