Slip-cast stoneware with decals
Each: H. 16 x dia. 6 cm
"The ceramic milk bottles are adorned with my illustrations – a contemporary twist on the Willow Pattern - depicting scenes and people in my neighbourhood."
About Claudette Forbes
"My work draws on my life experience as a child of Jamaican parents, growing up in inner city Bristol. I create ceramic art that is provocative, subversive, playful and humorous. I want to test interpretations of the present day, whilst producing tangible objects that contain a certain beauty and references a past."
What was your first artistic experience?
C: My first artistic experience would have been at kindergarten. At least that’s the earliest memory I had. I drew a house with tree beside it. I wasn’t that impressed with it but the teacher reacted enthusiastically and unconvincingly. It was my first realisation that adults sometimes fibbed!
Where did your relationship with art begin?
C: I’ve always appreciated others’ art without being a practitioner myself. It wasn’t until my forties that I connected with it fully and began to explore making my own art.
When did you first work with clay?
C: After a long career in city development, I left my job to go freelance, freeing up time to explore my creativity. My desire at the time was to become a musician, then someone told me about a potter, Roland Austin, who taught from his home in East Dulwich. I’d never been a maker before. Once I got my hands on the clay, that was it. I was hooked. Clay took me back to music in the end, because I produced a number of soundtracks to go with this collection. The soundtracks feature my vocals and me on sax; and of course I had to bring ceramics into it, using one of my broken pots as a percussion instrument.
What first drew you to slip-casting?
C: I’m actually a thrower and make tableware on the potter’s wheel. However, after a few years doing this as a hobby, and at a friend’s suggestion, I decided to take things further. I enrolled on the Art Design & Ceramics HND course at Morley College, graduating in 2020. I wanted to learn all the ceramic making techniques, particularly slip casting. All my pieces in this exhibition are slip cast. I actually made a mould of a real cow’s tongue (bought in a local butcher) to make the base upon which the willow patterned cow stands. I also made a mould of a cow I’d sculpted. A glass milk bottle was used for the plaster mould for the ceramic bottles.
What are your biggest influences?
C: I was born and grew up in inner city Bristol, England, and now live in an inner city area of London. Not only did this inspire my first career choice of city development, but it now inspires my ceramics. I live in Peckham, South London, which is a vibrant, multi-cultural area and I never cease to be inspired by this place. The illustrations on my bottles are of local people or scenes. I draw them from photographs that I take. There’s a back story to each drawing. For example, ‘The Barclay’s Queue’ struck me first because of the diversity of the queue, but also because there is always a long queue outside the Barclay’s Bank on Rye Lane. What is that about? Anyone local who sees that illustration on the bottle immediately exclaims ‘I know!’.
The other influence is my Jamaican heritage. The cow was inspired by a family trip to Jamaica more than 20 years ago. The first McDonald’s had opened near Montego Bay. In a neighbouring field stood a solitary cow. The comedy of this was not lost on us and we shouted to the cow to run for its life.
Which artist/artists do you admire most?
C: I really love Hew Locke whose work is mind blowing and tackles themes like colonialism. Seeing the Steve McQueen exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2020 also gave me confidence to pursue my desire to put my Jamaican heritage front and centre of my work. Over the past few years I’ve drawn older members of my family – the Windrush generation as well as others’ whose stories I want to put out there, warts and all.
In terms of other ceramicists, first and foremost my good friend, ceramicist, Schneider Schneider, who was the one who encouraged me to take my ceramics further. She is fantastically creative and a brilliant ceramicist and artist. We share a similar sense of humour which definitely comes through in her work and mine.
I’m a big fan of ceramicist, Kerry Jameson as well as Barnaby Barford and Jessica Harrison.
What’s been your biggest achievement in your artistic career so far?
C: Since graduating from Morley College it’s been a whirlwind. I’ve won several awards which is very affirming. It’s great to have the work appreciated by people who have bought my work as well.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your work?
C: The biggest challenge has been finding space to reflect and develop the work. The next few months will definitely be development time.
Do you listen to anything as you work?
C: Absolutely. Studio time is when I get to listen the radio, usually something on radio 4 like In Our Time or Start the Week. With clay covered hands, my smart speaker is brilliant as I simply tell it to play what I want to hear.
Do you plan each piece in advance or do they develop intuitively?
C: It’s a mixture of both. You definitely have to plan in advance – the concept and how you want to execute the piece. This is the design process. I will usually do a sketch. In 2020 I won a year’s mentoring with renowned ceramicist, Mitch Pilkington. She advised me to keep making as this also fuels the conceptual process.
How important is the material itself to your work?
C: Clay is a material I’ve found to be incredibly liberating, particularly when it comes to sculpture. The cow was the first thing I’d ever sculpted. I wasn’t a confident drawer, but quickly discovering that with clay you can simply add or take away transformed me. I worked quickly and within 40 minutes had the cow that’s in this exhibition. Wow.
How do you decide when a form works? What are you looking for in a final piece?
C: Although my pieces have an unfinished, imperfect quality, for example with seams from the mould intact, I do seek to have a polished finish. I’m seeking to make objects which are quite beautiful. With regard to form, the 7 part mould that produces the cow’s torso goes against standard practice. For efficiency a typical mould should consist of up to three parts. I wasn’t sure that the form would work, but on first casting the multiple seams became the making of the piece. I am very happy with it.
How important is tactility to your work?
C: Tactility for me comes in handling clay. For the audience, I encourage them to pick up the pieces, to feel their weight, to touch the surface.
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