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british ceramics

Interview with ceramic artist Ken Eastman

Interview with Ken Eastman / Featured now
By Ileana Surducan
Published in Ceramics Now Magazine Issue 2

Ken Eastman’s work is on the cover of Ceramics Now Magazine Issue 2

Why did you choose the vessel as the central element of your art? Was there a transition from functional vessels to sculptural ones?

I have been working in ceramics continually since 1980. There have been periods when I have moved away from the vessel, but really it has been at the core of my work for most of the time since then. I do not make functional pots, but rather use the vessel as a subject - to give meaning and form to an expression. For a long time now I have realized that my overriding interest is making new coloured clay forms. This seems for me to be the essence of pottery- to make shapes which occupy and contain space and to decorate those shapes. By decorate, I mean to paint slip or glaze, to draw, to make image or line across the skin of the clay.

Ken Eastman Ceramics

Ken Eastman: For all we know, 2010, Stoneware with painted coloured slips and oxides, 43x31x37 cm.

Does your creative process start from a certain image in your mind, or do you seek for inspiration as you progress?

I have always made things - at first out of Lego and wood and for a long time now, using clay. Working on how to approach creating, so that I can go to work every day and explore shape and colour and move forwards, is always hard. The breadth of ceramic possibilities means that to make any progress it is necessary to build up some strict limitations. I use writing and drawing to approach the spirit of a piece of work, but I do not draw an ‘architectural plan’ of the piece that I am about to make: ideas that work in two dimensions are often different from those that are successful in three dimensions. Also, if I knew exactly what I was going to make before I started work in clay, there would be little room left for the play and invention that is an essential part of creative work. A large part of the reason for making is to see things which I have never seen before - to build something which I am excited about and wish to show and share with others. So I try not to plan anything except roughly how to proceed within my imposed limitations.

Tell us about the slab building technique that you use. What are the challenges that you encounter and the skills that it requires?

I roll out slabs of white stoneware clay by hand with a wooden rolling pin. Most of the rolling is bashing the clay flat and the rolling smoothens the material towards the end of the process. From the moment I start rolling out slabs I have to start making decisions - not what the piece will look like, which will in time become clear, but the details - how wide, how long, how thin or thick the slab, choices which determine shape. The objects which I make are clearly defined, they have drawn ground plans, smooth walls and clear edges, but this resolution emerges slowly. There are certain curves and curlings which a thin slab can manage better than a thicker one, but sometimes it’s the soft fatness of a rim or the weight of a piece which is more important.

Colour is an important part of your work. How do you see the interaction between colour and volume?

As soon as possible in the making process, I begin to make marks on the surface with coloured slips and oxides, whilst the clay is still quite wet. I paint on numerous layers of colour, firing the work repeatedly. I apply it in response to three dimensional form and it is in this way I paint the surface in order to explore and make sense of what I have made. I don’t know what colour I want a piece to be until I find it by working - building up layers of colour can often feel more like a stripping away to reveal what was meant. I am interested in the relationship between colour, the illusionistic space of a surface and actual space. This relationship is a complex one - as well as inhabiting the 2 dimensional space on a curving plane of clay, colour can, in a sense fill the actual 3 dimensional space of the vessel itself. Glen Brown in writing about my work said that colour becomes “volumetric, contained, like real space itself, by the vessel walls rather than merely carried on them: it becomes a fundamental content of the work rather than a superficial aspect of it.”

Today’s contemporary art puts a lot of emphasis on dynamics and interactivity. In this context, what is the merit of an art work that encourages contemplation as an aesthetic experience?

Being a static artwork does not exempt it from being dynamic or profound. Art work which is three dimensional demands that the viewer moves around the work and becomes involved in order to experience it and to contemplate it, which is of course a truly dynamic and interactive experience.

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  • Mud and Water exhibition / Rokeby Gallery, London

    Mud and Water exhibition, Rokeby Gallery London

    Mud and Water exhibition / Rokeby Gallery, London
    December 16, 2013 - March 7, 2014

    ROKEBY‘s inaugural exhibition in its new gallery space looks to the history of British studio ceramics and the Modernist rhetoric used by figures associated with the movement. Including work by a selection of British Studio Potters alongside contemporary artists working across media, the exhibition investigates a current interest in process, materiality and truthfulness to medium.

