Posts Tagged ‘Watermark’

To the sea

June 1, 2011

With June, true summer begins. John Clare’s lines from A Shepherds Calendar (June poem) capture for me not only the sights and sounds, but the feeling of the month.

We are enjoying being back in the studio after our maytime excursion to the Ice House in Holland Park, where my Watermark exhibition was the first show of the summer season. This month, I’d like to give you a tour of the exhibition, to show how it worked in that beautiful space.

This image of one of my driftwood sculptures was on posters throughout the park, leading to the Ice House.

The entrance to the Ice House.

The exhibition had 60 works in clay, handmade paper and driftwood, in two rooms, a square entrance hall and a round inner room like the inside of a great pot:

All of the work was connected by the theme of water, in the poems, in the materials, in our bodies, and running through our lives, from source to sea.

Source was the first work in the exhibition: made from Thames driftwood, with the lettering of the text carved and incised with the woodgrain:

Implicit in each beginning is its end.

(Kathleen Raine)

A dish made from a slab of clay, with the perhaps unwise inscription:

I am the poem of earth said the voice of the rain

(Walt Whitman)

Living water, a waterfall in clay with a vivid text by Vita Sackville-West flowing down like leaves down a stream.

Into the inner room, and in the middle, a Persian garden with goldfish and a large pool bowl, The voice of the river, with a beautiful text by Frances Bingham:

I am the voice of the river singing in your dreams

A lullaby of waters, a litany of streams

The first group of works around the circular space had several artist’s books made from a single sheet of handmade paper torn and folded into a continuous sequence of pages. The idea is that the image works both as a whole, and page by page in the book:

This form of book, where the text moves round in a continuous circling flow, and the paper, though shaped by hand, retains its wholeness, has for me some structural relation to the pots thrown on the wheel, and the spiralling setting of their text. I enjoyed showing visitors the way that the book opens page by page, and then reforms into a whole image.

The next group of works included some more of these artist’s books, including one called Inland, with a beautiful text by Wordsworth:

and a tall jar and paperwork, with texts by TS Eliot and Virginia Woolf:

On to the middle group:

where the central work is Tree-river-river-tree:

Here the image in four parts develops with the text, in a four-way reflection.

My own image reflected in the glass of the frame, as I photograph a paperwork with one of my favourite texts:

I am the daughter of earth and water


The next group in the inner room centres on another artist’s book and a group of Water vessels:

Because I love, there is a river flowing all night long

(Kathleen Raine)

And the last group round the circle included two driftwood sculptures:

All things, with a text by Vita Sackville-West:

and Stream wash away, with a text by Kathleen Raine:

and Love flows, a tall bowl with a beautiful text by Frances Bingham:

In the middle of this circular inner room was a long cabinet containing concertina artist’s books, opened out to their full extent:

with Kingfisher, a brilliant text by Richard Price, in the end frame.

We return to the outer room for the last groups in the exhibition:

These pots and paperworks were shown on the brick chimney-piece of the Ice House, and included a group of Three phosphorescence pots with white-gold lustre:

three bowls with Valentine Ackland’s poem Idyll, written in Spain during the Civil War:

and six spheres with 9ct gold lustre:

And then the final group of works, or coda:

An artist’s book Coda, with text by Matthew Arnold

Another waterfall in clay, with text this time by Valentine Ackland

A pair of artist’s books, with beautiful texts by Frances Bingham:

And, finally, on the open door, the last work in the exhibition:

A little further

we will see the sea

breaking into waves

(George Seferis, translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard)

Watermark at the Ice House

April 30, 2011

John Clare’s May poem in his Shepherds Calendar evokes the delights of this lovely month, and here I’ve set a fragment of text around the flared rim of a salad bowl, garnished with may blossom, flowering rosemary, dill and early lavender. This bowl is part of our dinner service, which has a plate or bowl for every month, and I’m starting each month’s post this year with the appropriate piece. Everything seems to have come early this year, including May itself, and we will be ‘mingling in the warmth of May’ in Holland Park, as my new exhibition Watermark opens on 7th and closes on 22nd May, presented in association with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The Ice House gallery is a beautiful space, a one room house built in beautiful brick with a cone-shaped tiled roof. Planning the exhibition for the space has seemed to me like working within a great pot.

Here is the catalogue text, with images of some of the work:



Kensington High Street, London W8

7 – 22 MAY 2011 daily 11am – 7pm

Here, in a house of clay made for ice, beside the pond in this green space, we have an awareness of the pattern of water drawn on the world, of the sap in the trees and our bodies, the falling rain, the great river flowing through the city, the surrounding seas. Watermark looks at the patterns floating on the surface and dowses for the undercurrents.

I work with clay, driftwood and handmade paper, all materials full of this water – or the marks it has left – seeking to reveal both the character of the material and the transformative process: the clay’s original wet soft malleable state and the action of the fire, or the dried paper’s light-filtering qualities and the once-wet ink’s determination.

The earth/clay/body link is fundamental in my work: our place within the landscape, the elements, the seasons, time, the flow of the water. I like to examine how the light shows through.

Text is of the essence. I use lettering as an architectural framework, mapping, enclosing and entering the volume contained.

Marks on the surface lead the eye to the inner space – not only within the vessel form but also inside the planes of wall panels or the layers of paperworks – circling towards the heart of the matter.

Containment, the relation between the outer surface and the inner volume, is expressed through an engagement of text and image, finding the letters in the grain, catching the words in the current, floating them on the surface of the deep.

I liken this process to that of setting poetry to music, with the same implication of translation, and the same integration of words and form. Setting a text or poem in this way gives both an immediate visual apprehension, and a slower, more contemplative reading which can lead to an enhanced awareness of the text and its relation to the form. Also, for me there’s always an element of performing the text in the making process.

I work with white stoneware, natural found materials (such as driftwood from the Thames) and re-purposed materials (copper pipes, hemp sash-cord) with related qualities. I also work with handmade recycled cotton rag paper (khadi) making artist’s books and paperworks, again with structural concerns related to my claywork, particularly in a flowing or circling sequence of pages.

I welcome chance contributions from the process or the quirks of found materials, the changes and patina added by time, and I like themes to surface in a sequence of related works, rather than prescribe too much.

(unexpectedly, I found a whole flock of kingfishers, for example)

I paint freehand onto the raw dried clay with a brush, in underglaze metal oxides; then some surfaces – perhaps only inside – are glazed; on some pots I use 9ct gold lustre.

On paper I paint in watercolour, acrylics and inks, as well as natural pigments and raw materials – charcoal, beeswax, salt, sand – and I use random mark-making tools – wooden peg, clay shard, slate fragment, flint, feather, and only now and then a brush.

My favourite lettering pen is a small driftwood stick, picked up on the Thames beach by the Southbank.

Liz Mathews   Potters’ Yard  2011

For more information about Watermark or any of my work, please leave me a note in the comments box below or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

As always, please don’t use any of these images without permission.