Art & Design blog: Ceramics
XETH: What finally convinced you to take the leap into studying Ceramics at age 34, having spent many years a toolmaker and engineer?
Pierre Williams: From an early age, I spent my spare time painting and working with materials that were accessible to me. But in the environment I grew up in, you didn’t go to university – let alone study art – and nobody suggested I could do otherwise, so I went into engineering.
To this day I’m not sure why I became a toolmaker – I didn’t even know what one was when I got the job. Eventually, I reached a point where I was totally depressed with my life, and decided to try and pursue my dreams, as life is too short not to.
At the age of 34, my only responsibility was a mortgage… but I was used to having regular wages, so the precarious lifestyle of an artist was still difficult for me. I’ll only really know whether this as been a wise move when I look back at my life in old age, but I’ve had some incredible experiences already, so if you measure success this way then it’s been great so far.
XETH: Would you describe yourself as a sculptor, artist or craftsman?
PW: What I produce in ceramics I think of as art, but the skills you need to realise a piece from idea to the finished article requires the skill and knowledge of the craft. Overall, I just think of myself as an artist – I’ll still dabble with paint, print and other ways of working 2D when I get time.
XETH: You have said in the past that you’re influenced by Rodin, as well as Gormley – who depicts similarly faceless characters. What is it about these two artists that you are particularly inspired by?
PW: When I view these pieces it wouldn’t surprise me if they were to get up and walk away – either because of the the realism of Rodin’s work or the humanity which comes from Gormley’s work, due to his process of making casts from human forms. If I look at one of my pieces and get that feeling that I wouldn’t be too surprised if it left the plinth for a stretch and a walk around, then I’m pleased.
Some of the environments where Gormley puts his work have also inspired some of my pieces. And yes, the anonymity of my figures, created by not giving any eyes, is inspired by Gormley’s featureless casts.
XETH: Do you use life models to help you with that realism of poses and proportions?
PW: The only model I can afford is myself, so all the male figures are based loosely on myself – I’ll use a mirror to see how the body changes in different poses and by using myself it has led on to some of the ideas being auto-biographical.
XETH: Your portfolio seems rather broad… scenes ranging from solo figures to groups of characters interacting; poses ranging from relaxed to Olympian domination. Do you have any preferences?
PW: I explore all things human – solitude and interacting groups are both normal for all of us. I love classical sculpture, but I love studying people doing everyday things.
I have a personal code that I work by, and that is: “I want to make what I like, not like what I make”, which means to me that the more skills and knowledge I have, the more I can push the materials, process and my imagination. I now have a solid foundation in the way I’ve been working so it allows me to explore different issues that crop up from time to time such as the ‘Pugilist and the Swift’, ‘The Letter Series’ and Angels.
I always prefer the work I’ve just finished, whilst knowing I wont like it as much as the next lot.
XETH: Similarly, your figures are presented on anything from austere classical columns to modern plinths. What drives the choice for each piece?
PW: The plinths can sometimes be equally as important as the figures, because the work may be a study of the interaction of the figure with the form it is placed on. In other pieces, the plinth may be used just to project the figure.
XETH: Your early white and blue tin-glazes remind me of the Ancient Chinese tradition, in contrast to later pieces richly coloured with 20th century floral patterns and gold leaf. Is this a developmental direction?
PW: I started with blue and white because this gives more options for decorating, as cobalt can be put under a tin-glaze and it will come through. Different colours have gradually come through – when I placed all the work from my last firing on the tables in the studio, it reminded me of walking into a museum’s antique collection where there are lots of colours, shine and gold. This is another source of inspiration which drives my work. I think I will continue with all these, and I’m also producing some unglazed pieces at the moment.
The ‘Precious Series’, revealing a golden layer under a ceramic skin, has a dual meaning. Precious as in, ceramics in this country doesn’t have the status as other materials such as bronze. But also, it’s a metaphor for being able to love yourself and discovering your own self worth, which is the reason I’m working as an artist.
XETH: What do you see as the future direction of your work? Would you like to increase the scale of your work – an ‘Angel of the North’ by Williams, perhaps?
PW: I suppose what I do in the future will be decided by what happens with this work, but I’d love to produce some bronzes, other castable metals… and yes, to go large scale would be exciting!
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