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Unglazed porcelain with a black slip brushstroke

H. 47 cm



About Tom Kemp


I became a full-time ceramic artist three years ago, after seven years of pottery evening classes and studying many, many YouTube videos. Previously, I'd made a detailed study of Roman signwriting techniques using the square-edged brush and it's that tool I mainly use to write single brushstrokes on my porcelain vessels.


'Growth' is the third exhibition I've taken part in at Thrown Contemporary. Growth isn't just change. It's a laying down of what came before: the past ineluctably woven through the present's state of being. Each of these vessels grew in opposition to gravity from its primordial lump of wet clay, aided only by the natural centripetal force induced by the potter's wheel. Each written brushstroke grew from an initial starting point, the antithesis of printing. Growth is a capturing and detailed recording of time and what happened during that time. You can see the trace of my fingertips' pressure in the helical wall of the pots; you can see the swerve and stuttering of my brush's often tortuous path around its curved surface. What you can't see is the growth of nerve pathways and kinaesthetic memories in my body as each of these pieces added to my experience of learning how to make this stuff.


‘I've always been intrigued by the physical act of writing: the subtle movements of fingers resulting in meaningful symbols on the page. For many years I studied a form of signwriting developed in classical Rome, which uses the 'square-edged' brush. It's this tool which is ultimately responsible for the serifs we see on many letterforms today.’


‘I was surprised to find that 'throwing' clay on a wheel has a very calligraphic nature to it: the form appears in real time under the body's direction; there is very little room for editing or transforming: what you make is what you get. The question then is what to write? Any particular script always ends up just transcribing particular languages. However, if we remove language from writing, we find a set of universal forms, which are common to all scripts: shapes which appear throughout history and across the world as writing was invented and spread across cultures. Which is no surprise as all writing comes from the efficient use of the human hand and body. With no language to get in the way, the general nature of our mark-making is revealed. It's one of our ways of recording our very being: as a tool is dragged across a surface, all the intricacies of that performance are recorded as a still, clear image of its own making.’


Tom Kemp is a mainly self-taught artist. His work stems from a fascination with writing – the physical making of visual language – which has led to vast explorations of calligraphy, in particular Roman signwriting, and a published book. This developed into using these now familiar sign-writing brushes to create more abstract marks, saying about his work:‘I’m continually studying the way the written mark is a recording of my very being, the very time I spent making that mark in all its complexity. It’s like a still clear image of an entire movie. It’s a thing, not a picture of a thing.’


Tom has quickly developed a strong following for his work, which has been purchased by collectors all over the world.




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Vessel 1 | By Tom Kemp

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