Interview with Pete Bodenham

SOON met with Poppit based potter Pete Bodenham to talk a bit about his current work, where he gains his inspiration and life today as a working artist…

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Introduce yourself and your work.
I’m a potter, visual artist, and part time ceramics lecturer. I live next to my workshop at St.Dogmaels Pottery. I grew up in St Dogmaels and went to school in Cardigan. My family lived on a smallholding and I attended art college, both environments encourage you to repair stuff, think, invent and create things. I’m happiest when I’m around my two sons and Ellie, at the beach with Poppit Sands Surf Life Saving Club members or making and being engaged in creative projects.

How did you become a ceramicist? 
As a child I used to repeatedly thumb through a book, ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’ by John Seymour. I loved the detailed illustrations and the underlying philosophy of the book. Within the book there were two pages on making pottery that sparked my interest along with tips on keeping hens, pigs and cows. I was lucky to experience ceramics at Cardigan School and as a teenager I used to hang out at Cippyn Pottery near Poppit Sands, which made me think you could be a potter. From there I went to Carmarthen School of Art and then onto Camberwell School of Art in London to study a BA in Ceramics & 3D.

Have you always lived in Wales?
No, but I’m a passionate Welsh Rugby and sports fan! My Parents moved to St.Dogmaels in the late 1970’s. I’ve lived most of my life in West Wales with short spells in London and Cardiff.

Would you say your surroundings play a big part in your work? 
Yes, in a big way. I try to capture a sense of place within my ceramics and creative projects. Journeys and mini adventures on foot, often walking the shoreline, feed the work on a direct level. Intuitive brush marks reference the feeling of moving through water, or studying the edges or boundaries between land and sea. Motifs and gestural marks brushed on the pots can be seen as direct traces of my experience of a sense of place.

Who are your main inspirations/ favourite artists?
Alive – Francis Alys, Theaster Gates, Marcus Coates, Allora & Calzadilla, Bedwyr Williams, Wim Delvoye, Cornelia Parker, Takeshi Yasuda, Atelier N.L. Nao Matsunaga, David Gates.
Dead – Joseph Beuys, Antoni Tapies, Gillian Lowndes, Cy Twombly and many forgotten potters / un-marked pots in Museums.

What are you currently working on?
Part of my work as a lecturer at Bath Spa University is being a researcher. This involves either writing academic papers or creating innovative research art and design projects. I’m currently researching material culture and its symbolism regarding site and place. I’m interested in how you can make ceramics that can evoke or reference a sense of place, imbedding objects with meaning. On a practical level I am researching the history, geology and ecology of Poppit Sands beach. A local historian Glen believes the name Poppit is derived from Pot-Pit, this idea coupled with what I can learn form the beach has been my starting point of this year’s research. I’m collecting small amounts of clay, rocks, wood and seaweed from the beach using these materials to create clay and glaze experiments. On a regular basis I collect plastic from the beach both cleaning the shoreline and keeping some plastic containers to form part of the project. I’m making plaster casts from these plastic items, make pots by pressing the clay gathered from the beach into the moulds. The project will ultimately draw together research, information and images from visitors to the beach, geologists, historians, scientists as well as the creation of a small set of functional ceramics made from materials gathered from the beach.

Where do you source your materials? How do you make decisions such as choice of clay and glaze?
The raw materials come from Stoke-On-Trent, which is the centre of the British ceramic industry. I supplement these materials with local clays and materials. I use dark clays, which I feel evoke the local geology.

Describe your work in 3 words.
Utopic, practical, rooted.

What’s your favourite piece to date?
A coffee bowl featuring seaweed collected from the beach integrated into the glaze chemistry.

It’s rare for people to fully commit to a career in the Arts. What’s the hardest thing about being a full-time artist today? 
To be honest, on one level it’s probably the easiest time in history to be an artist. The challenges are financial rather than cultural. Financially sustaining yourself and your art / design practice is an art form. The current political economic climate is challenging or put it another way messed up. It’s hard for artists and makers to find affordable spaces to live and work.

