Tanya Harrod on Gillian Lowndes
TH: [video clip starts] Well, this is just great. I've been complaining about things not being ceramic, like I didn't think the Hans Coper pot was terribly ceramic. Funnily enough this seems to me the quintessence of ceramics, even though it's pretty impossible to pick up and I don't think she's... And she's introduced these foreign materials, strips of metal and bits of wire, and then these industrial cups that I think she's sprayed with sand or something, and then painted in this mottled way. It was around about this time that I first got to know her, and then I wrote a catalogue essay for a retrospective show for the Crafts Council. [video clip ends]
So maybe it's because I've talked to her quite a lot [that] I feel at home with this piece, which on first sight looks a bit, well, difficult or alienated or alienating. And she's someone, I think, who has really deep ceramic knowledge, and perhaps a turning point for her was when she went with her husband Ian Auld, who was also a potter, to Nigeria. And interestingly while they were in Nigeria she wasn't actually drawn so much to the pots, and I don't know whether she even went to visit Michael Cardew at Abuja. I think she did, but didn't make a big impact on either her or her husband. What they were really interested in was the kind of brickolage of West African sculpture, and in fact Ian Auld had a marvellous little shop in North London where you could buy non-European objects, a lot from West Africa, and they were amazing things like iron staffs made to the god of iron which would incorporate bits of lag fittings. And so she's always liked the sort of idea of kind of brickolage and bringing stuff together.
I think she's been awfully under-rated. There ought to be some massive show of her work. And also she has slightly suffered from... I mean, I say they're very ceramic but you know you'd like to see them in the context of other small sculptures, really. As far as I know that's never really happened. When you think of Anthony Caro table sculptures, which are obviously very different... but if there was a show of small sculptures, if the Henry Moore Institute put on a show of small sculptures, you can be absolutely sure she wouldn't be in it, and yet she should be.
TH: And then she's perhaps too modest a person, I don't know. Certainly [she] hasn't put herself forward. But all her work... there's some very odd, fragile, early work with little strips of clay sort of woven in and out of each other. Her work really changed when she went to West Africa thereafter. And things she's made more recently which are a bit more mayoral than this, they hang on the wall and seem even less ceramic, because they're mainly strips of metal that are fired in a sort of ceramic edition. I think this represents a moment when she decided to break one kind of taboo which says that a ceramic object has got to be fired in one piece. Because I think this is stuck on, this cup. And I think that's quite a... it sounds ridiculous to mention it but there was quite a big decision to make, because once you decide you can stick things on after firing then you can build up in all kinds of odd ways. She may have retreated from that position, [she] may have felt the whole thing potentially could get too complicated, get completely out of hand.
MP: It also includes metal.
TH: No, she's been including metal for ages.
MP: No, I mean it's a non-ceramic thing to do to include metal in the same way as adding to...
TH: Yes, right, that's true. But the fact that it's all fired together... someone made it, she's introduced all these weird materials, fibreglass and so on, but it all went through the trial of fire. But to go a step further and actually stick something on afterwards, I think, for her anyway, is foreign. And she shifted, I think, from the Sculpture Department at the Central to the Ceramics Department because she was able to do just what she liked. And in the Sculpture Department they were still creating armitures and working sculpture in a very old-fashioned way. So in the 1960s there was more freedom. But where this freedom has got her in terms of being written about or thought about in the context of the wider art world I don't really know. It seems a great shame.
MP: Do you think that bothers her where she's positioned? Does she position herself, do you think, as a potter or as an artist or..?
TH: Well, I think she's a bit like William Staite-Murray. I don't think all that many of these people set out to position themselves and she certainly hasn't made much effort. And that could have been okay. So it's also chancy, isn't it, and accidental. It's obviously a huge drawback being perceived to be a ceramicist from the point of view of wider recognition, which is really unfortunate. No, I don't think she has made any effort to exhibit in different contexts, but it's time someone did that for her.