Jo Taylor - Passion and Form
Jo Taylor is a highly regarded ceramics artist / sculptor, who, around 15 years ago, gave up her career as a police officer to pursue her art. This is important to mention only because; to make a major successful career change like that requires, not just talent, but also a real passion and drive to create. This energy and passion is just as apparent in her work as it was in her interview with Redbird and it was a joy to speak with her.
Your work draws inspiration from plaster cornicing work and architectural features. You must enjoy visiting the Sir John Soane Museum! What is it that inspires you about this work and do have a favourite period of design / a favourite architect?
I love the Sir John Soane museum – the eclectic mix of architectural features all under one roof is unique. I have always lived near Bath and have grown up with the magnificent Georgian architecture, I enjoy the scale and drama of the buildings and the ornate decorative features. In particular I am interested in depth of relief, light & shadow, how features change in the light at different times of day and in different weather.
In terms of design style, I like anything that pushes the boundaries; Gothic revival (Pugin); Gaudi; Baroque & Rococo – as seen in the palaces of Potsdam; the glorious gardens of Villa D'Este in Tivoli; the sinuous lines of Art Nouveau and the angularity of Art Deco. Anything that's clear, bold and ambitious in its intention.
How much preparation drawing do you do before you make a piece?
None! I used to draw a lot and try and make my drawings three dimensional through layers, to try and convey depth and shadow, but always felt unable to communicate accurately my intention, although as drawings they were perfectly acceptable in their own right. I feel that each mark I make in clay can be classed as drawing, and that each piece is made from a collage of marks or small drawings.
You create your work using a combination of wheel thrown and hand sculpted pieces. Can you tell us a bit about what you enjoy about working this way, how you choose to combine these elements?
I have always loved throwing and was previously a functional maker. Repetitive throwing is quite a stressful process for your body and I was unable to throw when I started my MA due to a shoulder injury, so concentrated on hand building, pushing further than I had explored previously. I enjoyed the process and began to develop the technique of joining “fragments” together, so it was easy to incorporate throwing again once my shoulder was back on track.
Working on a piece of art can be quite an organic process and you like to create in quite an organic way. How do you know when a piece is finished, what is your personal checklist for satisfaction with a piece of your work?
That's an interesting question for many artists and can cause a few headaches, it’s quite a tough decision making process. I have to work to the height of the kiln so there are parameters, and I usually start each piece with some intention of structure or form. The forms then continue being added to until the decision is made to stop. Making that decision is helped by looking at the work from different heights, from a distance or sometimes from a photo – trying to use “fresh eyes” as though it’s the first time you have seen it.
Your work was on display at Collect 2015 at the Saatchi Gallery. How do you feel about being featured in Collect, how important to you is being on show at galleries like Saatchi?
It’s hard to describe how it feels, as it’s such an aspirational show, and I've been very lucky to have been shown there as part of the Young Masters, courtesy of the Cynthia Corbett Gallery. Being shortlisted for the Young Masters Maylis Grand ceramics prize has meant that my work has been shown at some outstanding venues in London, COLLECT being the icing on the cake. It’s incredibly important to my career as you need to establish a visible presence to enable people to trust in your work, which takes time and a lot of effort; being with the right gallery can make a world of difference.
You do a large amount of teaching, this May you will be teaching / demonstrating at a workshop in Belgium. What do you enjoy about teaching and how do you find that it informs your own creative practice?
My teaching experience has been really diverse – I started teaching after my BA in 2005, mainly in a prison where I stayed teaching ceramics for 5 years. I now teach occasionally at Bath Spa University, have regular classes at New Brewery Arts and have been involved with socially engaged projects working with groups who have experienced issues such as domestic abuse, homelessness and long term unemployment. This summer I will be working with the Crafts Council to deliver workshops in conjunction with the First Decade Project. In teaching I hope to be able to enthuse participants with my passion for clay, and pass on knowledge & skills to enable people to realise their ideas. Clay is such a versatile material – the possibilities are endless, and it’s so universal it doesn’t matter if the learner can’t read or write, can’t speak English, or has any other issue, it’s pretty much suitable for all ages and abilities. It’s exciting and rewarding to see your group create something new, and it’s a two way thing, I can be inspired by them and hope its mutual! It’s also sociable, and the sharing of ideas, conversation and learning is such a positive experience.
