Following the success of the second FiredUp4 charity auction, we sat down for a chat with esteemed ceramicist and shortlisted nominee for the LOEWE Foundation Craft Prize 2022, Kate Malone MBE. In this special interview for LCW, you can discover more about Kate’s practice and the importance of putting clay into the hands of young people:
Kate, congratulations on the recently concluded FiredUp4 auction, the second charity fundraiser that brought together work by the UK’s leading ceramicists to raise funds for the provision of pottery studios, equipment and training at OnSide Youth Zones. The project, which you instigated, aims to install and provide teachers with the resources to put clay into the hands of young people around the UK, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of pottery.
Can you tell us a bit more about the origins of FiredUp4 and where the innovative idea for the charity auction came from?
After various conversations with collector Keith Seeley, he and his associate Neale Graham invited me to be Ceramic Ambassador for the fabulous OnSide Youth Zones.
We cooked up the idea of asking UK ceramic artists to donate a piece of work, with the concept of auctioning them to raise money to build studios and to then staff them. After considering different auction houses we settled on Maak – the online auction house for studio ceramics. Maak have been fantastic for the past couple of auctions, supporting us all the way and beyond. The artists were amazing, and were really responsive to giving beautiful pieces of their own work for auction for this project. As ceramic makers, we have all been very concerned about the lack of attention given to teaching craft skills in schools. So our concept was to take direct action; rather than sitting around worrying about it, to do something constructive.
Since the introduction of FiredUp4, over 250 young people at Inspire, Chorley Youth Zone and Wigan Youth Zone have experienced pottery, many for the first time, and there are three more studios planned using funds from the second auction. What impacts have you seen first hand, and what is next for FiredUp4?
The impact is clear: the joy of making and the confidence-building from experiencing the transformation from soft tactile material to hard ceramics is extraordinary. I am not on the ground with the studios in Wigan and Chorley and whilst I love spending time with children, I have had to be hard on myself and economical with my time. I have spent a third of my working time over the last couple of years on this project, focusing on fundraising which is where I feel my input is currently most constructive.
I believe in the benefits of making with clay, having been lucky enough to have had a government education that supported developing craft skills and I feel it is my pleasure to put back into the young community.
As to what is next for FiredUp4, the core team are going to meet over the summer to decide a way forward. So far, for obvious reasons, we have asked makers whose work is of higher value to contribute, but I don’t feel that we can keep asking the same people and also many more ceramic makers have wanted to contribute to our objective. So we really have to knock our heads together to come up with a new plan or develop our previous action in a new way.
What is sure is that I would like to provide a way in which all makers can help the young of today. I would dream that every maker, if they are so inclined, might send a little bit of money every time they sell a pot or have a successful exhibition. There are thousands of makers in the UK now, especially after the surge in interest in making with clay – it is the new meditation or yoga – and working with clay is infectious. I would like to think that we can give a callout to all makers to take direct action and help get the money for FiredUp4 to action our manifesto for young people to benefit. They need it now more than ever.
Clay session at the Firedup4 Inspire Onside YouthZone clay studio, Chorley Photo: Courtesy Inspire YouthZone
Is there anything you’ve learned from the young people participating in these classes? Has it changed your own practice in any way?
No, sadly I have not been able to participate in too many classes yet – I would like to think that I will be more involved as we move forward. The main thing is that we are as effective as possible, as the young of today really need this exciting medium which provides sanctuary and stimulation. It builds confidence and is fun. To use the hands in a constructive, tangible way makes a better, more aware and rounded person.
Your powerful stoneware piece, ‘Magma Interrupted’ has been shortlisted for the LOEWE Foundation Craft Prize 2022. The work combines geometric forms, flat planes and sharp angles with a dynamic crystalline glaze, rather than the typically fecund curved surfaces and forms of your work. What was the inspiration behind this piece? Does it signal a new approach to your practice?
It is a great honour to have been shortlisted and to be part of this extraordinary project. The LOEWE Foundation, having run the prize for five years, has created an inspiring initiative that is raising the bar for the craft sector on an international scale and encouraging respect for skill, tradition and innovation.
My work is based on the subject of nature. At one stage it was about the sea, then it was about the nature of the earth – such as seeds, plants, fruits, and vegetables, and for the past 10 years I have also ventured into a more abstract interpretation of nature as part of the evolution of my forms.
The Magma piece that has been shortlisted for this prize is still about nature – crystal formations, geology, geometry, and nature of the underworld. Deep in the earth’s crust there is a bubbling molten lava creating crystalline forms all of the time; nature at the very core of this planet. This series of work does look very different with its flat plains and sharp edges, compared to the fecund, generous gourd and pumpkin shapes, but in fact the inspiration and subject is the same: nature and its ‘life force’.
I have in fact been making these geometric Magma pieces and exhibiting them with Adrian Sassoon, my exclusive art dealer, for some years, however they have not really been seen in many public exhibitions. I’m pleased to say that Sassoon sells them quite quickly, so people think that they are new when in fact they have been trickling through as a series alongside my more recognisable naturally inspired pieces. I have worked in the past with architects on the built environment, and I think that perhaps the effect of looking at the flat planes that are common to buildings has also had an effect on this series of pieces.
‘Magma Interrupted’, 2019 by Kate Malone Photo: Sylvain Deleu, Courtesy Adrian Sassoon
You’re currently in Seoul, where the winner of the LOEWE Foundation Craft Prize 2022 will be announced on 30 June, followed by an exhibition of all 30 artists with shortlisted works at the Seoul Museum of Craft Art. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, are there any exciting upcoming projects or commissions that you can share with us?
I am beyond excited, as I’ve seen the preparations for the exhibition and the opening party at the Seoul Museum of Craft Art. I am now travelling with my husband and daughter to the south to absorb more of this extraordinary country and culture.
As for the rest of the year, in August I am working with a wheel thrower towards making a set of supersized ceramic gourd pots. Russell Gibbs of Cheddar Gorge Pottery is a superbly skilled practitioner, and I am looking forward to working with him for the second time on this new range of pieces.
As always, I will be exhibiting my work with Adrian Sassoon at Masterpiece next week in London. I very much enjoy being on the exhibition stand with the Sassoon team, however as I’m in Korea I will be sadly missing out on that great pleasure this year. I will also be exhibiting with Sassoon in New York and London in the autumn.
Alongside developing FiredUp4 and making studio pottery in my new studios in Kent, I am developing an educational archive with a record of my studio ceramics and the public artworks that I have undertaken over the last 40 years. A lot of people don’t realise that I make large-scale pieces for the public domain for schools, hospitals, libraries, parks and buildings. This is going to be carefully documented in my archive. I also plan to make video masterclasses which will be available on my recently updated website.
My objective is to share the pleasures of making, and the experience that I have gained from over 40 years of working with clay. The ceramic field as a whole in the UK is incredibly kind and open, and ready to share knowledge and resources. Hooray for clay!
Featured image: Kate at her Kent studio Photo: courtesy of Adrian Sassoon by Sylvain Deleu