CoCA Project

IMG_6574.JPGThis project was an opportunity to visit the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) which insights the largest and amongst the most important collections of British Studio Ceramics in the UK and covers the entire British studio movement since 1900 to the present day. The collection is made of works bought by York City Art Galley over this period as well as accommodating considerable private collections loaned such as those of Anthony Shaw. I will be evaluating and reflecting on the overall curation of the gallery and the individual collections and archives accommodated within it and having a deeper understating of artefacts and their relationships with one another.

CoCA consists of mainly large gifts from significant private collectors, it retains the unique personality, passions and obsessions of its creators, providing an insight into the socio-economic development of the British studio ceramics movement. The British studio ceramics movement began in the early 20th century, carrying on a long tradition of producing objects by hand from clay. Studio pottery includes functional wares such as tableware, cookware and non-functional wares such as sculpture. Some major names from this movement include, Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and Gordon Baldwin. In Britain since the 1980s, there has been a distinct trend away from functional pottery, for example, the work of artist Grayson Perry. Some studio potters now refer themselves to as ceramic artists, ceramists, ceramicists or as an artist who uses clay as a medium.img_6372Often ceramics is diminished and dismissed as a fine art medium and curation throughout museums and galleries, where piles of ceramics are placed and categorised on glass cabinets in historical context are simply passed by and not taken very seriously. “The collector’s enemy is the museum curator’, wrote the porcelain collector Kaspar Utz in Bruce Chatwin’s eponymous novel, “In any museum”, he explains, “the object dies of suffocation and the public gaze whereas private ownership confers on the owner the right and the need to touch.” As makers we like to interact with objects, however, I understand how some of these objects are frail and not really made to be handled and therefore why careful curation should be taken with sensibility to its surroundings.

Fiona Green took us through the careful curation of the fine art exhibition where there is a considerate incorporation of ceramics into their fine art displays to imply a sense of equality and the importance of ceramics in the fine art spectrum.IMG_6380.JPGEwen Henderson studied pottery under Lucie Rie and Hans Coper at the Camberwell School of Art, but rebelled against both teachers by building vessels freely rather than on the wheel. He wanted to be a painter but was attracted to clay because of the exciting possibilities it offered. Painting and sculpture soon became one, using earth as the medium for his work, Henderson used extreme temperatures mixing clay with other materials to achieve unexpected results. Observing the intellectual placement of Henderson’s sculptures, Torso Form (1986-1987) and Reaching Sculpture Form (1999) in front of Philip Wilson Steer’s painting, Dover Coast and Dame Ethel Walker’s, Robin Hood’s Bay in Winter, immerses the viewer in a complete new level and materialistic context with the interaction of the painting and the sculptures where another dimension is added. A painting stops from being just a painting and a sculpture stops from just being a sculpture and there is a harmonious connection between the two possibly grabbing the attention of a wider audience.img_6398Similarly, the work of both Gustave Loiseau, Port de Goulphar and Martin Jenkins, Wave, although with different historical, geological and material contexts they still connect in a refreshing, contemporary and interactive way. It is said that the average person spends around 5 to 10 seconds observing a painting, if that. Most certainly if this Gustave Loiseau painting was just hung on a gallery wall with a little label on its side, people would probably just pass by, perhaps read the label, but I believe that integrations between other artists and mediums will grab viewer’s attention and perhaps shine a new light on some mediums that are not deemed as fine art, in which is a high priority of Fiona on the curation of this exhibition.img_6401In addition to the whole idea on curation of ceramics as decorative art alongside fine art paintings to quantify the importance of ceramics as a fine art medium by Fiona Green, we looked at a religious context among contemporary work by Loretta Braganza and 15th-16th century Italian painter, Bernardino Fungai. Braganza’s group of ceramic forms “Twelve Apostles” has clear connotations of religion. Her work is concerned with form and very much based around the four elements, earth, water, fire air and these four elements come together to create something. Originally inspired by the rock formations in the Victoria coast line in Australia which some have eroded over time, it has beautiful narratives with the whole idea around ceramics as a material of making something new out of something old and this in a way amplifies on its curation which tell stories throughout the centuries. In an endearing way the connotations of the three Fungai’s painting quantifies the work of Braganza’s ceramic work in a similar way, clay as a material.img_6396Moreover, curator Helen Walsh took us through the main CoCA collection which houses a selection of carefully selected ceramic work from the British Studio Ceramics movement which include around 600 artists and their main objective was to show the versatility of ceramics. Perhaps the biggest advantage of ceramics as a material is its prevalent in every country and culture throughout human history and independently of the place, religion, age or social status you had some sort of ceramic element around you and in a way its what unifies us all, in fact its what you are made of and this has strong narratives with the world around you.img_6421Consciously ceramics is not the most popular area of a collection in a museum for the general visitor, so there is an understanding of making sure the public is engaging with the work. The initial idea was to present studio pottery in a chronological order from the beginning to current ceramics, but the vast alleyways this material spreads to is immense and recognizing a ceramics artist and giving them the deserved recognition. Although the work is behind glass cabinets they are curated in an informative and inquiring manner. Totally 10 large cabinets with 10 predominant makers from this movement with their work on a shelf above and work that has inspired them, or work that has been inspired on by the artists themselves. These bodies of work have a range of contextual similarities and have connection throughout, either the time they have been made, artists inspired, colour, glaze, decoration shape, form, technique and its interesting how functional ware, non-functional ware, sculpture and figurative ceramics interact.

