"Straddling the Art & Craft Divide"
In the first presentation, Cate Blatherwick gave a candid insight into her personal and artistic life. The daughter of renowned potter, Robert Blatherwick, Cate comes from a creative, if slightly unconventional, Lincolnshire family. Her father trained at Wedgwood, Burslem and Winchcome (under Michael Cardew), then worked with pottery luminaries like Bernard Leach, Ray Finch and Lucy Rie. Her mother was also an inspiration and influence. As well as being creative herself, she raised three children, grew all her own veg (long before ‘The Good Life’ became the fashionable alternative), and had a strong social conscience, going on CND marches in the 1970s. To hear Cate’s story, it seems this upbringing must have fostered something of a bohemian attitude and vague political awareness in her from the moment she could walk and talk! At 19, she came to Newcastle to study painting but, on achieving her degree, decided art was quite a frivolous pastime and rather a luxury in a society where some people had nothing. So she promptly turned her back on the creative world and spent the next 20 years developing her career in charitable and social organisations. Finally, though, around 2009, she returned to her roots, embarking on a short ceramics course, before transferring to glass and undertaking an MA at Sunderland which she completed, with distinction, last year. Her creative work is now about the realisation of ideas, where she is drawn to and inspired by expressions of what she calls “the human condition”. She aims to capture how other people live their lives, sometimes private, hidden or secret, reflecting parts of society that we are not usually aware of.
"Animal as Narrative, Animal as Medium"
In complete contrast, the next talk was by June Kingsbury. June lives near London and studied art in Buckinghamshire, completing her MA in 2006. She studied ceramics before being seduced by the lure of glass, but couldn’t understand why you had to select one or the other as a discipline. “They said you couldn’t combine ceramics with glass, and I thought why not?”, then set about creating hybrid pieces that pushed the boundaries. After embarking on a project called ‘One Year, One Walk’ where she walked, collected and logged what she saw around the countryside, she inevitably encountered some of the casualties that occur when nature meets man, in the form of road kill. So the next boundaries pushed were about how to capture the lives of these dead creatures in her art. “When people die, they are mourned” she says. “I wanted to make these things noticed, so they had some meaning.” But she aimed to tell a story, not just display the object itself. She became obsessed by trying to cast carcasses as pieces of glass art, only to succeed in cremating them in the kiln. She experimented with road killed squirrels, a fox, even with pigs’ trotters, but to no avail. Eventually, after much testing, persistence and help from a patient technician, she finally achieved her goal. The carcass and fur burned away, the plaster mould held the net impression, and hot glass flowed in to take up the space, with stunning results. In recent projects, she now applies her prowess to creatures the size of badgers. June also incorporates letters and text into her work, posing her creations on books or captioning them with meaningful phrases. June says her work is about absence and memory, creating a dialogue between past events and current issues. I am interested to know whether her work concerning the dead is about commemoration or transformation: is it meant to celebrate a life, or turn it into an object of desire? It may be both. When her mother passed away, June cast her ashes into a number of small glass houses, which were then given to members of the family as keepsakes. This suggests both an act of remembrance and the opportunity to immortalise the subject forever, a transformation into something beautiful and treasured. This artist and her creative output are certainly intriguing, and yet, however skilful, it is art that may not be to everyone’s taste. I leave you to decide.