Radical Clay - Gillian Lowndes at the Holborne Museum

A spontaneous decision to drive up to Bath last Friday to visit the Holborne Museum and see ten pieces on show by Gillian Lowndes who was a favourite tutor at Camberwell back in the early 80s, was further rewarded by bumping into Sam Silverton and Alice Shields outside - former fellow students at Bath School of Art, who were also visiting the show!

These were pieces selected from The Sunday Painter Gallery, where in 2016 I'd seen a much larger collection just off Peckham High Road.

Gillian Lownes at Holborne Museum  Gillian Lownes at Holborne Museum  Gillian Lownes Hook Figure

I have long admired her 'radical' ceramic sculptural work, and found inspiration in her magpie acquisitions of detritus which all gets added into the mix and fired. Intuitively tactile with sensitive use of glaze and colour. One of the things that I love about her pieces is the playfulness in which she approaches found materials, experimenting with how far you can push methods in the kiln, and when they 'fail' just reintroduce them into later work, or use epoxy!

However, I also noticed as I sat for an hour in the small room, which was often to myself, that those visitors who did mistakenly wander in were mostly nonplussed by ceramics on the wall. Small children asking 'What's it about?' getting a shrug at best from their parents. In her day, Gillian received mixed reviews from art critics, because she was ahead of her time - testing the boundaries of craft and art and what is sculpture. It seemed to me that maybe not a lot has changed and generally people still think sculpture is made of stone or bronze and clay is for pots and practical things.

Gillian Lownes at Holborne Museum  Gillian Lownes at holborne Museum  Gillian Lownes radical Clay

So I will continue to test and experiment in my own studio, uncovering forms which resonate and sing, meshed with materials that challenge and tell stories. Although, Gillian never tried to explain her work, allowing the viewer to enjoy.

Amanda Fielding's monologue on Gillian Lowndes (2013) is still the definitive writing covering her life and work.


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