Sunday, 24 August 2008

Artist of the Week - Kitty Shepherd

Kitty Shepherd

It’s countdown time for me at the moment as the last few days tick away before The Joze Show. I love the run up to a show. It gives me permission to get into a controlled panic, which allows me to achieve my best work and I get the satisfaction of smashing all the pieces that simply don’t work or that faulted in the kiln.

All my pots are intensely individual. I make and paint ceramics working along very personal lines of enquiry and I am prone to be influenced by everything and everyone around me. I have a particular system for honing all that information, by cataloguing and imposing order on the things that affect me. It is all intentional; there is nothing random in the selection of source material - everything is obsessively thought out. My latest influence has been the sounds, textures and light of the Spanish mountains, where I moved to over a year ago and I now travel backwards and forwards to England, scooping up influences and practicing my art across both countries.

When and where did you first want to do what you do?
I discovered what I really wanted to do by default, in a way. When I was 18, I studied drama and voice at Chichester College. I was asked to pick a third subject to make up my time-table and I chose ceramics – which changed everything. Suddenly, from that moment on, I was going to be an all-star singing Shakespearean West End potter!

I also studied needlework and had a summer job restoring the tapestries at Castle Howard just after Brideshead was filmed there in 1982. I can still trace that time in my current work, which often has a tapestry/textile like quality to it. In fact I have always been interested in the historical and contemporary social history aspect of decorative textiles.

Who would you say buys your work?
Surprisingly, my work is mostly bought by men. Virtually all the major pieces I have made have been bought by, or for men. I don’t know whether that’s because most of my work sells in the UK, but as I begin to sell in Spain, Portugal and Germany too, maybe that pattern will start to shift.

How do you set about starting a new project?
I begin with a huge amount of trepidation and a great deal of pacing about and procrastination. The best ideas come from literally months of thinking and planning. I keep a small notebook with me and write down everything that inspires, excites or disturbs me and that forms the basis of my finished work. I find sketchbooks too confining so I prefer to draw on pieces of paper, which I then catalogue by placing them into books, bound by straps and pockets and grouped by subject. This method is getting slightly out of control and I plan to graduate to an indexed boxed cataloguing system.

Preparation and pacing about are key for me. I start two dimensionally, creating a profile drawn on a wall; the floor or a more conventional piece of paper. Then I cut it out of cardboard and bind it with tape. I hang a plumb line from the ceiling and use a spirit level to check the horizontal plane is straight too. After that for two days I coil snakes of clay smoothing them into shape using the profile as a guide. In a way, I build my pot with one eye open taking in the fall of the plumb line and profile. Once that’s done, I only have a short window of time to complete the painting before the damp clay dries out, about a week. Sometimes at the end I can look at what I have done in surprise and have no idea how I did it, which is usually a good sign.

Where and what is your studio?
For the past 18 months my workshop has been in my house in the village of Fornes just south of Granada in Spain surrounded by the cool of the mountains and breathtaking views across the lake. I feel I have time traveled to this place, 3,000 feet above sea level where children are still allowed to play like children and horses and donkeys live in the houses with their owners. Food is slaughtered in garages with home made sausages hanging in the rafters of upstairs rooms, and the women have fire stained cheeks from cooking in the hearths.

But the timeless idyll is not all it appears. The farmers have Audi’s and mobile phones and their wives have more cleaning products for their Neff hobs than you could stuff into one cupboard and yet they still prefer the hearth. It is a very traditional Spanish community of only 900, poised on the edge of the 21st century and I have been fascinated by this simple way of life. The electricity is very temperamental with several power cuts a day, which makes working a little tricky and can really try my patience.

I work very much alone, linguistically stranded. I have a wi-fi radio tuned in to Radio 4 or 6, but with 12,000 other stations to listen to I can switch to radio city Delhi for a thrilling change of mood, if the whim takes me. I miss my shared studio in Sussex and the chat. Building the Spanish workshop and working in it has been hard, but creatively inspiring. I’ve had to be dogged and disciplined to keep motivated and with no-one to talk to, my work just has to be fine enough to meet my high standards…and if it doesn’t…well it’ll end up in pieces in the hearth!
In November I am returning to England for four months, a break from this solitary simple life, which sends you mad after a while! I will be working in Petworth, sharing a studio with the painter and advertising genius Alan Waldie. I’m fascinated to see what impact that will have on the nature of my work.

What is on your pin board?
This is a small section of it.

What is your favourite website?
Jonathan Jones’ blog page of The Guardian is the best read of the week for me. It keeps me in touch with what’s going on and I like his style of writing.

Surprising activity?
I ride a Harley Davison motor cycle, a custard yellow Sportster 883 cc which I have dropped a few times and I can’t pick it up because it is so heavy!

What one product/item do you really covet?
I would love to own one of Tracey Emin’s quilts. My first choice would be Helter Fucking Skelter which for me is simply overwhelming. It is the combination of the fragile flower printed scraps of fabric and the sewn miss spelt words that proclaim passion and rage that is so thrilling. In fact I’m considering taking my cue from her and putting words on pots next, though that would be an overt move for me. I’d have to come out from behind the slippery shadows of pictures, to proclaim the kind of certainty that would make it work.

Can anything be 'art'?


Anonymous said...

I love this article.... having just recently connected with Kitty, I found I learnt just a little bit more about her through her writing. I love her quirky style and absolutely adore the DYSON pot. I can just imagine being in her studio and find myself dreaming and wishing I was there right now! I can't wait to see her work "in the real"!
Thanks for highlighting this great artist this week.

Anonymous said...

What amazing work by such a fascinating person. I knew Kitty many years ago and now sit in admiration of her designs. Maybe one day I will actually own one of these beautiful works of art!
MJ Ray