Digswell Fellow, Sarah Rooms Heaphy is our artist of the month, and is based at the Fenners building in Letchworth.
How would you describe your current practice (eg materials, techniques, themes, key questions, approach)?
I am a ceramic artist working in porcelain clay, who has a love of texture, colour, pattern and mark making from natural forms. My primary inspiration is the coast, weathered erosion and wild nature.
Currently, I slab build with porcelain to create sculptural forms, challenging myself to change the scale of my work to larger, bold simplified shapes. These are textured, printed and drawn surfaces, layered with colour.
With the closure of the studios in the 2020 lockdown, I took time-out from ceramics to explore in a 2-d format. Working in sketchbooks and large paper, I painted in layers of ink, acrylics, watercolour pencils and crayons. The abstract loose nature of ink and water gave me the base to layer bold colours of acrylic paint, mark-making and capturing the energy of the weather and coastal environment. This has now become a more important part of my artist practise.
In August, on returning to the studio, my main aim has been to bring this energy back into the clay surface and forms. Experimenting on the clay surface by using my plaster bats to print colours; layering colour combinations playing with marks, then, impressing with textured plaster, shells, ammonites, leaves, wood, all collected on my journeys. This multi layered process has been the key to all my work over the last 10 years, which I am adapting to new and more challenging forms, moving away from the cylindrical shapes I have made previously.
What are you working on at the moment (forthcoming exhibitions, events, workshops, etc)?
I have continued with my main theme of coast; being captured in nature, surrounded in the natural world, encompassing every sense whilst walking the coastline and bays.
As this work evolves I will be talking with the galleries I have been working with for the last few years about possible selling opportunities. I also hope to run some texture workshops from Digswell Arts Fenners building at some point in 2021.
Due to lockdown, working towards events has become limited. I have applied for various exhibitions and competitions in 2021 but am still awaiting responses. I am hoping for a group spot at Art in Clay with my ceramic colleagues at Fenners building, to be held at Windsor Racecourse.
What are you plans for the coming year?
Following a visit to the Highlands of Scotland in September 2020, I have become obsessed with small coves and bay; the idea of cliffs wrapping around your shoulders, entrapping you on the beach against the wild seas roaring ahead. Nothing else mattered except these elements battering your senses.
Working with this theme, the studio looks very eclectic at the moment as explore a few different forms….circles, curves, and rocking shapes; repetition, textured and colour. Internal atmospheric coloured coastal scenes with repetitive texture externally.
Moving away from traditional forms, I am experimenting with angular structures inspired by the jagged cliffs of the coastline: these are constructed in an abstract way of combining cut panels until they represent a rocky outcrop.
Plus playing with colour vs highly textured white vs black & white. It is all very experimental at the moment.
I continue to work on these themes and experiment with each kiln firing. There is much to do, and each firing brings new treasures, but also lots of ideas to expand on. The idea is to create individual sculptures. I think most of this year will be experiments and personal development, working hard in sketchbooks and large-scale paper, playing with areas of simplified marks versus detailed pattern effects, and translating this onto clay. I am also looking forward to another trip to the Highlands in the spring; taking more time in fewer coastal areas, to really capture its magical qualities.
What is the question that you most get asked about your work?
The main question is about the ceramic surface and techniques I use to create them. I create my personal textured plaster batt, which have played a major role in all my work over the last 10 years. I create a patchwork of textured clay, creating an abstract picture, which is then cast in plaster. This allows me to create interesting surfaces without lots of joins but contain textural interest. It was important to create surface detail, but on a simple form with fluid lines, to work with contrasts, of texture vs simplicity, matt texture vs gloss interior. Impressions are taking onto slabs of clay either in total or I pick and choose elements to use in the works.
I am also asked about hand-building with porcelain, and its constraints. Mixing my own combination of paper porcelain and porcelain enables it to take the texture so well and have a good weight to the work. I first experimented with paper porcelain, which was successful for small pieces, but it felt wrong to me for larger work. It did not have the weight needed to convey a large piece of work, as the paper all burnt away in the kiln leaving less porcelain within the vessel.
And then I am often asked about the painterly quality; the glazes, pencils, and underglaze washes used to layer and bring out the textured surface in final firing. I try not to refire work, as the porcelain does not like it! And I have to be careful of textures that create thick and thin points, which affect stability causing cracking!
Who are what inspires you?
I love art and have always followed that passion. My O level art teacher Mr Clarke, at Kent College, encouraged me to go on to A-level, a path that led to a degree in Fashion and Textiles. I took a break from creating whilst pursuing my buying career but was lucky enough to try ceramic evening classes after starting a family. Creating work has kept me passionate about art, and constantly learning. And my family have been encouragingly supportive. But a big inspiration is that I have been lucky enough to work in environments where I have met some amazing ceramic makers who freely share their wealth of knowledge. Potters trips, visiting demonstrators, the ceramic family at Art in Clay, and many others all share; work cannot be recreated exactly and do not want to copy, just learn more.
I also find an internal need to make and work with my hands. As with my inspiration, “to walk the beaches creates a mindful meditative state”; I find I recapture that inner calm when I work, as I am surrounded with the things I love. This does not mean things always go right, many times I combat disappointment in my work when they emerge from the kiln, but a few days later these are met as challenges and future developments.
Which artists do you most admire and why?
In the ceramic world, Peter Hayes for his textures and truly experimental nature. To name a few others, Robin Welch for colour and texture; Gordon Baldwin for form and simplicity; Hans Coper for creative constructions; Rachel Wood, wonders of one glaze & the first piece I ever bought; Peter Voulkos, outstanding creativity; Gillian Lowndes wild experimentation; Jennifer McCurdy, porcelain beauty!. To name a few!
Away from ceramics, from an early age it was always Mark Rothko, and then Claude Monet. Seeing the Water Lillies, in the round at the Musee de l’Orangerie was intense. Recently I have been blown away by installation works by TeamLab, in Singapore, Future World where art meets Science, 2019. Being immersed in a video installation was mesmerising!
How has your relationship with Digswell Arts strengthened your practice as an artist?
Moving my studio to Digswell Arts Fenners building has enabled me to work within an artist community, of varying practises. It has been a difficult time since joining, due to Covid, but we have all worked and helped each other to continue.
Primarily I have made the decision to pursue larger scale more sculptural work, with the access to larger kilns than at home. The new location has provided me with a new mindset, to set aside some time to play and experiment, with the creative environment helping to challenge my approaches. Leading away from purely craft pieces, to more singular standalone artworks.
I have also felt confident to apply for competitions and events where I previously worked on smaller ceramics for galleries, I can now combine to two sides of my work.
I am looking forward to Digswell Arts refurbishment of their Fenners building Gallery to show some of my forthcoming works in a solo show and Open studios later in the year with my fellow artists.
Please give details of your website and social media contacts
facebook Sarah Rooms Heaphy Ceramics