Q&A: Diane Griffin
'The customs of leaving letters and objects at historic and spiritually important sites such as the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and Casa de Guilietta in Verona have been the inspiration to my work. These collective acts of engagement, born of an anthropic desire to connect with the divine or universal energies are used as starting point concepts which then develop through the making process.'
Diane Griffin was born in London and studied ceramics at West Surrey College of Art & Design in Farnham, graduating in 1988. Primarily working with functional vessel forms which she has exhibited across the UK and abroad, Diane has recently started exploring sculpture and with this her identity as an artist. Debuting at the London Art Fair in January of this year, this new series of sculptures explore ideas of inherited or passed down traditions and beliefs relating to cultural identity and our human desire for a sense of belonging. These dynamic sculptures have a transient feel to them while exploring concepts of fragility, weight and balance. They speak of an artist who owns her medium with the breath-taking ability to be able transform clay to look both light as a feather and a solid weight, like paper, stone or even metal. These skills combine with an eye for detail and unteachable expression to create works that you can't help but connect with on an undefinable level.
We can never know enough about these works, the starting point for so many conversations in the gallery in the short time we've had the pleasure in representing them, so asked Diane if she would answer a few more questions for us:
Has clay always been your chosen medium?
D: Yes. It was on my foundation course in the 1980s that I fell in love with clay. It lit me up, and my life long passion began. Initially I was drawn to how immediate, tactile and responsive it was, but it was during my degree at Farnham that I discovered how truly versatile clay is as a creative medium for artistic expression.
It still excites me with possibilities as there are so many different ways of using it and with a rich cultural history to look back on and learn from too.
Letters and rituals around them have been a big inspiration for many aspects of your work, can you tell us more about that first trip to Jerusalem that sparked It all?
D: It was in 1985 that I found myself in Jerusalem. I played the flute in an orchestra and we had been invited to perform a concert near the Old City. We didn’t have much time to explore, just one afternoon before the show, but I did squeeze in a visit to the Wailing Wall. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about it, I’m not religious and only went out of curiosity. I was amazed by the size of it, the constant low hum of hundreds of individual but simultaneously murmured prayers and intrigued by the collective focus of so many people connecting with such emotion to the site. The experience they were having seemed very personal, standing so close the the wall chanting prayers and leaving their messages, yet it was a shared and almost scripted ritual played out in a public setting. I didn’t realise at the time how seminal this visit would be but it definitely was the catalyst to my continued interest in cathartic rituals and human behaviours.
3. What sparked your recent development into sculpture?
D: Increasingly I was finding the limitations of making functional work too restricting for the ideas I had. I enjoy making functional pieces but the functionality has to be primary to the design in order that the work can fulfil its purpose successfully. I wanted to be able to freely investigate the narrative in my work and push the boundaries of making without the concerns of any design limitations regarding function. By removing those limitations and working from a purely sculptural perspective, I have been able to focus on the themes and forms. This in turn has allowed me to explore how we, as humans, deal with visceral experiences and make sense of our existence. Following this narrative leads me to delve into the concept of looking at the emotions themselves, as physical entities and I am really enjoying this freedom to explore emotive art.
Making sculpture has liberated me from the restrictions imposed by the need for function, and allowed me to really develop my artistic practice in new and exciting ways.
Your ability to make clay look like paper, stone, or metal is astonishing, was this technical knowledge you already had?
No, not specifically, although as I have been working with clay for over 30 years now, there is a built up knowledge of the material which I can pull upon. When I have an idea of what I want, I do lots of experimenting and trials until I get it right. Working in ceramics involves a lot of problem solving and I enjoy overcoming the technical challenges. It can take months and months of working out processes, testing glazes, making maquettes with lots of failures along the way, all of which hones the focus and skills required for the final pieces.
What has been the biggest challenge in creating these pieces?
D: The biggest challenge has been in finding a way to make the paper-like sheets thin enough to give the effect I want but not so thin that they crack during the firing.
How do you start each piece? Do you have a full idea of the form before you start?
D: I don’t always have a full idea of the form before I start, it’s often just an inkling. I usually sketch out my basic idea in my sketch book, then move on to exploring it in clay. This stage is really just continued sketching, but with clay. I will make maquettes and test pieces before embarking on a bigger piece. Further ideas and developments happen during the making process as I see the piece grow in front of me and I make decisions along the way in response.
I love your posts on Instagram where you photoshop your sculptures into different locations and at different scales, where would be the dream site for one of your pieces?
Ha ha! Yes, those are fun, but it’s also interesting to visualise my work in different settings and scales. I’ve always had a very vivid imagination and enjoy playing around with the ideas and possibilities of how people might interact with my work. What if it was huge? What if you could climb on it? What if it was floating on a lake?
The dream site for a large scale sculpture would be at in the grounds at Compton Verney, Warwickshire. Compton Verney is an art gallery set in 120 acres of parkland designed by landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1786 and it really creates a stunning backdrop for large scale sculptures. Just imagine!