In Ep.2 We Explore this Artist’s Contemporary Casting of an Ancient Craft

Handcraft is the New Sexy is an original series for THE PLUS exploring the role of traditional techniques in the digital age. Explore with us the irreplaceable tactile experiences you’d never get from factory production.

Contemporary ceramicist Kate Malone works in an artistic tradition that dates back increasingly far, the more pottery fragments we track down and date. 20,000 years, at recent estimates, but it’s diversified since antiquity; Kate herself specialises in various areas, from the decorative arts, to large scale public projects, to extensive and professional glaze research.

The London-born ceramicist graduated from the Royal College of Art in ’86, but it was in the well-stocked and well-taught art department of her government school in the 70s that Kate first fell in love with ceramics. She hasn’t stopped since, and has gone on to become a leading light in the field, with studios in London and in France; she’s largely inspired by exotic travels, and the sumptuously shaped swell and growth of nature, topping off her work with rich tones of crystalline glaze.

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Kate has cooked up around 3,000 of these unique colours as part of her extensive glaze research. As a ceramicist notorious for describing the craft as “almost as good as sex – it’s so physical and so… fantastic”, it’s no surprise that she learns by doing. “I hold a strong belief that if you start something, like running, it gets easier.”

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We caught up with the fleet-footed artisan in her London studios.

THE PLUS: What do you enjoy most about working with clay?
Kate Malone:
I’ve been working for 40 years now, and I still can’t wait to get my hands in the clay and start to make because it’s so rooting. You feel rooted when you make. But the thing I like the most is making the soft clay. Everything else is hard work, but this is play-time.

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TP: You’re known for sumptuous colours – how long does it take to build up a palette like this?
KM:
Really it’s about a quarter of my work: running the archive, storing the archive, recording the archive. It’s a process of constantly learning, there’s always something to learn.

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TP: You have around 3,000 recipes, are these well-guarded secrets?
KM:
I try and be as open as I can. Obviously there are times where the research is fresh and new, or it has a very commercial application, and the architects I work with might ask me not to share, but essentially I believe in sharing and giving information.

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TP: What tips would you give for people looking for inspiration?
KM:
If you’re looking for inspiration, look to the things you love. Look to the things that excite you, and then look further at them. Turn them inside out, upside down, cut them in half, ask questions about them.

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TP: So people should find their own fascination?
KM:
Yes. Maybe it’s a certain pattern, a colour, or a form that you like, and you realise that you’ve liked it more than once. Look at that, and then start learning.

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TP: What’s influencing your work most at the moment?
KM:
Geometric crystal shapes, and working to develop a woven surface like baskets of clay. My main ambition is to show the sense of the life force.

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TP: What new styles or techniques would you like to explore in future?
KM:
I’m just starting a series of tests with coloured clays, the first time I’ve really done that in a proper way.

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TP: Finally, as a leading figure in contemporary ceramics, where do you see it going in future?
KM:
My vision, and it’s happening now, is that people are proud of the word ‘craft’. Lots of people are really appreciating the fact that making and creating is a mindful activity, one that benefits the maker, and benefits the people who hold and use things that are mindfully made.

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