The British Ceramics Biennial is a six week festival of all things ceramic and had its third outing during the Autumn of 2013. I was one of the selected artists into industry and worked closely with Johnson Tiles to design and build a pavilion. I struck up a wonderful relationship with Harry Foster from their specialist team, who makes all sorts of projects happen due to his sheer enthusiasm and dedication. I was fortunate to have their full support and access to their new printing technologies, including a reactive print that softens the glazed surface and creates an embossed finish.
For me, it was a great opportunity to discover Stoke-on-Trent and its changing role with industry. The landscape still wears the emotional scars of wastelands, past collieries, empty houses and ornate buildings unfit for purpose, and there is the strange situation of Stoke being formed of six towns, rather than the traditional model of an urban centre and concentric outward sprawl.
I’m always interested in bringing different communities of practice together and I had the pleasure of working with the Burslem China Painting Group. They meet every tuesday at the beautiful Burslem School of Art, and are the only china painting class left in the whole of Stoke. I was really keen to see how they would respond to Johnson Tiles, and in particular, their interpretations of the artworks I created for the pavilion.
In essence, the printing processes at Johnson Tiles are fully automated and can be delivered within minutes, and I’ve always felt that the more we rely on digital processes to further our working practices, the more we will appreciate the handmade. It takes many hours and multiple firings to create pieces with the depth and intricacy that the Burslem china painters achieved, and this sat really well with the themes of the Pavilion Institute, a space to reflect on the former art schools of technical excellence and the access into industry that they provided.