Posts Tagged ‘house portraits’

Memories in clay

March 14, 2019

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There’s a lovely article by Mark Palmer in this week’s Country Life about my work making small-scale house portraits in clay, and my aim to capture the spirit of the place –  the heart of a house – by means of a meticulously detailed likeness. The whole edition is devoted to ‘Smaller country houses’, so my miniatures fit charmingly. I’ve been making these little sculptures for 30-odd years now – I made my first in 1986 – and I’ve been lucky to have hundreds of fascinating commissions, each one for a portrait of a place that’s individual, interesting, and loved. And not just people’s homes: I’ve also made portraits of churches, theatres, log-cabins, pubs, shops, schools, hospitals, banks, restaurants, town halls, Greek temples, a library, a fire-station, and (only once) a dry-cleaners – all special for one reason or another – oh, and some grand National Trust houses too. As for beloved homes, I’ve done a gypsy caravan, one or two log-cabins, terraced town-houses and Elizabethan manor houses, some thatched cottages and the odd castle, and always it’s the detail that I love – the quirkiness and the unique characteristics that each subject brings. I haven’t yet done a lighthouse or a windmill – but I do enjoy a challenge, so who knows…

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I’ve often exhibited these little sculptures – I showed a dozen or so in my first ever exhibition about a hundred years ago it seems, all portraits of houses and buildings local to the show in the Wisbech and Fenland Museum – including one of the museum itself – and I’ll be continuing the tradition in an exhibition next year (2020) in Hampstead’s beautiful Burgh House. There I’ll be showing a collection of portraits of London’s small historic houses – among them, of course, Burgh House itself, celebrating again the beauties of the vernacular. But for now, I’m looking forward to my next commissions – and who knows, maybe even that windmill.

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There’s a gallery of some of my favourite commissions on my website Potters’ Yard House Portraits – as well as information about commissioning. And you can read more here on Daughters of Earth, on the page called Architectural reliefs and house portraits.

House portraits from Potters’ Yard

July 23, 2016

The Limes (house portrait by Liz Mathews)

I made my first house portrait in 1986 – 30 years ago, and I’m still doing it so it must be an addiction.  I’ve always thought of these architectural studies in miniature as a kind of visual pun – an intimate portrait made from the very same material as its subject – which gives a curiously tangible feel to the likeness.

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I recently had the pleasure of making this portrait of a house built in the characteristic Moffat stonework of its area in Scotland – one man’s childhood home. The commission was to make the portrait ‘as it was one summer in the 60’s’ and I aimed to capture the telling detail that makes a good likeness, but also somehow to catch an atmosphere from memories of happy days. I worked from photographs and descriptions – and very much enjoyed hearing the stories and finding out the details that gave me a strong idea of the house’s feeling. When it was done, he said:

I am very pleased indeed… It is perfect. You caught the grey stone brilliantly, and I love the honeysuckle and the rest… – how well you caught the colour and detail. 

About this photograph, he wrote:

I think the portrait looks even better in real life. I am so glad I asked you to do it.  I love the colours and tones, and the way it looks welcoming and occupied.

and that the portrait is ‘now on show in a room that contains many of the things it once contained’, which I think shows how a portrait can become very closely identified with its subject. The success of a commission for me depends on this identification, where the portrait becomes a palimpsest, taking on qualities and characteristics of the house itself, and containing within its material form much more than appears on the surface.

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I also heard recently about this portrait of a traditional Hebridean blackhouse that I made years ago:

Many many years ago I commissioned you to do a little replica of my parents-in-law’s house. The result was exquisite and to this day it remains one of my mother-in-law’s most favourite possessions.

This lasting quality, how the portrait gives lasting pleasure and contains such significance is one of the real joys of the work to me. I’ve just set up a new website, to show a portfolio of some of my favourite past commissions and also to show how the commissioning process works. As one-off original signed artworks, these architectural portraits in miniature are surprisingly affordable; they start at £300. If you have a beloved building you think might make a good subject, send me a photo and I’ll give you a quote.

For more information, see Architectural reliefs & house portraits

Potters’ Yard house portraits is at http://www.pottersyardhouseportraits.com

Waiting for the swallows

April 1, 2011

Now that Spring is really here, and in John Clare’s happy words

The trees still deepen in their bloom

Grass greens the meadowlands

And flowers with every morning come

we can really start looking forward to the arrival of the swallows and swifts, since the daffodils have already dared. I love the changing lengthening light of Spring, and the suddenness of the long-awaited transformation, when everything charges out at once.

I’m continuing work on my series of Books of Hours, or contemporary illuminated manuscripts, on the theme of the passing year, working with different forms of the book. Some of them are very large, but The turning year is made from a single sheet of handmade ‘elephant’ paper (70cm x 50cm), torn and folded not into my usual cyclic sequence of pages, but this time as a continuous flow, starting at one end and following a fluid timeline which pours off the other end. The full sheet, before tearing and folding looked like this:

and the sequence of pages like this:

This was a lovely sheet of paper to work with, as it had beautiful irregular deckle edges, with even a few tags of paper floating at the corners. I particularly like the lively uniqueness of each handmade sheet, and enjoy including its quirks into the book’s character. The torn and folded sequence of pages looks like this:

My preoccupation with rivers, seas and watery places is reaching flood level as I prepare for Watermark, my exhibition in the Ice House gallery in Holland Park, which is open daily from 7th to 22nd May, 11am to 7pm.

I’ll be showing waterfalls in clay, driftwood signposts, several kingfishers, fountains and storms, tall ships and circling seas, as well as Van Gogh’s clouds and swallows on the Thames – and during May I’ll be showing some of the works in the exhibition here in my May post.

Meanwhile, I have been doing some other work, including a very enjoyable commission for a portrait of a thatched cottage, in my ongoing series of architectural low-relief sculptures.

I’ve been making these for 25 years now (my first was in 1986), and I must have made many hundreds by now – I love the individuality of each subject, and really enjoy how a likeness develops through the process, so that the finished portrait becomes a very tangible image of the house. I made this one in terracotta – the same clay as the bricks – but I use stoneware for a stone-built house. I have made a portrait of a Swiss log cabin, but I did it in clay, rather than matchsticks. Some more examples can be seen on the Architectural reliefs page, and commissions start at £200. I welcome enquiries about commissions – you can leave me a note in the comments box below, or if you prefer, click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.