In response to Garth Clark


Key note speaker: Re-Stating Clay conference, CoCA March 2018

Soon after graduation in 2008, I was invited by Clarks to consult with their shoe designers and my response was indignant: “No; I’m a ceramics artist”!

After hearing Garth’s talk at the “Re-Stating Clay” conference at CoCA, I can admit to a guilty secret. “A new paradigm is emerging and is in the process of reshaping what artists are: how they work, train, trade, collaborate, think of themselves.”

In the last few years I have led a double life of artwork and design projects. The design projects are usually wrapped up in non-disclosure agreements and, furthermore, I was warned by galleries to keep this work separate because it would deter collectors; de-valuing the artwork and spoil the idea of a dedicated and isolated artist. This has changed and Garth’s talk highlighted some examples of designers who have stormed into the art world, such as the Haas Brothers.

Interior designers, architects and marketing teams are not limited by art world worries; they spot something that triggers an idea and get in touch. My making practices and my working processes have been stretched and pulled into collaborative worlds that I did not know existed. Bouncing off other creative minds, demanding to test boundaries and pulling off technical impossibilities has been exhilarating, but it is hard to find time for developing my artwork alongside.

Garth said “Craft is dying as a noun and growing as a verb”.  Galleries are worst when they order more of the same (because it sold last time) and best when they welcome new work. I strive to keep a balance between supplying galleries and working on design projects but, whilst I will always have porcelain in evidence on my clothes, the real adventures to be had are in the design world where there is money to pay for tests and audacity is embraced.  The next challenge will be to take on projects which want me, not just for my specialist knowledge, but for my recognisable designs and so are willing to name my part. 

Fenella Elms