    Exhibited artists: Jack Brindley, Clive Bowen, Jane Bustin, Michael Cardew, Edwin Beer Fishley, The Granchester Pottery, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Bernard Leach, Janet Leach, Kate Newby, Chris Prindl, Gideon Rubin, Nicola Tassie, Jesse Wine, Mizuyo Yamashita

    Despite a recent tendency to see ceramics and the modern British art movement as separate disciplines the two are closely interwoven. The approaches of artists working in clay such as Bernard Leach, considered the father of the British studio pottery, and Michael Cardew (1) mirrored the Modernist ideas gaining currency in Britain in the early 1920’s in both painting and sculpture. Post war art in Britain drew upon - amongst other things - the tradition of the handmade. This is especially true in St Ives where Bernard Leach chose to set up his first pottery. Leach united the classical pottery traditions of Asia (2) including their taste for imperfections with those of English slipware potters to define the modernist vernacular revival.

    The exhibition brings together a group of cross-generational artists all of whom are experimental in their approach. When Leach and Cardew looked to the history of slipware in Britain they were never nostalgic (3). Rather they combined pre-industrial techniques with a Modernist spirit; combining raw materials with the performative act of making and inherited forms with a simpler more direct language.

    No straightforward link is suggested in bringing the artists together in this exhibition, but an inheritance of concerns and a shared interest in the handling of material and unpredictable processes can be perceived, regardless of their chosen medium. It is the principles and values of heterogeneity, destabilization and irrationality that interest them all, a questioning of the distinctions between art and craft and a concern for the physical - and especially the human body - in the making and viewing the work.

    (1) Cardew was a pupil of Leach’s in St Ives from 1923-26.
    (2) Leach was born in Hong Kong but spent his first years in Japan. He attended the Slade, London and in 1909 arrived in Japan for a second time.
    (3) The earliest work in the exhibition is an earthenware slipware mug by Edwin Beer Fishley from Michael Cardew’s private collection. Cardew had a particular affinity for Edwin Beer Fishley and counted the rural potter as one of his most important influences.

    With thanks to Timothy Taylor Gallery and David Bowie for loaning work to the exhibition and Simon Jones for providing exhibition furniture.

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  • Annie Woodford - Spotlight, October 2012

    SPOTLIGHT, October 2012: Annie Woodford

    Annie Woodford - Spotlight on Ceramics Now Magazine

    Interview by Ileana Surducan and Vasi Hîrdo for Ceramics Now Magazine - Issue Two

    You take your inspiration from nature. You are not just making a superficial observation, but you conduct a research of the things hidden to the naked eye. Tell us more about the universe you have discovered through your explorations.

    I am fascinated by the natural world in its widest sense and at all levels. An interest in the nature of time - the past, present and future has led me to investigate multiverse theory and hidden dimensions - concealed worlds. From there I began to examine nature on a microscopic and nano scale. I became fascinated by the concept of the unseen and rendering it seen.

    One of the subjects I investigated was that of diatoms, especially fossil diatoms. Invisible to the naked eye, beautiful and structurally complex I discovered them to bevery significanting the field of paleoclimatology - they are an important indicator of climate change.

    I like to select various aspects of the natural world and then examine them on both a macroscopic and microscopic level, considering them in terms of their relationship to time and how they relate to other parts of the universe.

    [] Read the full interview in Ceramics Now - Issue Two

    Intricate but also delicate, your work seems to be obtained through a very meticulous process. What materials and techniques do you use and how much time does it take to complete a new piece?

    Porcelain is the clay I favor - I particularly like ‘Southern Ice White’ which was developed by the Australian ceramicist Les Blakebrough. In general, the works are handbuilt; occasionally I use slip in a free but controlled way, sometimes combining it with fine glass fibre. I like to push the material beyond its perceived boundaries. The characteristics of porcelain mean that it requires careful handling throughout the making process and control and accuracy with firing and cooling.

    I often incorporate extraneous materials once the piece is fired such as metal, monofilament, fibre or horsehair. These elements add richness to the work.

    A new piece can take up to two weeks to make, depending on its complexity and it can take a further week or two to construct and apply other elements. I work intuitively when I am making, drawing on my research and bringing all the experiences together.

    [] Read the full interview in Ceramics Now - Issue Two

    Annie Woodford Contemporary Ceramics, Ceramics Now Magazine
    Annie Woodford, Circlet, 2009, Porcelain, copper, stainless steel, 24 x 24 x 24 cm
    View Annie Woodford’s works

    Both science and art are a way of looking at the surrounding environment. What do you think is their meeting point? What kind of form of knowledge is art?

    I often find myself working with scientists on projects and I think the two disciplines have many aspects in common. They both help us to understand the world around us. They both rely on investigation and imagination – the ‘what if?’ principle.

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  • Patrick Colhoun

    Patrick Colhoun's profile on Ceramics Now Magazine - View his works

    Read the interview with Patrick Colhoun, New artist - April 2011

    “I strive to be unique, my work will divide opinion. It should be the main feature, the talking point. It is strong and masculine, certain pieces animal like. It touches on subjects like sexual deviancy, containment, aggression, with hints of religious symbolism, making distasteful subjects into attractive physical forms.