What would be your advice to a young artist starting out in the industry? 
Learn skills from highly skilled people and aim to practice your skills to the highest level. People with good skills will always get work. Study the history and theory of your field as well as being inquisitive about other fields of study. An inspiring art lecturer Osi Rhys Osmond I used to work with, repeatedly said ‘ art and design is all about making connections!’. Network and figure out who you need to talk to and where you need to show your work. Finally, commit to your creative practice.

What’s your SOON, your Something Out Of Nothing? 
Diving into a wave.

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Interview with Helen Booth

Artist Helen Booth studied painting at Wimbledon School of Art in London in the late 80’s and since has gone on to win the Pollock Krasner Award for Painting and exhibited all over the world, including in cities such as New York, London, Hamburg and Edinburgh. SOON met with the artist to talk about how moving to rural West Wales effected the way she works and about the inspiration behind her paintings…

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Introduce yourself and your work…
I’m a painter who lives in rural west Wales. I have a wonderful studio in an old woollen mill about 30 mins from Cardigan Bay. My work is always in oil. I buy more Titanium White than any other colour and I never clean my brushes (tut tut)

What made you move from London to rural West Wales?
We saw an advert in Artist’s Newsletter – It simply stated “Beautiful old woollen mill in South West Wales, Change Your Life!” And so we did!

Has moving effected your work/ the way you work?
Yes, so much. I moved from Peckham in London in 1996 and the transition from Urban to Rural effected my work. I love the flat light in Wales, the silvery sombre tones really suits my painting and the way it flattens the landscape. I find the grey damp days in the Winter so inspiring.. I’m not that good in the heat.

Do you find yourself getting more inspiration from people or places?
That’s a hard question. My work centres on the emotional connections that I have to people but it uses the landscape for inspiration in terms of palette. My recent work is all about Love and Loss and my relationships, but in the painterly tones that you can find walking or in the colours of the pebbles and stones on the beaches.

Where do you work best? 
In my studio – alone – listening to audiobooks on my iPhone. I can’t work with other people around at all, I love the solitude. I miss my studio so much if I get bogged down in my office.

If you could only paint using one colour for the rest of your life what colour would you choose?
I know they are actually not colours but definitely black or possibly white. Actually, that would depend on what I’m painting on. However, if I get a pencil too then white.

It’s rare for people to fully commit to a career in the Arts. What’s the hardest thing about being a full-time artist today? What would be your advice to a young artist starting out in the industry?
Art is not a lucrative profession in terms of financial gains, but it is the most incredible way to spend your life. It has been incredibly challenging, especially now with Brexit; where lots of small galleries are closing because people are nervous and not buying original works of art. Making money out of something that you love to do is hard, but I wouldn’t change my life and I couldn’t if I am to remain true to myself. I’ve just always had to make things; my hands are never idle. Art is one of the most important parts of life, it feeds everything that is good. If you have a creative impulse, then you must trust it. My two pieces of advice to young artists would be to nurture your connections and to understand that rejection is not personal. I have had so many rejections in my career, but now I know it’s about taste and how your work sits alongside other work. Oh, and also make things happen for yourself. If you can’t get a gallery, then turn your house into a gallery space and invite people to come see.

What’s your favourite painting of all time? 
One of the best exhibitions I have ever seen was the Cy Twombly retrospective at Tate Modern. I also saw a smaller exhibition of his in Edinburgh. Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair Part I (1985) is probably one of my favourite paintings ever to have been created. I also love the paler works by Peter Doig, Blotter 1993 is just so beautiful. I would find it hard to choose between these two paintings if I were to be offered one as a present!

Which painting are you most proud of?
It’s difficult to say which of my works I am happiest with, but I suppose it would have to be “A Conversation With Myself”. Its one of my most recent paintings, very small and stripped back down to a very simple structure. It makes me feel peaceful and it will be one of the works that I would be very reluctant to part with.

What’s your Something Out Of Nothing? One of life’s simple pleasures you just can’t get enough of…
Spending time with my daughters, who are both now away at University.

To see more of Helen’s work you can head over to her WEBSITE, or follow her on INSTAGRAM

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