Colour in Clay, opening at Watts Contemporary Gallery on 18 September (until 31 October), brings together work by 10 of the UK’s most dynamic ceramic artists to celebrate contemporary approaches to colour in ceramic practice.
From pure clay bodies to dazzling glazes, deep oxides and vivid surface decoration, the exhibition examines colour as a tool to communicate pattern, form and structure.
Alongside functional and sculptural ceramics, the exhibition will present paintings and prints by three of the selected artists exploring how the boundaries of ceramic practice are being reshaped today.
Featured artists are: Adam Frew who, from his studio in rural Northern Ireland, works in porcelain to create thrown functional and large one-off vessels; award-winning Carolyn Genders, whose work is an interplay of looking and seeing through colour, texture, gesture and the evolving patterns of her surroundings; Barry Stedman, whose work is rooted in the directness and urgency of drawing outside; Surrey-based Ali Tomlin, whose practice is centred on mark making and colour; Bisila Noha, recognised for her distinctive Japanese-inspired tableware using marbled slip and studio potter Paul Jackson, who uses both stoneware and porcelain in a salt glaze kiln, layering colour to explore different tones, textures and forms that reference the coastlines and rock formations of Northern Cornwall.
Emily-Kriste Wilcox, who has created paintings and painted porcelain tiles for this exhibition, inspired by the outside world; Richard Phethean, whose interest in ancient pottery, European slipware and early 20th century painting is reflected in the forms and colourations he creates; Tanya Gomez, whose expressive and often architectural forms are inspired by her local landscape and the coastline of South East England and Judy McKenzie, who melds different coloured porcelain bodies together to create works with a tactile surface and a plethora of designs, patterns and shapes.
Colour in Clay marks the return of Watts Contemporary’s annual ceramics exhibition, inspired by the legacy of Mary Watts (1849-1938). Mary Watts was the co-founder of Watts Gallery-Artists’ Village and, in 1895, began to run evening classes in ceramics, teaching the local community in Compton how to model tiles in terracotta clay.
She later designed, built and decorated the now Grade I listed Watts Chapel using these tiles. The building is widely considered to be an Arts & Crafts masterpiece. In 1901, Watts went on to establish the Compton Pottery on site, training apprentices in ceramic practice and selling richly coloured wares to prestigious companies including Liberty & Co. The Guild operated as a successful commercial business until 1956.
Today, Watts Contemporary Gallery is housed in the former Pottery Building, and all profits from Watts Contemporary Gallery exhibitions support Watts Gallery Trust’s Art for All Learning Programme, which delivers artist-led workshops across the community – upholding Mary Watts’ legacy.
Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Watts Gallery Trust, said:
“Through clay, Mary Watts realised her vision for Compton, helping local people develop skills that would lead to employment. This vision is the beating heart of our Art for All Community Learning Programme, which provides access to art and to craft for people who would not ordinarily have this opportunity.”
“In addition to enabling visitors to see and buy contemporary art, Watts Contemporary exhibitions help us to raise vital funds to deliver our transformative programme, which is needed now more than ever before.”
“We are grateful to our artists and to everyone who supports our exhibitions, and we look forward to welcoming you to Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village to experience Colour in Clay.”
Colour in Clay opens at Watts Contemporary Gallery on 18 September (until 31 October). All work is for sale, with prices from £28.
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Image: Lake Natron from Space tall vase, porcelain nerikomi, Judy McKenzie