The world has long underestimated the value of female artists and their abilities but in the world of modern and contemporary ceramics women artists have been leading the way for generations, but since WWII women have left their mark in this area as makers, gallery owners, writers, teachers and collectors. Today female ceramicists working in Britain are leading the world, below we examine four modern British female ceramic artists featured in MODERN MADE this November highlighting their significance in the movement, both past and present.
Considered as the most significant and innovative figure in modernist ceramics in the post-war years, alongside Hans Coper, Lucie Rie is the doyenne of post-war ceramics. An émigré from Eastern Europe who came to London in 1938 and schooled in the design principles of the Bauhaus and techniques of the Wiener Werkstatte, her work became instantly recognisable, influential and collectable. Her bowls and vases are known for their simplicity and elegance, both in stoneware and porcelain. The cleanness of line presented with an integration of decoration and form was perfect for the new modernist interior aesthetics appearing after the war. Having taught at the Camberwell School of Art from 1960 to 1971, and gained a legion of fans, it could be argued that she had more influence on the future generations of modernist ceramics than any other figure. The ceramicist Alison Britton said “there has never been a time in the decades that I have been a potter when the work of Rie…did not seem to matter, or even temporarily disappeared from view.”
Magdalene Odundo never wanted “to make teapots!” and since coming to London at the age of 21 from her native Kenya, her work has been anything but conventional. In the formative years of her career Michael Cardew encouraged her to engage with African ceramics, and she returned to Africa for a period, including spending time at Cardew’s pottery in Abuja, Nigeria learning the Gbari way of using clay. This started a lifelong love affair with travel, objects from different cultures and the way they were crafted. Her own works mimic tradition and antiquity, are layered in history, whilst still being incredibly fresh, innovative and a powerful representation of the modern vessel. Usually large, burnished rather than glazed, her works come with elongated necks, lips and rims, and distended bellies that enthral the viewer. “For me, the pieces contain what it is to be human”, says Odundo and are reminiscent of the figural form. Her work is one of the most esteemed of any living British ceramic artist and are matched by her prices on the open market which include a record £170,000 being paid for a work by a living British ceramicist. 2019 has also been significant for Odundo with Magdalene Odundo: The Journey of Things, a solo exhibition of more than 50 of Odundo’s vessels, being held to huge acclaim at the The Hepworth, Wakefield and The Salisbury Centre of Art, Norwich.
Jennifer Lee began her career working with both ceramics and tapestry, before choosing clay as her main medium whilst studying at the Royal College of Art in 1980. Lee’s vessels show a great interest in artefacts from ancient civilisations, such as Minoan and Pre-Columbian ceramics, whilst being perfectly in line with the 20th Century tradition and hand-built pottery, coloured by metal oxides added to the clay. The sense of balance, restraint and serenity of Lee’s work, with elliptical contours and asymmetrical tilts, allow them to stand out from stylistic eccentricities of many of today’s artists, appearing timeless. Described by renowned ceramist Edmund de Waal as “the embodiment of place, complex and intriguing.” It is perhaps little surprise that over the last few years Lee’s reputation has been on the up and up, and has included collaborations with the fashion designer Issey Miyake, winning the prestigious Loewe Craft Prize in 2018 and currently her first solo show in the UK since 1994 Jennifer Lee: The Potter’s Space at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.
Kitty Shepherd is a lesser known name in the contemporary ceramic art scene, but is definitely an artist to watch. Earlier this year a Lollipop Vase fetched over £10,000 at auction far outstripping any prices achieved for her work previously on the open market and, notably, in some private galleries. Laced in nostalgia and using her own personal experiences Shepherd is known for her bright colours and iconography. She builds earthenware ceramics with slip and sgraffito decoration, choosing a singular powerful image, whether it be lipstick or an image of a Mr Whippy Ice Cream cone and works with the image as a ‘flash card’ of emotion on the vessel to “trigger an upsurge of memories and pleasure, all at once” for viewers.
AUCTION | MODERN MADE: Modern Art, Design & Studio Ceramics | Thursday 14th November at 1pm
VIEWING | Tues 12th Nov 10am – 5pm | Wed 13th Nov 10am - 5pm | Morning of sale from 10am
LOCATION | NOHO STUDIOS, 46 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7QA