For thousands of years ceramics have played an integral role in archaeology, helping us understand the cultures and behaviours of peoples of the past. The practice of creating objects and artefacts dates back to 24,000 BC, when ceramic figurines were first used for ceremonial purposes. The most extraordinary archaeological survivors are the Nok terracotta figures from north-west Nigeria, which are estimated to be over 2,000 years old.
Fast forward to 2018, and we discover that ceramics remain a celebrated, ever-evolving contemporary art; and one that has seen a resurgence in recent years, particularly in Britain, where there are now dozens of studios across the country and throughout the capital where people can explore and try out pottery and ceramics.
From textiles to ceramics
Julia Landes, founder of Studio77.london in Primrose Hill, discovered her love of ceramics ten years ago, following a casual introduction by another ceramist friend. “It’s a fantastic medium to work with; the possibilities are infinite, and my experience with printed textiles gave me a very different physical connection with the material of clay.”
Her creative path began at the Brighton School of Art, where she studied textiles. Julia has since moved on from her successful career in the fashion business: she now weaves her love of textiles, materials and colour into her ceramic art. “I love playing with textures and colours: there is a real magic in working with glazes. The excitement of opening the kiln to see how my colour combinations have worked is a really fantastic experience. When working with ceramics, you have to be open to the unknown.”
The essence of Julia’s ceramic creative process combines two approaches. First, there are her extraordinary ‘London life’ and travel-inspired drawings, collected as sketches in her drawing books. She then applies the essence of these drawings onto hand-built ceramic pieces that use the clay as a background instead of paper.
Then the ‘lost and found’ collections and Julia’s ‘jewel’ range are more focused on the use of texture and glazes. The lost and found idea uses objects, such as pen lids, postage stamps and picture hooks, which she imprints into the clay to create a pattern. This patterned clay is then transformed into a fabric-like material, producing ultimate shapes that are built using clay, as opposed to how one would weave a pattern into a fabric.
The jewel range is about the alchemy of the glazes. Combinations of glazes, some that include pieces of glass, are layered in different combinations to create jewel-like patterns on a coloured background.
From drainpipes to Apple watches
Ceramics is a highly nuanced and expansive art form. There are thousands of different clay bodies and glazes – all of which produce different results. This makes it one of the most flexible art forms and gives the artist infinite creative possibilities to explore. The material itself is renowned for its durability and heat-resistant properties. It is widely used today in products ranging from the Apple Watch and NASA space shuttle to Sir Henry Doulton’s pioneering salt-glaze stoneware used as drainage pipes during the country’s sanitary revolution.
Julia has also recently started using stoneware in her hand-painted work, which enables her to produce a highly subtle finish because the colours absorb more readily into this kind of clay. However, she chooses earthenware clay for her transferred drawings, most of which feature delicate and delightful scenes of London life. Earthenware clay produces a clearer, more defined colour when it’s fired. Interestingly, while Studio77.london focuses purely on Julia’s ceramic art, her drawings are equally alluring and stand alone as a beautiful collection of work, and one that allows the viewer to recognise Julia’s distinctive hand.
“I’ve always loved drawing, and I’ve combined that and brought it into my ceramics.” Julia’s inspiration comes from London as well as her travels. “I think you see so much more of a place by drawing. You engage much more and take in all the details.” Her recent trip to Columbia has been celebrated in a series of drawings transferred onto ceramic plates, featuring some of the street vendors in Bogotá, life in Cartagena and the country’s dazzling array of hummingbirds.
Inspiration from Primrose Hill
Closer to home, Julia finds inspiration all over the capital, from our own Primrose Hill to Regent’s Canal, the West End, Marylebone and Hampstead Heath. “These parts of London are just gorgeous. They each have their own identity.” Julia’s next series of ceramics will feature the different seasons on Primrose Hill, based on drawings she’s been doing over the last year, along with a series of different views of the Heath and one featuring Regent’s Park.
Another potential series to anticipate from Julia is one on dogs. “I love drawing dogs. There are so many mad, amazing, characterful dogs in Primrose Hill. If only they’d stay still just a little bit longer for me. That’s part of the challenge, capturing the moment of their joy and energy.”
There is something intimately authentic and captivating in a drawing. As with all art, people connect with it on an emotional level, and Julia explains that most of her clients fall in love with pieces that feature a special, familiar place, or the colours she chooses for her glazes.
In the meantime, Julia continues to create her bespoke ceramics, with an ever-growing body of work that will perhaps, like the Nok terracotta figures, be discovered by archaeologists someday, hundreds or thousands of years from now. I asked Julia what she would want the people of the future to think about our life in Primrose Hill in 2018 if they were to discover her ceramics. “I’d hope that they’d think what a magical place it was; how charming and lovely. And let’s hope that it would still connect, that it wouldn’t be changed at all.”
You can see Julia’s work at her next show, which opens 17 May and runs for three weeks at:
74 Marylebone Lane
To commission Julia or discuss a project, visit www.studio77.london
Follow Julia on Instagram @julialandesstudio_77.london
Article by Jennifer Ploszaj. Photo by Sarah Louise Ramsay.
To explore the art of ceramics, check out the newly reopened Clay Time in Hampstead, (formerly Well Walk Pottery), for a drop-in taster session. Or try the Ceramics for Beginners course at the Camden Arts Centre 25 April – 4 July.