light wells

March 28, 2012

My next exhibition, light wells, is set in the light-drenched spaces of the meeting rooms of the London Centre for Psychotherapy in leafy Kentish Town, just down the road from my studio. It’s on from 23rd April to 7th September 2012, and visitors are welcome throughout the exhibition (Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm) by appointment (please phone 020 7482 2002). At midsummer, the LCP will be hosting an open day and exhibition event, long light, when I’ll be there talking about mudlarking, making artist’s books, and the poetry that inspires my work. Meanwhile, here’s a preview:

light wells: perspective, perception and imagination

There is always some kind of light contained within the dark.

The painter Winifred Nicholson expressed this conviction through her work, painting light and colour with a visionary awareness, seeing everything with the joyful prismatic aura of living light: a ‘rainbow of light, rainbow of darkness’.

The group of works brought together in light wells examines the relationship between the inner life and its outward expression, the light contained within the dark vessel, showing through the delicate, complex structure of the physical, like sunlight through the leaves.

Sometimes the light is the natural light of the sun, moon or stars flooding the landscape, sometimes the glancing illumination of perception and insight, sometimes the visionary half-light of dreams.

As a lettering artist, I work in clay, handmade paper and driftwood from the Thames, but my primary structural medium is words. I see my work as a way of fishing the letters up from ‘the deep o’ the pule’, mapping their celestial dance, dredging them from the well, finding them in the driftwood’s grain – a way of seeing the light in thought, word and physical form.

In this collection I have worked with texts about perception – how the light falls on the mind’s eye; about perspective – how we individually interpret what we all see; and about imagination – the light within.

Each text inspires a different form, or physical means of expression: sometimes the text will suggest to me the containment of the vessel, the earthy embodiment of clay, the cosmic transformation of the fire, the circling flow of the throwing process. Other texts suggest the light-bearing transparencies of the paper, or the spiralling sequence of the pages of an artist’s book, or the dual-natured transitional form of water-carved driftwood.

With each text, I seek to give an initial impression of its meaning (the ‘whole’ image), which is confirmed and deepened by a more considered reading – so that the text is literally ‘read’ as integral to the form of the work, and the word-by-word or letter-by-letter details become structural elements in linked sequence.

Most of my artist’s books are made from a single whole sheet of handmade paper, which is folded, painted, lettered and torn into a sequence of pages; it’s important that it can be reformed and seen as a whole image, that its integrity is unbroken, but it also can be read as a flowing sequence of pages, allowing the reader to turn and handle the painting as a book with all the enjoyment of its feel as a space-containing ‘volume’.

I like the link here between the pages’ spiralling flow and the inner spiral of the clay vessel’s thrown form: this is reflected and brought to the surface with the setting of the lettering flowing round the vessel, drawing the reader into an awareness of its physical form, dimensions, weight, volume, in the act of reading the text.

On paper, I use an unconventional lot of mark-making tools, including wooden clothespegs, chopsticks, slate shards, feather quills – and my favourite lettering ‘pen’ is a little driftwood stick picked up on a beach of the Thames. On the clay, I always letter with a brush, freehand onto the raw dried pot. I love unglazed clay – its stoney feel, colour and texture – and I like to let it breathe, to allow the fire deep in. But the glazed clay has its own light-bearing, wetness-remembering qualities, too – I like the two feelings to coexist in a pot.

When I’m working with driftwood, I don’t interfere with the river’s carving, except to incise or highlight the lettering; the beautiful shapes formed by the tree’s growth and the water’s intervention seem to hold the letters of the text within the grain, waiting to be revealed. And when I’m working with paper, I like to let the light show through from the ground. I love the handmade paper’s responsiveness, how it soaks up or resists the colour, how its texture affects the flow of the ink, how it meets me halfway, instead of sitting there impassively waiting to be painted on. I love a bit of unpredictability in something I’m making – I want it to have a life of its own.

light wells: an exhibition of work in clay, handmade paper,       and Thames driftwood

by Liz Mathews

23 April to 7 September 2012

London Centre for Psychotherapy, 32 Leighton Road London NW5

Visitors welcome by appointment throughout the exhibition;           Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm – please phone 020 7482 2002

long light midsummer open afternoon Saturday 23 June 1pm-4pm

Admission free

One Response to “light wells”


  1. [...] from my book The Principle of Camouflage) is on show at Liz Mathews’ current solo exhibition light wells in Kentish Town, north London. (It’s also the banner image for the Thames Festival facebook [...]


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