JOANNA BIRD cordially invites you to this Autumn Exhibition, in which a selection of outstanding contemporary pieces and historic masters are presented in the Gallery’s three main spaces.
The exhibition includes a beautiful catalogue featuring words written by the artists themselves, who were asked by Joanna to reflect on how they imagine the ‘point of balance’ in their work. The result is a unique insight into the outlook and process of each individual artist in regard to the role of equilibrium.
A wide variety of art and craft disciplines are represented in the work on display, including; sculpture in porcelain and bronze, ceramics, dichroic and cast glass, framed mosaics and abstract layered glass.
The artists featured in this exhibition include Dawn Bendick, Halima Cassell, Joanna Constantinidis, Pippin Drysdale, Elizabeth Fritsch, Florian Gadsby, Sun Kim, Lucille Lewin, Tom Perkins, Lucie Rie, Rupert Spira, Kaja Upelj, Charles Vyse, Matthew Warner and Gregory Warren Wilson.
‘Point of Balance’ welcomes you to take pleasure in the work on display and to contemplate each artist’s approach to the theme.
Balance is not known without chaos, and at present chaos seems to be a constant state that makes it harder and harder for us to find a sense of harmony. We can find balance in aerobic practices such as yoga and acrobatics, in which a person has to constantly find their centre of gravity for fear of falling and inflicting pain. Similarly, in the culinary arts the contrast between one sweet flavour and one salty or bitter taste is what creates the ultimate experience.
Sculpture is heavily reliant on the sense of balance – both practically and visually – and every artist will return to this problem one way or another. But the balance an artist strives for, though complex, is not nearly as difficult to achieve as the equilibrium that one would hope to experience in everyday life in our local communities and across the globe.
My sculptural pieces, Time Rock Stacks, are an exploration of colour, light, and the structure that can be achieved when using the most innate sculptural practice of stacking objects. When combined with the interaction of light, these dichroic glass sculptures are in a state of flux – one that is triggered by the difference between natural light, and the artificial light waves that are all around us. This fluctuation in colour brings about changes in the perception and the mood of the viewer.
As it becomes increasingly daunting to find moments of equilibrium in the world, our work – whatever it may be – needs to reflect both the state of calm and of discord in our current experiences.
The point of balance is something that has always excited me, and something that is integral to my thinking while I work. We seem unconsciously to be drawn to objects that question our understanding of structural balancing points, the tension on which the sculpture pivots or from which the planes and facets of a piece are drawn, and upon which they are structured.
Rubicon is one of many sculptures to which I have applied this point of balance. The tension created by the point on which it stands is further heightened by the facets which slowly increase and decrease in scale back to the top point.
The pierced holes in this piece dramatize it even further by allowing light to travel through them, projecting colour into the space. The warmth of the golden-polished bronze interiors of these ‘windows’ contrasts with, and provides a counterpoint to, the more matte exterior.
Joanna Constantinidis was born in York and trained at Sheffield College of Art. In 1951 she became a lecturer in Ceramics at Chelmsford Technical College and School of Art, and taught there for nearly 40 years. In 1978 she was awarded the Medal of Honour at the international exhibition of ceramic art in Faenza.
Her work was influenced by British history, drawing inspiration from medieval pottery, Staffordshire slipware, salt glaze and early industry pottery. Another influence was modern and ancient Greece, with much of her work being subtly lustred suggesting sun-bronzed metal and the minimalist shapes.
An acclaimed International Artist and Master of Australian Craft, Pippin Drysdale’s career as a ceramic artist spans 40 years. Her passion for the craft merges with a love of the landscape, which has travelled across continents and in most recent years has focused on the vivid desert landscapes of Australia.
Elizabeth trained as a musician before taking up pottery in 1966. She studied ceramics at the Royal College of Art under Hans Coper. After leaving in 1971 she worked in the Bing and Grondahl factory in Copenhagen where she held her first exhibition. She was a major prize winner in the Royal Copenhagen Jubilee Competition. In 1987, she set up her own studio in London and in that year, was chosen for the Bernard Leach Centenary Post Office Stamp issue with Hans Coper and Lucie Rie.
