Our first artist spotlight of the Summer show is on ceramicist Peter Garrard. His gorgeous ceramic birdhouses are just amazing and really caught my imagination. We here in Surrey to like to attract birds into our gardens and what better way than to treat them to one of these lovelies! Peter also has a range of ceramic panels that we’re very happy to show, quirky and beautiful at the same time. To help you get to know Peter a little better he talks here about how he develops his work and what brought him to where he is now.
Some of my earliest memories are of making things; constructing towers of wooden blocks spiralling to the ceiling with my Dad on his return home from work; building dams in streams from boulders with my brother and playing with Lego every day for many years. I later went from building Lego houses to drawing the ideal home to live in and for many years thought I would become an architect. At secondary school I discovered clay and increasingly spent all my spare time in the Pottery. Many of my early sculptures were, of course, of buildings. By the time it came to apply for university I realised it had become more important to me to work with clay than to be an architect.
I now realise that by producing my art work I have had the privilege of being able to continue to play as an adult.
I also spent many hours as a child helping my Dad in the garden and reading history books in my room. On Sundays we went to church. All of this continues to inform my own art work to the present day with its recurring themes of Biblical imagery, historic architecture and the natural form.
After university I taught pottery and painting and drawing for many years in a secondary school. I found that, as a teacher, I was constantly thinking up new projects to do with the young people and was in turn inspired by what they produced. Much of my recent work is based on the collaging and mark-making experiments that I did with these classes. I enjoy the freedom of pressing found objects into the clay and then playfully combining the resultant images together to create a narrative. While I was teaching I continued to make my own work in my spare time but always found that I had more ideas than time to realise them. As a result the subject matter and style of my own work would vary widely.
During the last few years I have spent less time teaching and more time on my own work so I have turned our dining room into my studio, giving me a space in our home where I could work and store all my materials. It makes such a difference when you can leave your experiments lying around and when you can have a quiet space where you can reflect and concentrate. I find that I am in my studio, well into the evening most days. I now feel it will be good to separate my home and work life a little more so I intend to build myself a larger studio in the garden, somewhere with more day light and space. I can’t wait.
I have repeatedly made sculpture to be placed outdoors. The initial inspiration for my bird houses was the vernacular architecture of the Cotswolds but I became
increasingly interested in buildings from my travels and particularly by the decorative qualities of the Moorish buildings of the Alhambra and of Cordoba. Close study of the ancient Chinese brass vessels at The Ashmolean in Oxford has also been influential. I always find it hugely inspiring to spend a day drawing somewhere like The Ashmolean or The Victoria and Albert Museum; I come away full of ideas for future work. In fact I am more likely to look at ancient artefacts than contemporary ceramics.
I don’t have any problems in producing work although there are times, when I am feeling less creative, when I might repeat work or go out and seek inspiration. In fact just handling the clay can be wonderfully soothing and sometimes it is enough to be working on some simple repetitive task. On other occasions I might simply ‘play’ with the clay. This develops a life of its own as I intuitively work with it and invariably results in something satisfying.
What I enjoy most is when I am set a new challenge such as to create a piece for commission, or as at the moment, making sculpture for a specific venue. My latest work is for The Rococo Gardens in Gloucestershire. Combining my love of history with nature I am creating a series of organic forms inspired by a wall hanging, an 18th century piece of Indian chintz fabric, which I found in the Ashmolean. With this sort of ambitious task I find it helpful to go through a conscious design process, making studies of things I have found before going onto develop ideas through drawings and maquettes.