1 March 2012


Our now long-running and highly successful series of artist discussions continued last night with Glenn Adamson in conversation with Alison Britton and Patrick Mifsud. In this installment Adamson probed each artist on the work in their current shows, this time with apparent emphasis on the role of process - a uniting factor between what are otherwise two hugely different but equally accomplished bodies of work. Both discussions were revealing and fascinating, and the audience was fantastic! Thank you to everyone who came and took part in the conversation, and for those that couldn't make it, here is a short summary:

Alison Britton explained that for a long time she has avoided talking about 'process', mostly as an effort to move away from the 'obsession' with it in the studio pottery of the 1960s and 70s. 'Standing and Running', however, marks a significant change in the way in which her work is made. Along with a brief project in which she was asked to purchase and then write about a number of second hand items, this latest body of work was very much inspired by a recent trip to Japan. It was during this trip that Britton began to use red clay for the first time in a number of years. Subsequently her methods of adding surface also significantly shifted, with slips and glazes being poured on to her vessels, rather than "painted", using a special spoon (also a gift from Japan). 

Adamson and Britton in animated discussion

This pouring method then became very important on a conceptual level too. As a writer, curator and artist Britton is greatly interested in words, but is reluctant to give her work 'overly long and poetic' titles - instead she prefers to hint at 'thinly veiled' ideas. Surrounding this show is the notion of water - which can both 'stand' and 'run' - and links to not only her decorative methods, but also to the vessel as a container for liquid (the pieces have titles such as 'Weir', 'Spurt', 'Outflow' and 'Runnell').  Glenn Adamson commented that the choice of words is also interesting on another level as they may be used to refer to the body -  a person can both 'stand' and 'run' - and the vessel often carries metaphorical reference to the human body. This is a point which Britton agreed with, saying she has considered this for some time in her work. She has also used hand-building methods for her whole career, and Adamson pointed out that this involves the use of the human body more so than relying on the 'tool' of the wheel to create the work.

The decision to include Bryan Illsley's paintings in the show was also discussed and related to the mark-making on a number of Britton's vessels, with Illsley commenting that he was both 'surprised but very pleased' to be asked to show his work alongside Britton's. An audience member asked what does she think about when she makes the work, to which Britton replied that the making process is very calm and relaxing, it is at the stage of applying surface that things get more tense due to the risk involved, but this is what she enjoys.

There was a high turnout for the discussion

Fellow Marsden Woo artist Sara Radstone commented on her use of glaze, understanding how it can feel quite daring just to make one small change in one's practice, such as not applying glaze to the inside of the red clay pieces in this case (which would render the vessels water-proof). She also asked whether Britton had considered making pieces that weren't vessels at all, or if she could envisage the evolution of this work as heading in that direction? Britton was, however, most adamant that this would not be the case as she especially enjoys the fact that her pieces are vessels and can't see herself deviating from this approach in future bodies of work.  

When asked by painter George Waud whether the red clay pieces (unglazed on the interior for aesthetic reasons) could actually hold water, Britton rather humorously suggested the careful concealment of a jam jar to hold water should someone wish to put flowers inside them, as the pieces were not water tight. 'So you don't mind if people actually put things in your pieces?' comes a comment from the floor. Britton responds; 'If somebody is generous enough to buy a piece of my work, then they can put whatever they want in it!'.

Adamson explains the enormous influence Britton's work has had on his own
personal understanding of ceramics and the applied arts

The discussion then moved downstairs into the Project Space:

Patrick Mifsud began by eloquently introducing himself and his work, explaining his aim of altering the architecture of the gallery to make viewers question their perception of space. He mentioned how previous examples of his work have done this in various ways, often in public spaces. 

Mifsud introduces his work to the audience 
Attention was drawn to the performative dimension of Mifsud's work, and he explained how he thinks of the whole piece as a performance, from the repetitive movements involved in the installation - tying hundreds of knots, moving with the thread around the gallery, and tying again - to the taking down of the work, as the threads are cut and float gently to the floor. Mifsud sees the general public as performers in his work, moving as they must around it in certain ways that his work controls. In particular his 'Geometric Form (Urban Series)' pieces encapsulate this, as they block off public walkways such as tunnels and bridges and must inevitably be destroyed in order for people to pass through. He was asked if he sees himself as a graffiti artist, which he explained is not the case as his work does not damage anything, but he often feels like he could get into trouble for what he does - so feels a sense of adrenalin as a graffiti artist might. 

Adamson pointed out that the lighting was particularly theatrical, prompting Marsden Woo artist Carol McNicoll to ask Mifsud if he had an interest in theatre and whether he had thought about collaborating with dancers or performers? The answer to this was a resounding yes, and Mifsud explained this was something he has done before, and in fact studied theatre in Malta before moving to the UK. 

The audience turn their attention to Mifsud's series of intervention works in public
spaces - represented photographically in the show

The subject of lighting also brought up the elegant transition between transparency and opacity apparent in Mifsud's main installation piece 'Connect/Dissect', and his choice of a vibrant red colour was discussed. He mentioned the way it is a form of colour study as well as a linear three dimensional drawing in space, constantly changing, and that the painstaking pen and ink line drawings, which are displayed as part of the show, also highlight this.

Comments Alison Britton; 'Do you have a helper, a co-conspirator?'

'Yes,' replies Mifsud, 'My girlfriend!'

Words © Marsden Woo Gallery (2012)

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