Her work can be seen in many public collections including the Belle Rive Museum, Zurich, the Musee Des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, the Shigaraki Museum, Japan, and the V&A Museum. Joanna Bird has represented her work since 2003, and curated a solo exhibition for her at The Fine Arts Society in 2008.
The balance of a pot is a factor I always consider when making pottery, utilitarian vessels especially. They need to feel right in one’s hand, not excessively light and not too heavy, the clay distributed evenly and comfortable for use with hand and mouth.
I try to make pots that are light; they need to be in order to remain a good weight after thick layers of glaze have been applied to them and fired solid. Sometimes I’ll trim too thinly and that causes the glazes to fire in a way that I dislike; on other occasions I’ll leave sections too hefty, causing the glazes to appear heavy and hulking. So, I try to find a balance, to best fit both components and lead to a pot that’s pleasurable to use.
In other pieces, vases and forms more sculptural, I throw and trim sharp angles and narrow, tapering feet. Many of my forms rest on a delicate edge or come to a razor’s edge. What I’m searching for is, again, a point of balance in the proportions and shape; sometimes it’s easy to find, and sometimes it eludes me.
Some of my works in this exhibition are shapes that balance each other when arranged together. Others rest on a narrow point, balancing above it; others combine various qualities to create pots that I hope feel balanced when used.
For the show Point of Balance I made groups of ceramic vessels. The process starts with a simple thrown cylinder – rather like a white canvas. Some measurements and key points are then marked on the clay before I start cutting, folding and assembling. The form slowly starts to be revealed one step at a time.
The individual elements of each pot are carefully thought through during the making process in order to bring a sense of balance. The opening of the vessel, its volume, the curve and tension of the body, and the way the base sits on the ground – these elements all define the pot’s sense of presence.
My aim as a maker is to continuously explore and refine the visual balance of the pot, together with what feels right in my hands.
My work examines the collision between humanity and Nature. We are now at the fulcrum, the point of balance between the future of humanity and the future of our planet. The catastrophe of climate change may render humanity obsolete and the planet uninhabitable. In this time of conflict and precarious uncertainty, the sustainability of the planet is in jeopardy: it hangs in the balance.
This tipping point – or point of balance – has been a recurring theme in my work for many years. In the sculptural pieces I make, both Nature and the physical body are alluded to, but there is no attempt to copy natural forms realistically. Rather, I convey ideas of chaos and imbalance and, by abstraction, the enigmatic forces of emotion.
I work in porcelain, and each piece is detailed and complex, having been worked on using slips, moulds, shards and fragments. My work is fired multiple times, and in the kiln’s extreme temperature these sculptural elements fuse and flux. The fluidity of their molten state is captured as the clay cools.
Thematically, my work speaks of the fragility of life, and of the impact our species is having on the world.
As Sibyl Moholy-Nagy says, Dimension is in itself nothing but an arbitrary expansion of form into height, width, depth and time. It is in the balancing and proportioning power of eye and brain that regulate this expansion of the object toward equilibrium and harmony. It is this equilibrium and harmony that I hope to manifest in these sculptures.
The letters of the alphabet are in themselves abstract forms; my decades of exploring and experimenting with letterform through calligraphy, drawn letters and letter carving in stone, have provided a deep reservoir of form upon which to draw.
In these sculptures there is a tension between major and minor elements in the composition, reflecting one another in form but with a hierarchy of scale, producing an active force and balance through the shape, placement and orientation of the elements. The outer form in each of these sculptures is derived from dynamic letter ‘O’ shapes.
Born in Vienna, Lucie Rie studied ceramics at the Wiener Kunstgeweberschule under Michael Powolny and Robert Obseiger from 1921 to 1926. She exhibited her work in various exhibitions concerned with the products of the Wiener Sezession, including the Paris exhibitions of 1925 and 1936. She arrived in England in 1938 and established her studio in Albion Mews, West London where she remained.