One of the most important and enigmatic potters of the 20th century, Hans Coper called himself a potter and referred to his work as pots, not sculpture, though that is how they are see by many today. In contrast, Alison Britton began re-establishing the vessel as an abstract form, she took inspiration from Hans Coper and Gordon Baldwin, moving away from the Bernard Leach’s (Father of Pottery) Anglo-Oriental style, towards a more modernist aesthetic. In her work, she challenges the notion of functional ceramics and the wheel-thrown methods used by production potters. Interestingly William Staite Murray identified how unacknowledged clay as a material was. Murray made it his mission to raise the status of pottery to the level of fine art, seeing pottery as the missing link between painting and sculpture as it combined elements of both. He gave most of his works titles, charged “high art” prices for them and shared exhibitions with painters such as Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood.

In the middle of CoCA is an installation of 10,000 bowls created by internationally renowned artist Clare Twomey. It is also her response to our collection of ceramics, the dedication of the artists that produced them and the collectors that supported them and then generously gave their collections to York Museums Trust. It was believed that each bowl took 1 hours to make which would suggest that a skill has been mastered, however it more a recognition of the artist involved in making up CoCA and not necessarily a mere skill being mastered. All artists unconsciously came together and mastered a skill which can be seen though out the collection as a whole.img_6511

The Anthony Shaw collection is a significant acquired collection of over 1000 works of art composed over the last 40 years. Focusing largely on contemporary ceramics, the collection is now on loan to York Art Gallery. He is mostly interested in ceramics as a medium as a way of expressing, not necessarily as pottery.  Shaw has always felt that these works of art are most at home in a domestic environment, although they are meant to be set in a domestic environment, it doesn’t stop from it being in a gallery setting. But when in a gallery, objects are displayed in a autocracy way where we view history and context in a set designated way where we don’t experience the whole story behind its history. That’s why constant curation is important to have a fuller experience and perhaps a smaller and more personal collection is more refreshing especially if displayed in a domestic environment, where we can connect with the collector and the artist simultaneously.

Some previous thoughts about relationships between two dimensional work and ceramics have been refreshed looking and how CoCA curated their work. The quantification and the values of ceramics as a material with its comparison to “higher art” and fine art have been propositions that never alerted me but definitely would like to explore more aspects about it. Looking at artists like William Staite Murray where he questions the values of ceramics to Gordon Baldwin which I have been looking into since last year, It is the relationship  between sculpture with painting that make Gordon Baldwin’s ceramics so innovative and unique. He broke entirely with the Leach tradition that form was all that mattered and has created ceramic sculptures which he still calls vessels and in so doing has challenged what is seen as ‘art’ and what is seen as ‘craft’.

The fundamentals of his art: the relationship between inner and outer space, the economy of the form reminiscent of Cycladic art, the depths of the glazed clay achieved by often using various pigments, the economy of the lines on the surface of the forms which tend to follow the vessel’s dips and swells, a preference for organic rather than geometric forms that are rounded rather than angular, all key aspects mimicked from paper to clay.img_6446


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BA (Hons) Final Year Ceramics student at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Love experimenting with material and techniques and work on a range of medium.

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