‘Shelter No. 6’, 2022
IN 1975, JANET Lines arrived at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London determined to become an illustrator. A chance visit to a friend studying in the ceramics department changed her mind. This week, in a calm sunlit space above the elegant Mayfair shop floor of British luxury brand Connolly, a whole new collection of ceramic sculptures by Lines, entitled ‘Unknown to Me’, are displayed for the first time.
From a distance you might think ‘Shelter No. 6’ was a large leather bag – perhaps one made from Connolly’s famously soft leathers. It has the rippling folds and accidental posture of textile, and gathers in a little at the neck as a stiff sack might do. But come closer, and you see that this vessel is made of clay, ribbons of a combination of stoneware and porcelain, balancing refinement with strength, hand-pinched together in an organic process of form-making that Lines describes as a “a kind of unknowing”.
As the form emerges, Lines leaves the marks of her pinching like vertical runes, working at right angles to the horizontal contours of her sculptures, enhancing their undulating rhythms and reinforcing the lively, improvisatory quality of the composition. As the piece becomes bigger, the process of building becomes, in Lines’s words, “much more of a dance,” as she tries to maintain the balance of the piece whilst controlling its energy and vigour. To the surface, once finished, she adds terra sigillata, a light slip of fine clay particles that gives the piece radiance without blunting the stone-like matt finish of the material. After a first firing, for this piece, she has then buried the vessel in sand up to its neck, before setting fire to wood shavings in a final elemental gesture that binds the black line around the sculpture’s opening deep into the material. Through these processes, the space inside becomes a potent, pregnant mystery, sheltered from scrutiny, wrapped in clay. The collusion Lines brings about between nature and culture in the work’s formation echoes back to man’s earliest art making, even as the play of black line and white surface shows its kinship with other highly sophisticated expressions of twentieth and twenty-first century abstraction.
This new body of work has emerged only over the last five years. After studying ceramics at Farnham in the 1970s, Lines married and moved to Athens where she has taught art and design and brought up three children. In 2017 she returned to Farnham to take a research-based masters degree. Having moved about a great deal as a child, she chose the question, “What gives us a sense of home?” But as she became increasingly distressed by the refugee crisis, particularly present in Greece, she changed her focus: “I decided I was going to look at homelessness, disbelonging – and the idiom I latched onto was ‘upping sticks’”. Working intuitively, without a plan, she began literally rolling sticks of clay. But one day, one larger stick sagged in the middle, and broke in two, revealing two mouths: the central opening offered, as Lines puts it, “a step into the unknown,” as into a passage way or cavern. What became of overwhelming importance were the ideas of space contained and space occupied, with the rim becoming the interface between the two.
Since then Lines has allowed one piece to evolve from another, in series. There is no end of new work she wants to pursue. Catch these pieces while you can.
‘unknown to me’ an exhibition of sculptures in clay by Janet Lines is at Connolly until 5th November 2022.