NB: I think this period of work is some of my favourite of Alison Britton's, anyway. I think it's that kind of reference to the blue and white, [which] takes you back to the kind of history of the pieces of what are upstairs. But also, again, the kind of vigour in some of these pieces. And again I go back to when I was a student at Cardiff. I think there was a retrospective show on somewhere - I don't know whether it was Pennarth [but it was] somewhere near to Cardiff anyway - and there was a series of double pots, and there was one that was painted in this kind of gestural style, and it's one of my favourite pieces which she's ever done.
I just thought it was about really knowing when to start with an object. It's such a kind of skill, isn't it? It's what I say to the students: as you know they're always wanting to do something, or not enough to [do] something. It's that kind of sophistication, and I think that piece really had it for me. It was a really lovely piece. And again these references to some of these kind of gestural painters, like some of the Cornish group like Roger Hilton [and] Peter Lanyon.
[video clip starts]Again the surface makes you want to go into the piece because there's so many layers, even though, from what I gather,the pieces are determined or dictated by the surface of the objects. They're painted as a painting, and then constructed as an object. The reason I liked the piece that was on show in Wales at that point was because it hadn't got the handle. I don't think the handles are necessary in the pieces. I know there's the reference to the jug and stuff, but as the object. I think in some of the later pieces, the handles have been cut into the object, so they suggest a handle rather than being a handle. I think they are more successful. But I like the awkwardness of it as well. It is going to fall over, isn't it? And as we displayed it earlier on, I think it works better on its side, so you can see that interior and exterior more, and the base is great as well. All those runs and drips of glaze there. [video clip ends]
MP: Was she important to you as a tutor?
NB: I can remember having a conversation with Alison when I first started at the RCA, and having a conversation with her when I left, and in the meantime I think there wasn't that much discourse. But after I graduated, she did write a piece about the show in Stoke, and the new work that was evolving for that. So there was contact in that way. But again going back to the RCA, I think I just saw it as a studio for two years and then [in] London you learnt more from being in that environment and being surrounded by like-minded people, as much as what you get from the tutors. So yes, it was a good time. I don't like going back there, though, for some reason. I'm not a 'going back' person.
But I suppose looking at the brushwork here and then you look at that Staite-Murray piece, I think what Alison's doing, I might be wrong, but I'm just assuming from looking at it that she'll select from what she does, maybe on a random basis, she'll select a part of the painting and then that will be that section of the pot. So [it] may be like what I was talking about earlier on, that 90% of that slab which isn't going to be used, but there's that section where you kind of abstract, it's almost like you're looking through the lens of a camera. You zoom [in] on that particular detail and that's the bit that goes into the piece. And I think that's the manner in which she works. I might be wrong. But, yes, this is, I suppose, my favourite period of work. And just holding it it makes you want to turn it around and look at it. And again it reads on lots of different perspectives, I think ceramics is such a wonderful medium to bridge the gap between painting and sculpture, isn't it? You know you can, you know it does it brilliantly.
DISPLAY: Alison Britton is one of the leading ceramic artists of her generation. She rose to prominence in the 1970s as part of a loosely affiliated group of women potters who had trained at the Royal College of Art, and whose work challenged established traditions. Britton’s ceramics took function and ornamentation as subjects to explore rather than qualities to necessarily directly exhibit, an approach to making that shifted the agenda for craft practice.
This sumptuous book invites the reader to examine in exquisite detail, spectacular jewelled and enamel objects, drawn from a single private collection, and to explore the broader themes of tradition and modernity in Indian jewellery.