The picture shows the piece I’m currently exhibiting in the Eastern Approaches exhibition at the UH Galleries in St Albans, Large Vessel, which received the St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust Prize, 2013. As with all my current work it’s thrown and altered. It takes a long time to construct the oval but the decoration is rapid. The materials and methods are in the tradition of maiolica but the motifs are a long way from Italian maiolica, which is full of flora, fauna, portraits and historical representations. If my decoration follows any tradition it’s the calligraphic decoration of middle eastern art, and I’m am happy for it to be called arabesque. The Trust’s representative said that for her Large Vessel connected the present to the Roman past of St Albans, which was something I’d never thought of myself, but I’ve spent a long time looking at the collection of Roman ceramics in Verulamium museum and I have some pieces of Roman pottery in my studio. The more immediate influences are 50s textiles and abstract expressionism.
Eastern Approaches is an initiative of the University of Hertfordshire, who have been running it for thirteen years. Entries are from the eastern region (the counties of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk) and the curators at the opening this year admitted ambitions to make it an international show. That’s good. Unfortunately there are no online images of the fifty or so entries so I can’t link to them. They are in 2 and 3 dimensions and include sound and video installations. I particularly liked Fallen, a timely piece that represented every name of those from the St Albans parish who died in the first world war, as recorded on street plaques. The artist embroidered the initials of the fallen on handkerchiefs and made a pristine white pile of them. I also liked Mr McCreery’s Shop, a model of a little old fashioned, derelict shop. There was simple wit in Lead Balloon and you wondered why no-one had ever made one before. A piece with ceramic heads mounted high on the wall on a red shelf reminded me of both Edmund de Waal and Christie Brown, two of my teachers at the University of Westminster.
There’s a lot of music in St Albans (the Cathedral choir is one of the best) but the visual arts have always lacked a focal point. The University of Hertfordshire has teamed up with the St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust to promote a new museum space and art gallery in the centre of town. The Trust has a Lottery grant so it will become a reality in a few years and – with an international show in it – it will put St Albans on the artistic map.