I first came across the work of UK-based ceramicist Claudia Rankin on Instagram a couple of years ago. I remember falling in love with one of Claudia’s vases, decorated with mystical looking creatures surrounded by swirls of color and shapes. They felt modern and new, as if I’d never seen anything like them before, but also incredibly historical and worn – like a rare and important treasure unearthed at a flea market or antique shop. Her work is inspired and full of personality, and one can easily tell that it is made with great love, referencing her childhood and the artists she admires. I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia about how she came to develop her style, the importance of color, and her creative influences.
1. Your ceramics have a very distinct look that is both old world and contemporary, but with a touch of whimsy. How did you come to develop your style?
I’m a bit of a magpie, I love collecting ….either ’stuff’ from junk shops & auction houses or images snapped on my phone. This forms an ever evolving bank of inspirational material from sources as diverse as a print from a museum’s fabric archive to a Tamworth pig from the farm down the road. Rather than classical beauty or perfection, I’m drawn to certain qualities of vibrancy and wit in objects, a wonky Medieval carving of a Madonna & the scurrilous humour of a Grayson Perry pot appeal to me equally. In my own work I’d like to reflect these timeless qualities….does it speak to me, would I like to live with it?
2. One thing I’ve taken notice of in your work is your use of color. Many of your pieces are reminiscent of antique Chinese pottery when it comes to color, and your choice of pastels is really spot on. Does color play an important role? Do you usually plan the color palette before creating or does that come after?
My mother was an antique dealer who specialised in Oriental porcelain, so although as a teenager these objects were only in my peripheral vision, I must have connected with them as their influence really shows now. If I’m working in blue & white, I’ll naturally add in a rusty orange which reminds me of the Imari vases I grew up with or sometimes those sweet pinks & greens of Famille Rose are just the job. Colour inspiration can also be instantaneous, I’ll see a certain combination of colours in a painting or textile & decorate a series of work in response to them. The underglaze slips that I paint with fire almost exactly to the colour in the jar – I’m too much of a control freak to enjoy the alchemy of stoneware glazing!
3. Who or what do you look to for inspiration when creating your ceramics? Are you influenced by anything or anyone in particular?
A dose of Picasso, Miro or Sonia Delaunay always recharges my batteries. The recent exhibition ‘ Matisse in the Studio’ at The Royal Academy in London was utterly brilliant. They exhibited his studio interiors alongside the actual vases, furniture & textiles that were depicted in the paintings. His eye for colour, form and pattern were so beautifully represented. There were also large photos of his working environment featuring his own drawings pinned up alongside his collections of African masks, books & plants etc. Even his slippers were perfect. I came away from that exhibition feeling like I’d had a feast for my eyes. Thinking of contemporary artists whose work in clay really inspires me I’d have to say Hylton Nel and Philip Eglin. They both make really vibrant work that has a strong connection to the ceramic traditions of different cultures.
4. Have you always worked with clay as a medium? How did you get started in ceramics?
As an art student I specialised in sculpture & worked in clay alongside lots of other media including plaster, cement, bronze and steel. At that time I was taking casts from the clay rather than decorating and firing it. In fact ‘decoration’ was bandied around as a dismissive term at that time, so it took me a good few more years to relish making decorative objects guilt free! At some point after having children I started making textile collages, more or less at the kitchen table. Then in the last 10 years I had the opportunity to make sculptural work at a pottery studio in Newcastle upon Tyne. The technical support & facilities there have given me the confidence to get to grips with the endless potential of working with clay. Having said that, I still think of myself as an artist rather than a potter as working in other materials is still very much part of my practice.
5. Do you feel like your pieces tell a story through their decoration, and is that important to you?
I prefer not to be too prescriptive about the stories being told in my work. I might start by painting a feisty-looking bird on one side of a vase and on the reverse a sort of hopeless lion. The dynamic of two opposing or complementary characters has limitless possibilities, they may be prey and predator or lovers, a narrative might be suggested. I’m always interested to know how people interpret my work, there’s no ‘right’ way of reading it.
Claudia is currently having an exhibition at the Scottish Gallery.