Published 17th September 2021
by Veronica Simpson
Despite the challenges of the last year and a half – especially the largely online teaching and lack of studio access – the Fresh presentation this year is every bit as inspiring as before, and perhaps more so given that the qualifying requirement to have graduated recently from an official ceramic or fine art course has been expanded to include self-taught and emerging artists of all ages and backgrounds. I loved the curly quirkiness of Elizabeth Jackson’s assembled figures in her presentation: Very Interesting Thoughts to Think (2021). Janet Lines’s work was remarkable – beautiful, blowsy and voluptuous vessels, the rippling contours of which must be so hard to achieve at such scale. Having begun her art career in 1975, Lines waited 45 years to take her ceramic practice to the next stage, completing her MA in ceramics at Farnham in 2020. The Maltese-born Nico Conti presented Anecdote of Home and Porcelain: beautiful, digitally printed ceramic vessels, in black and white, with their wonderful textures and forms evoking inspirations from his childhood, such as Maltese lace, vaulted cathedrals and sea urchins, helped to shift my reluctance to accept that 3D printing does have something to offer contemporary ceramics. The trick, he explains, is to “alter the uniformity of clay printing (to) push porcelain to unexplored territories”. As ever, Award is a major highlight – a biennial staple, this strand pits 10 of the UK’s most exciting ceramicists (selected from hundreds of contenders) to compete for a £5,000 cash prize. Having long been a fan of Tamsin van Essen’s work exploring disease (her Psoriasis vases are stunning, trust me), it was intriguing to see her pieces inspired by ancient tools, including African throwing knives and Ayurvedic medical diagnostic instruments, The Residue of Tools (2021). Ho Lai’s Fluxing Red (2021) really stood out – literally and symbolically. This Hong Kong-born artist created 50 bone china relief maps of her home islands, which are arranged in rows, gradually transitioning from pristine white through soft and luscious pinks to the bloodiest red.