Some of the tools you use to make pieces are re-purposed domestic tools, like a butter curler, or apple corer for example. Do you think of yourself as more of a sculptor than a ceramicist? Are there other materials and tools you would like to experiment with?
It can be hard to describe or define yourself - artist, maker, ceramicist, ceramist, sculptor...all I know is I'm not a potter as I don't make pots!
I am a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, and do take a real interest in contemporary sculpture which is a rich source of inspiration. I think the scale and ambition in other materials is aspirational: particular favourites are Richard Deacon and Barbara Hepworth. Whilst in theory I would like to try other materials, my lack of technical knowledge would be a barrier – I have so much knowledge about clay and so little about anything else, I would probably need to do another course to enable me to realise my ideas.
I do like the freedom to be experimental, and using domestic tools, and making my own is part of that; I enjoy the fact that each piece is unique and that I can change any part of my process at any time.
How important do you think is it for artists / makers to experiment with techniques and ideas and how to we train ourselves to loosen up and not worry about making mistakes?
It depends on your style and your goals. For me to have the freedom to try things during my MA without the pressure of a specific goal led to a lot of experimentation with clays, glazes and techniques. Trying new things and evaluating the results took me on quite a journey to really push scale, form and surface, which enabled me to develop my own style and techniques. This investigative way of working suited my curiosity although it’s not for everyone, some people need a brief, limits or more direction. I think mistakes are useful, they help you puzzle it out; much of ceramics is problem solving. I experienced some classic disasters, opening the kiln to a pile of rubble etc., but as long as you can work out why it’s unlikely you'll make the same mistake twice.
I must add that I was very lucky on several counts. During the course I opted to use studio space at Bath Spa's Corsham Court campus, which had less equipment but more space, enabling greater scale in drawing and making. I shared this space with other students and the retired head of sculpture, Prof Michael Pennie, and we had some wonderful discussions combined with an industrious vibe so great progress was made all round. It’s interesting when artists work, not in collaboration but alongside each other. With freedom to experiment and good energy some great work can happen. I am privileged to be showing work with Prof Pennie, and fellow Corsham Court student Sarah Purvey, at Salisbury Arts Centre in September and we will be discussing our time in the shared space during an artist’s Q&A event.
Your installation pieces ‘Submergence’ and the one on show at the National Park in Gloucester have a real animation and character to them. Can you tell us a bit about these? Do you find more freedom in creating installations?
It was such an interesting experience to consider the site before making the work, as I normally work the other way round. The opportunity to make the work for the “Hospitality” show at Bath Abbey was really special, as discussions started during the MA and it took a while to come to fruition. I worked almost in collaboration with the Abbey; there's quite a responsibility in putting work on an altar in a chapel and getting the balance right. Thinking about the light, the other materials used in the immediate area, the audience, the function of the space, and making the work achievable, of enough scale not to get lost and to be true to my intention was quite a process. I was happy with the end result & was privileged to show work in the Abbey. What I enjoyed most was hearing people discuss what it meant. I have my own thoughts and intentions about moving toward the light, fragmentary nature of the group, pulling in different ways, hanging off the edge etc. but the abstract nature of it means people make their own connections: fallen angel; flames; water etc. This context changed entirely when it was shown at Newark Park as part of the Open West 2013, when it was placed outside on the steps of a National Trust house.
Submergence was developed for Fresh Air 2013 at Quenington Sculpture Trust - I'd had an idea about working with water as another layer instead of glaze. Three sculptures were made as a trajectory of submergence, falling off the edge of the diving board, going down the slope underneath and resting at the deepest part of the pool. My husband got the job of installing it as he has diving experience!
I don’t know if you necessarily have more freedom in creating site specific installations as there are immediately physical parameters and aesthetic considerations which inform the work. I do like the challenge of resolving these issues without compromising the work, and it brings another dimension and narrative to what you do.
If time, space and money were no objects and you were offered the opportunity to make something, anything, what would it be and why?
I think the answer many of us working with clay would say is scale! You always work to the size of your kiln which never seems big enough. I would like to make a large scale installation piece, but that could be possible by using multiples which many ceramic artists do. It is something I hope to do at some point, if the right opportunity arises...watch this space!
Jo has achieved so much throughout her career so far and in July 2015 she will be featured as a demonstrator at the International Ceramics Festival. You can find out more information about Jo’s work by checking out her website.