    At this stage of my ceramics career, I am striving to push boundaries all the time in terms of creativity, form and finish. I suspect I always will. I am working largely with black clay which allows me the luxury of leaving parts of the work raw from time to time. I am also particularly interested in exploring how certain materials, such as metal and ceramics work together.” Patrick Colhoun

    Patrick Colhoun lives and works in Belfast.

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  • Interview with Shane Porter - Recognized artist, May 2011

    Interview with ceramic artist Shane Porter - Spotlight - Recognized artist, May 2011

    Subscribe to our monthly newsletter if you want to receive news and interviews with ceramic artists.

    Ceramics Now Magazine
    : In what techniques do you usually work and what materials do you use?

    Shane Porter: My practice is multi-disciplinary in nature, from the way I draw, plan installations and think about different concepts. These areas intertwine from the research that informs my work- by rough scribbled drawings on scraps of paper, to precise computer aided illustrations. I usually need to see my pieces in three dimensions before going any further so after the initial drawing stage, I will construct rough maquettes (usually made from paper, card etc.) to get a sense of scale and presence. The series Vessels 2010 were first made from turned plaster using a lathe and from that initial investigation I played with scale and proportions before turning to clay to make the finished objects. Vessels 2010 were made in two separate stages. A bowl-like press mould was made and a large mass of white stoneware was pinched into it so to not create any seams. A top was then made from a slab of clay and the rather rough pieces where joined together and then slow dried for 4 days. The pieces were then turned on the wheel to create the desired form and finish. I am interested in clinical forms, which flirt with the idea of mass production, but which disrupt this notion by subtle marks of the maker. 


    What is your present project, what’s its history and how do you make the pieces?

    “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”- Matthew 16:24

    My work explores the role and function of the Vessel within ritual theory and practice. I am currently developing a new body of Vessels which are inspired by the practice of Corporal Mortification used in Orthodox Christian traditions.  Corporal Mortification is the practice of inflicting pain on the body as a type of spiritual psychology which uses the ‘body to affect the mind’, punishing man for carnal desires and indulgences, therefore becoming closer to the divine.

    This work is still in an early stage of development and I am beginning to create a series of porcelain paper clay Vessels which challenge the function and ergonomics of the ritual container. I am interested in juxtaposing materials in unusual ways which enable the viewer to question the various connotations which are deep rooted in society. I manipulate typography, clay and organic materials to create narratives and conversations across the work.

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  • Interview with Patrick Colhoun - New artist, April 2011

    Interview with ceramic artist Patrick Colhoun - New artist, April 2011

    Subscribe to our monthly newsletter if you want to read more interviews with ceramic artists.

    Ceramics Now Magazine
    : In what techniques do you usually work and what materials do you use?

    Patrick Colhoun: I am self taught and started throwing on the wheel in the very early days and quickly progressed to handbuilding, to experiment with form and shape. Sometimes I combine the two and start from a thrown vessel and handbuild onto it. I work mostly in black clay. I like the way I can handbuild with it and the darkness of the body suits the finished work in terms of texture and the overall mood of the piece I am trying to convey. The subject of my work can be quite dark and masculine and so this process suits what I am trying to achieve. My palette of glazes is very restricted. I rarely use bright colour, mostly dark and metallic finishes.  


    Chain Mail - View his works

    What is your present project, what’s its history and how do you make the pieces?

    My current work is centered around the development of a series of partial heads, which are usually looking downwards in a brooding, contemplative way. I have introduced various piercings to the heads. Because people do not expect to see these, they add an element of shock and intrigue to the piece. These pieces are in some ways a series of self portraits both in physical terms but also in terms of the mood they convey, I started making these after the death of a close family member and it meant the making of these pieces became a very therapeutic process. The pieces are handbuilt by coiling and are refined as they dry. 

    Do you remember the starting point, your early works?

    I have only been exhibiting my work for two years and making for slightly more than that. I am completely self taught with no ceramic or art training and a career beforehand. Only when I was made redundant from my job did I start to think about exhibiting my work and the first two years of my career have seen my work be influenced by a number of things that I never expected. My early work was influenced by redundancy and to a degree growing up in Belfast during the Troubles. After that, I liked the reaction I got to slightly darker subject matter and deliberately developed a style that was strong, masculine and slightly controversial. I began to look into other slightly dark influences such as containment, aggression and sexual deviancy. I think that this was my way of expressing the fact that I had worked for other people for nearly twenty years and this was me rebelling slightly, through my ever more controversial subject matter.

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