Extract from ‘Lost and Found’ in Ceramic Review

Scan 2

Owen Quinlan’s Animate Object series, which combines found materials with added layers applied to their weathered and aged surfaces, suggests an intriguing lack of self, regarding past use or identity, that dual state of uncertainly and permanence, qualities of both industrial and natural. Within the firing process, these newly formed objects, which move as much as the glazing will allow, have the ability to completely transform. Fired within saggars, to protect the kiln, what comes out can sometimes be completely different to what was put in. ‘There’s that kind of serendipity and sense of the unknown to it’ Quinlan muses, ‘a successful piece should identify as something which has been at some point man-made and should hopefully stir curiosity as to a once possible function, but not answer any more’. What is important, it seems, is that an open-ended interpretation of these objects remains with the viewer.

Extract from ‘Lost and Found’, a profile of Owen Quinlan in the current edition of Ceramic Review 

Not Too Precious?

Genevieve Howard 01

Genevieve Howard Bangle

Pregnant Grizzli Bearmaid_brooch by Felieke van der Leest_crocheted and knitted textiles_plastic animals_gold jasper_2013_photography by Eddo Hartmann

Felieke van der Lee ‘Pregnant Grizzli Bearmaid’ brooch, 2013; crocheted and knitted textiles (alpaca, polyester, viscose, felt, cotton), plastic animals, gold jasper.

Beetlejuice_brooch_Märta Mattsson_beetle_resin_silver_cubic zirconias_2010_photography by Märta Mattsson

Märta Mattsson ‘Beetlejuice’ brooch, 2010; beetle, resin, silver, cubic zirconias. 70 x 40mm

I may have previously mentioned my interest in art jewellery, several times over.  As adornment it makes a fundamental statement about who we are or perhaps how we want to be perceived, as a social signifier, it is purchased and worn at the most important times in our lives while as culturally significant objects, jewellery occupies an important part of our craft heritage.

But jewellery is also a remarkably expressive art form and moreover one that is arguably, the most intimate. So while we buy and collect art that is expressive, powerful, beautiful, intense, humorous or even poignant, why do we not buy jewellery for the same reasons? Not Too Precious, currently at the National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny, explores inspirational work by 25 international jewellers who select their materials for their expressive potential rather than intrinsic value. They question the notion of jewellery being identified as ‘precious’ simply because the materials used have been traditionally categorised as such. Radical artist-jewellers of the late 1960s and 70s vigorously rejected that idea and today, while a multitude of materials are now considered acceptable, many still revert to the safety of so called ‘precious’ materials when buying jewellery. So let’s join with these radical artist-jewellers and consider for a moment the actual definition of the word precious (of great value, greatly loved and treasured). When you do, you’ll find the greatest jewellery, it may be powerful, beautiful or fun but ultimately it is truly expressive. Not too Precious is at the National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny until 30 March 2016

Irish stained glass; then and now

Peter Martin.Wrapped in Walls

For centuries, Irish craftspeople and artisans have created unique objects in precious metals, stone and wood that have shaped a distinctive visual narrative and contributed to our rich cultural heritage. While stained glass does not have a similarly long history (there appears to be no evidence of it being made in Ireland before the eighteenth century) artists who worked in this medium in more recent times, especially throughout the Celtic Revival, have also given us a valuable legacy. Harry Clarke is perhaps the best-known Irish stained glass artist (incidentally his story is featured in the RTE series, Fire in the Blood on Monday night March 14) but lets not forget Sarah Purser, who established An Túr Gloine in 1903, her contemporary Wilhelmina Geddes and the abstract painter Evie Hone.

One hundred years on, it’s wonderful to see makers employ traditional stained glass techniques to investigate contemporary themes. Peter Martin, a graduate of the Contemporary Applied Art degree course at CIT Crawford College of Art and Design is one such maker. His work investigates the atmospheres and architecture of the urban environment. Drawing on the visual potentials of stained glass, his works explore, and intensify, subconscious sentiment and attitudes toward our built environs. They are representations of how our passages and journeys through the city become part of us and how we, through these interactions, become part of the fabric of the city itself.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to include Peter Martin’s work in the forthcoming YOUNG II exhibition at SO Fine Art Editions, Dublin. This exhibition series provides a platform to emerging artists and makers working in a variety of disciplines including fine art print and ceramics; isn’t it good to see stained glass included on the list?

image: Wrapped in Walls, Peter Martin, painted, etched & leaded stained glass, 55H x 65W cm, 2015

1916: The Centenary Year

Arts & Crafts Society of Ireland cover

UCC are running a series of short courses this Spring under the theme of ‘1916: The Centenary Year’.

With an emphasis on the fine and applied arts, architecture and literature, these courses will address the various and diverse cultural activities that were happening in Ireland in the generations before 1916 and which were shaping a particular Irish identity.

I’m delighted to have been invited to deliver a lecture series entitled ‘Towards 1916: Nationalism, Identity and the Decorative Arts in Ireland, 1860 – 1916’.

