Mary Wyatt: Making magic with ceramics
- Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND
For ceramicist Mary Wyatt the act of creation can be compared to a type of artistic alchemy. The artist can have the idea, shape the clay, paint the sculpture, apply the glaze and yet… the finished piece, the final look resides in the lap of the kiln gods.
The Felixstowe-based artist knows after a lifetime’s experience that there are only so many elements you can control and there is always room for that happy or unhappy accident.
Crammed into her small studio are shelves of finished and half-finished work – much of it reflecting her love of the natural world. Mary says that she always has at least half-a-dozen projects on the go at any one time to allow individual pieces drying time as she works on them. Today there’s some indignant-looking gannets waiting to be finished off huddled together by some shelving.
Their bottom halves have been inspired by pictures of classical Roman amphora and Mary is still undecided whether these birds should be free-standing or inserted into some form of antiquarian metal stand.
Looking around there’s quite a menagerie contained in this small room. Behind us, there’s a flock of sheep waiting to be collected, a herd of horses cantering across her worktop, making their way through a number of regal-looking grebes who appear to look rather disapprovingly that these miniature mustangs muscling in on their space.
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Nesting a little way off are some plump plovers which have just been covered with some fine slip and polished smooth and make a strong contrast with the Raku-fired, metallic tinged grebes.
As Mary conducts me on a tour of her compact studio, she points out her highly colourful tribute to the endangered seabird The Tern. Entitled Return of the Tern, this three-dimensional nest focuses on a clutch of three eggs which appear to have been laid on a beach and rearing up alongside are some pretty large waves which at their peak have been painted to suggest the sky.
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“The tern is a lovely bird, I love it, but it’s not one of nature’s brightest creations,” she laughs,
“It lays its eggs on the seashore, so they are in danger of getting trampled underfoot or failing that, washed away in a storm. Never has there been a bird more likely to flirt with extinction. Nevertheless, I love them I watch them at Felixstowe Ferry hovering above the waves and calling to each other. They have a real sense of community.”
Mary retired from teaching art at Farlingaye High School in 2006 and set about reinventing herself as a ceramic artist. “I taught art at Farlingaye for 15 years and always found myself looking after the kiln. At the time I was a painter but increasingly I found myself drawn into the world of ceramics and when I stopped teaching I enrolled myself on a three year ceramics course to bring myself up to speed.”
So what motivates and inspires her? She pauses for a moment before answering: “I think I like shape and movement. I think that’s the common link between my work. Also I like working with the clay, building things up, and getting effects and details that you couldn’t design on paper.
“I like how you can suggest movement in a still object. It’s a little bit of magic. Also, I like shapes. I like the shapes that birds make when they are perched on the nest. They are always very elegant.”
In addition to the haughty gannets Mary is also working on a curious, triangular crab creature which sits on her worktop half built. Lying open next to it is Mary’s notebook crammed full of design ideas and there on the page is this crab creature. “It’s all the angles,” she explains.
The crab is perched on a small rotating platform which allows her to work on all side of her creation.
For Mary lockdown has been something of a blessing because it has forced her to slow down and take stock of what she is doing. “Normally, life is such a treadmill. You constantly on a deadline for one show or another or for a commission and lockdown just put a stop to all that.
“It gave me an opportunity to step back, have a breather, and decide what I wanted to do next, which is where our friend the crab came from.”
Next on the agenda are more experiments with raku glaze firing and getting ready for some possible summer exhibitions.