The fruits of lockdown: a collection of sensual, sculptural vessels with an array of impressive new glazes.
Erskine, Hall & Coe, London
6th – 29th October 2020
IN MAY, THE Design Edit spoke to ceramicist, Sara Flynn, working in her Belfast studio in lockdown. She was remarkably upbeat. Fortunate in having her studio attached to her home, she commented, “In addition, I have an exhibition in October, so although there is so much uncertainty currently about the future, I just have my head down making a new body of work.” It is this new body of work which has been triumphantly on display at Erskine, Hall and Coe’s London gallery, in Albemarle Street, and which can be seen online via the catalogue published on the gallery’s site. As a whole, the exhibition, co-curated by Flynn to take best advantage of the unique architecture of the light-filled gallery, represents a highly considered leap of faith for the artist, a pushing of her idiom into new realms.
Shortlisted in 2017 for the Loewe Craft Prize, Flynn’s work is characterised by her painstaking technique of throwing, and then cutting and refashioning her unique and characterful forms. These are then polished to a silky smoothness before being glazed in a slowly expanding array of colours. Based on fundamental ceramic forms – the bowl, the bottle, the vase – the vessels are named according to an evocative taxonomy that points both to Flynn’s processes and the influences of landscape and the human form which inspire them: ‘Flection’, ‘Camber’, ‘Shoulder’, ‘Spine’. The vessels themselves are both precise and eccentric. They are beautifully balanced, poised like dancers, and yet constantly tease gravity with their reckless overhangs and unexpected bulges.
The forms on display here take this tendency far further. There is a freeing up of shapes – a greater daring in the swirls of bowls, the folds of lips, the relationship of foot to body, and the intricacies of the vessels’ shifting contours – accompanied by a confident control. Other single and paired vessels display a quieter but no less intense mastery, as Flynn has moulded their forms sculpturally from the inside, as a baby shapes a belly. Flynn has not been afraid, either, to include one or two perfectly symmetrical vessels; their forms enlivened by the glaze or their relationship within a group of differently sized and shaped objects.
The relationship of vessels, through form and metaphor, to the human body, always present in Flynn’s work, has, in this show, added charge. It could be that the sensuality of these objects seems more obvious because of the taboo on touch in these nervous times. But the fact that Flynn has deliberately created pairs and clusters of vessels which gently nod, or bend, or even merely seem to expand towards each other suggests increasing confidence in this facet of her work. The pieces communicate at a haptic level even as the eye delights in the unexpected lines and curves, the contrasts of shadow and light.
Flynn had set herself the task this summer of experimenting with glazes, after a research trip to Japan in 2019. The first group of vessels you see as you enter the gallery is so uncharacteristically and vibrantly coloured as to take the breath away. These new intense sea greens and lapis blues are beautifully offset by matt black interiors. They set a newly joyful note, in amongst Flynn’s more customary smooth blacks and white.
Two pots, ‘Camber Vessel’ and ‘Spine-Camber Vessel’, have a dark bronze metallic lustre, catching the edges of their curves as they seem to bend and sway together. Another group of pots is wrapped in a shifting smoky grey glaze Flynn has used before, which accentuates their curves. A further array of vessels, of different sizes and forms, experiments with different tonalities of green glaze – some shiny, some matt, but each an intriguing match of form and surface.
Perhaps the most daring of all is a new glaze Flynn has introduced which separates in the kiln, producing an effect like tears or rain, running down faces of the pots, adding drama to the surface. ‘Folded Vessel’ is one spectacular example of its use, but it reappears in several of the smaller vessels which make up the single installation, ‘Vessel Group’.
For Flynn, this was perhaps the most exciting breakthrough: “I had never before got a group together that in and of itself became an object. Just because things are multiples, it does not make it better. While every single piece needed to be strong enough to stand alone, I also needed really to believe that they worked best together.” The musical sequence of forms, heights, widths, colours and techniques within this one group reflects how intensely Flynn works from one vessel to another – constantly testing the impact of each minute decision to produce a whole range of effects. Like a symphony, while each moment is separately moving, the impact builds through variation.
Erskine, Hall & Coe – Mayfair gallery specialising in ceramics & modern art.
Prices range from £2,500 – £14,000 for single works.