Phil Eglin: Carving out a future

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Phil Eglin, Ceramicist

My name’s Phil Eglin, I make things in clay, and I live and work in Stoke-On-Trent. I never start off having the idea competely worked out. And invariably the pieces have historical precendents. There’s so much that we can learn from history and I’ve always enjoyed visiting the V&A.

I saw a book by Paul Williamson called Northern Gothic Woof Carvings I bought the book, wanted to go and see the things in the flesh, went to the museum, found they weren’t on display and then I got my back up and that encouraged me to then make contact via the ceramics department to be able to go and study these wood carvings and this was before I was interested in using religious figures as a sort of vehicle to make things from.

There were photogpraphs, a sequence of photographs with the backs and the fronts of these objects and I was fascinated by the backs. These things were sort of left rough, hewn because they weren’t going to be seen; they were going to be sat in niches in a church.  Ultimately, the intention was that my own pieces would be shown along side these woodcarvings within the museum and that was really exciting to see whether my pieces would hold up, would stand up against what are wonderful, incredible icons that have really survived the test of time.

A lot of the medieval figures, especially the woodcarvings, the ones I was most interested in, tended to have short legs and a long body. I’m very much trying to pick up on those sort of proportions – not to copy them, but to echo the spirit of those figures. 

Through drawing your looking is more focused. Armed with drawings and armed with the memory of handeling those things, I then began to think about using some subversive imagery and I started to play with some ideas of reverence and irreverence. Clay itself has this ability to mimic the characteristics and properties of other matierals.

Bits that are modeled are the hands and the faces. The details of clothing have come from numerous sources of packaging; the skirt area has come from a tray that held cream cakes and the shoulders have come from pouring plaster into a milk cart and then pressing onto the model to form a detail that maybe in some way relates to a sort of detail that you might find on an historical costume. But interstingly these details should give clues as to where these things have come from.

From actually doing the drawings and observing and handling the pieces witheld within the museum - that’s come full circle and I‘ve now been able to both exhibit my work and my drawings by the pieces they’ve been influenced by and come from and that I’ve studied and that’s been an invaluable process for me.

Hopefully it allowed people to see the connections and see that I’ve then moved things on - that they weren’t just copies. Maybe there were other questions in there. As well as being religious in subject they were also very contemporary, so they sort of took on the spirit of something that was medieval but with a sort of contemporary twist.

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Phil Eglin’s irreverent ceramics are evidence of his immersion in history, which exists in tandem with his fascination with with contemporary logos, plastic bags and rude gestures. Eglin talks us through works in progress, and we also get a glimpse of Eglin's work on show at the V&A alongside the medieval pieces that inspired them.

Eglin's immersion in history exists in tandem with his fascination with with contemporary logos, plastic bags and rude gestures...