Her earliest English works were ceramic button, brooches and table-wares, which after the war, she made with the assistance of Hans Coper. However, wartime exigencies and immediate post-war austerities over, Lucie Rie was free to develop her ceramic style, bringing to it an infallible sense of style combined with a certain ‘English’ sense or relevance between body and glaze. Even after Hans Coper left to set up his own studio in 1958, they continued to exhibit together and their work, although very different, represented a new departure from the Oriental influences which until then had been the British studio potter’s sole source of reference.
Rie’s work is to be found in all major Public Collections.
Rupert Spira was born in London in 1960. He gained a degree at West Surrey College of Art and Design from 1978 – 80 under Henry Hammond and later trained with Michael Cardew at Wenford Bridge Pottery. In 1996 he set up his own studio at Church Farm, Shropshire.
Spira’s works vary in scale from miniature to monumental and in decoration from monochrome to intricately hand-written texts. Rupert also painstakingly applies raised texts to some pieces, and in some cases poetry he has written himself.
In my work with glass, I seek to alter our experience of the material itself. Formally my work is smooth and soft-edged and conveys a sense of fluidity. For me, however, there is a mystical element beyond the formal. The iridescent quality of glass conjures quite another world – an unearthly realm that transcends the physical reality we are familiar with.
By reshaping our perception of the medium of glass, my work changes our sensory experience. Each sculptural piece that I make interacts with the ambient light and, in so doing, invites us to question the nature of reality: what exactly we are looking at; what are we apprehending?
‘I have manipulated glass into soft luminous shapes with tactile surfaces that respond to the movement of light. People love to touch these objects, and they feel very comfortable with them despite the fact that the glass they are made of is actually cold and fragile.’
By balancing the luminous and iridescent qualities of glass, I create an illusion rather than a representation. For me as an artist, the point of balance is to be found between the romantic allure of subjectivity, and the objective decision-making that is necessary in order to work with glass – a material that exists in both molten and crystalline states.
Charles Vyse was born in Staffordshire to a family in the pottery industry. He studied sculpture at the RCA before becoming a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors and continued his study at the Camberwell School of Art.
Balance. This word constantly runs through my mind. As a potter focussing on something beyond production, balance is at the core of almost all my decisions – from the physical to the intangible.
Balance is a defining, and a highly considered, quality. The balance of a pot is what makes it feel comfortable in the hand, not its weight. My work is, intentionally, worlds away from the Leach tradition of studio pottery, but I am to produce work that is every bit as pleasurable to handle.
The balance between form and function is also a major consideration for me. Less obviously, I am carefully treading the line between appearing over-refined (and therefore lifeless) and maintaining a handmade quality. It is very important that there is a trace of the human hand in all my work, though you may have to look closely to find it. Similarly, finding a balance between imitation and inspiration is crucial. I have never made a replica of anything; rather, I imbue my work with historical references while maintaining a contemporary aesthetic.
Balancing my focus on making larger works and the smaller pieces I make is another constant. The smaller pots carry the same line of inquiry and examination, and are made with the same integrity as the larger pieces. Lastly, the most unrelenting balancing act for me is to make the work I want to make, and to make a living!
A pair of weighing scales demonstrates how things can be balanced with complete objectivity. But a mobile, by Alexander Calder for example, finds perfect equilibrium in quite a different way: the elements are suspended in space, move freely in relation to one another, and reveal an endless variety of alignments, every one of which will be asymmetrical.
The contention between these two ways of arriving at a point of balance is what underpins my work in glass. For the best part of forty years I have been making abstract designs in which the arrangement of colour is, to my eye, definitively resolved even though it is not symmetrical.
The tricky thing is that the eye is the only arbitrator we have in such matters, and the eye is, naturally, subjective. Is there any way of reconciling the subjective and the objective? Each design I make is, for me, a way of working towards an answer to this question.
Thank you for visiting ‘Point of Balance’. We hope that you have enjoyed the work by each artist and their thoughts on the theme. Hard copies of the exhibition catalogue are available for purchase.
Thank you to all the artists and photographers Alick Cotterill, David Barreiro, and Sylvain Deleu.
Exhibition opening hours are Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm. Private viewings with Joanna on other days can be scheduled by appointment.
All enquiries, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44(0)208 995 9960.