Anna Barlow's Delicious Ceramics
Anna Barlow, a ceramicist based in Tottenham, London, creates the most fantastic ceramic ice-cream. Her artwork is both representational, with glazes made to match strawberry sauce and sculptural, with scoops of ice-cream piled impossibly high.
Anna took some time to talk to Redbird about her work and we are so pleased she did!
You have an amazing technical ability with glazes. As I understand it, glazes are a completely different colour when they are applied to how they turn out after firing. Can you tell us a bit about how you work with glazes and how much experimentation work you have gone into to achieve the results you have?
My first year out of university was spent purely experimenting with textures, materials and glazes. It was great to have that time to really push my knowledge to the limit and it has given me a great knowledge base to refer to. It was also a case of using methods that were achievable without using a lot of facilities so I started to apply the glaze in similar ways that you would treat food. The chocolate and strawberry sauce is squirted on as if out of a sauce bottle and I use the firing process to really melt the ice cream glaze down- most ice creams have at least 3 glaze firings to get a very edible melty effect.
Working with clay is a very tactile experience. Can you tell us about the emotional reward of your work?
The best time for me is opening the kiln after a glaze firing- it’s when I get to see if the idea in my head has become an object in reality- or sometimes even better than I hoped it to be!
Another side of the process that I find extremely rewarding is mould making. I find it so fascinating to make a mould of a biscuit and then to use that mould for the first time, it is amazing to see all the detail of crumbs and pattern capture for ever in clay.
The final sculpture is made up of lots of small detailed components like the cherries and fondant flowers, it’s great to spend hours producing these bits. I can get lost in the love of repetition!
Its beautiful the way you have combined shoes and cushions into your ice-cream work in a statement about consuming. It’s reminiscent of Sebastian Errazuriz’s 3D Printed Shoes (12 shoes for 12 lovers.) Our relationship with domestic objects like cushions, shoes and even ice-cream is really quite fleeting and often connected to trying to comfort ourselves. Can you tell us about your plans to develop this theme in your work and what other foods you would consider using?
Yes, I am fascinated by the many roles of consumerism, how it is used for comfort, celebration and indulgence, but it isn't a lasting or a particularly wholesome activity. I am starting a new range that features mirrors. It looks at perceived identities through the consumer choices we make. Often people we know will judge who we are through what we like to buy/wear/eat - phrases like "It's so you" are expressed and, although it can be touching to think that someone has engaged with our taste, it can also be stifling to be categorised by what we have rather than all the other things that make up our personality. It is becoming more of a theme in our lives now that companies like Facebook and Amazon target us with recommendations of what we might next like to buy and they clearly build up a picture of our identities and sell them back to us which I find slightly sinister....
Absolutely, it creates a silo of our tastes, preventing the very thing that made the internet so great in the first place, organic discovery of new things. What do you think about the work of Michelle Wibowo? Her work does rather the opposite of what you do, using consumable produce to replicate an object.
I love this! My other passion is also baking (that is probably obvious!) I have a feeling that the best way to engage with a beautiful object or significant event is to be able to consume it. I think there is something deep within us all that feels that to truly own something is to either destroy it or eat it- a destructive desire - a bit like the need to kick a sand castle... I love her Kate and William cake, to truly experience their marriage I guess you have to eat them as a cake!!
The super gloss finish and rich colours in your work is also reminiscent of the painter Ralph Goings and the food marketing airbrush art of 70’s and 80’s America. Can you tell us about your own artistic influences?
My first influence to make the work that I produce now was Morgan Hall- she made a huge lidded pot with a long fork that fitted inside and called it a marshmallow pot. Apparently the client that bought it actually filled it with marshmallows; it's that sense of fantasy fulfillment that I find so compelling.
I am inspired by beautifully crafted tableware, from old Sevres porcelain to contemporary potters like Sue Binns and Louisa Taylor. I find that a beautifully crafted cup or bowl really celebrates precious everyday moments - I find this attention to detail so important and I hope to bring a similar spirit to my own work.
I have worked alongside Kate Malone for many years. Her ceramics caught my attention when I first started to work with clay at school. Her bright colours and generous forms were (and still are) exciting and engaging to my un-trained eye. I have continued to be increasingly influenced by her approach to clay; to not over handle a form and to let the clay's qualities come through. Also her glaze knowledge and experimentation really influence me to continue the research side of my work and engage with new uses of materials.
Other major inluences are Dirk Stascke, Dale Chihuly, Guiseppe Arcimboldo and Tjalf Sparnaay
For a long time art was used as an avenue for political satire and social commentary, but, considering all the things happening in the world today, I’m not sure how much that is still the case. What do you think? Have artists become less political?
I do agree that there is a lot of decorative, trendy art at the moment- I think this is influenced by the level of consumerism in the art market at present.
On the other hand I believe it is almost impossible to create an object without it being political in some way. It may not reflect world politics but I feel that it is also important to comment on the politics of domestic, family or personal everyday life which reflects the way we live. It is important to me to produce work that is relevant and engaging to everyone whether you are a child or an art expert to raise questions and thoughts on what we have come to accept as the norm.
Your work shows a real understanding of the texture and enjoyment / messiness of ice-cream. So how do you eat your ice-cream? (ie, do you bite the bottom off the cone?)
I used to! But now I eat it like a grown-up; very neatly and carefully, trying not to make a mess...
What is your first food memory from growing up?
My mum used to work in a show home when I was about 3 years old. I remember falling in love with the fake fruit in the kitchen- especially the peaches. When the house was sold my mum brought the fruit home for me and I still have it- and still love it!!