As Ireland’s struggle for independence continued throughout the nineteenth century, the country witnessed much political, economic and social upheaval as it moved towards events of 1916. Yet, in the decades leading up to the rising, Ireland’s path to political freedom was increasingly being viewed through a cultural lens and a growing sense of national identity helped define many artistic and craft based movements.  In addition the desire to address Ireland’s economic difficulties through the revival of Irish industry and training of its workforce, also contributed to the canon of Irish applied art at this period.

The course highlights significant milestones in the decorative arts and crafts from 1860 to 1916 and looks at how the path to 1916 can be traced through the story of movements such as the Home industries, Celtic Revival and the Arts & Crafts Society of Ireland.

The course begins on January 28th at UCC, Cork. For further information check out the UCC: Adult Continuing Education Department.

Now at Designworks

Plexus Neckpiece

Helle Helsner

I had the opportunity to speak at Designworks Studio in Cork this week. The occasion? The launch of two new designers in-store; Maria Dorai-Raj and Helle Helsner.

Maria Dorai-Raj, who studied contemporary jewellery design in Florence, has a traditional goldsmithing background and also, interestingly, studied ceramics at LSAD. Working in silver and gold, her work is embued with diverse influences such as the anatomical sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci, astronomy and De Stijl, an early 20th century design movement.

Helle Helsner, on the other hand, has a fine art background. For a number of years she studied ancient casting methods and she now uses this process to cast flower heads, beautifully capturing a moment in nature. The effect is reminiscent of her drawings, which also offer fleeting glimpses of everyday life.

While these designers work in different ways, both share the same craft values; a dedication to making and craftsmanship, an understanding of material and a respect for tradition. They both also remind us of the significance of this intimate form of self-expression. As adornment, jewellery makes a fundamental statement about who we are (or perhaps how we want to be perceived) while as a social signifier, it is purchased and worn at the most important moments in our lives. It reminds me of a quote I read recently by Monica Moses, Editor-in-Chief of American Craft. ‘It’s symbolic to a degree that few other objects are. What other art form has the transubstantiated mystique of jewellery? What else can express the turning points of our lives so powerfully? Jewellery reminds us that, rational though we might think we are, we are creatures of story, ritual, and connection.’

images: Plexus Neckpiece by Maria Dorai-Raj, Silver Ring by Helle Helsner 

The Irish Contemporary Ceramics Collection

black&blue guardian vessel

The Limerick School of Art & Design (LSAD) and the Hunt Museum Limerick have joined forces to establish The Irish Contemporary Ceramics Collection, inviting six leading Irish ceramic artists to contribute a piece of their work to inaugurate the collection. Is this an important initiative? I think so. The collection will be an important resource for researchers, academics and students in the years ahead, there will be economic benefits for Limerick as cultural tourism continues to grow and the presence of this collection in Limerick will reinforce LSAD’s status as an important academic center for ceramic education.

But more importantly, however, the establishment of an all Ireland contemporary ceramics collection sends out a strong statement on the value of ceramics within the hierarchy of the visual arts in Ireland. Ceramics is an extremely diverse and complex discipline. We see it on display in national museums and use it in intimate domestic settings. Through a material culture lens, it is imbued with a multitude of signs and signifiers. But regardless of how we choose to categorise or analyse it, we need a national collection of work by Irish ceramic artists who deserve recognition within the canon of 20th and 21st century Irish Art. So congratulations to Claire Curneen, Jack Doherty, Sara Flynn, Frances Lambe, Deirdre McLoughlin and Henry Pim (the six artists inaugurating the collection) who have now taken their place in The Irish Contemporary Ceramics Collection.

image: Jack Doherty, Black and Blue Guardian Vessel, from the Irish Contemporary Ceramics Collection.

The art of the shoemaker


As an advocate of the skill and craftsmanship of the maker, I have always admired the art of the shoemaker; the creator of beautiful objects, comprising many different parts and using a wide variety of materials, which are also functional. Today, as we continue to research new technologies and expand our knowledge of material and process, the art of shoemaking will continue to evolve. For example, the fabulous Invisible Shoe (pictured here) by Andreia Chaves was developed through a fusion of leather making techniques with advanced 3D printing technology.

But having studied material culture I now also appreciate that, in addition to practical necessity, craft and aesthetic (which should be enough in itself), there is so much more to shoes. The notion of shoes as objects of desire and social signifiers dates back many centuries and their power has also moved into the realm of myth, folklore, fiction and popular culture. Who isn’t aware of the transformative powers of Cinderella’s Glass Slipper or Dorothy’s Ruby Slipper? Also, did you know that, in the seventeenth-century court of Louis XIV, the right to wear red heels became the sole prerogative of the privileged few at court and therefore shoes with red heels took on a special significance? Sound familiar anyone?

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, at the V&A, London until January 31, 2016, is a wonderful exhibition of shoes from ancient Egypt to designs by contemporary ‘celebrity’ shoe designers. The shoes are not shown in chronological order but more interestingly by theme and so we learn about shoes as expressions of status, as fetish footwear, as magical objects and much, much more.

Andreia Chaves, ‘Invisible Shoe’, from ‘Shoes: Pleasure and Pain’ at the V&A. Internal leather, handmade in Italy + external 3D printed nylon structure.