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In conversation with ceramic sculptor, Matthew Chambers

Cavaliero Finn talks to Matthew Chambers as he prepares work for the gallery’s stand at Collect 2019 next week at the Saatchi Gallery, London.

How did you become a ceramicist?

It was totally by accident. I left school at 16 and got a job as a trainee chef in a local pub. After a couple of years in I realised this just wasn’t for me, and I luckily stumbled upon apprenticeship with the potter Philip Wood who happened to live in the village where I grew up. After starting there it didn’t take long to get a grasp and get addicted, and the pull of clay soon drew me in and the passion grew

Your work with Philip Wood was making very functional pieces, why did you decide to stop making functional ceramics?

When I began at university after many full time years of making tableware with Philip, I simply wanted to find my own style but continue my thoughts which all involved function. It was in my first year of education where I discovered my passion in form alone, and I instinctively followed this and the function soon left. It has continued this way ever since, but still the skill and technique I learnt in repeat throwing for function is still very much an important and integral part of everything I do today.

Tell us about the pieces that you have made for this year’s Collect 2019?

Where last year I was thinking more about strength through simplicity, the work for 2019 is perhaps the opposite of this with a strong emphasis on the complexity in pattern. I’m also focusing in on a refinement in the form and colour tone, and I consider this group for Collect to be as strong as anything I’ve ever made.

In recent years you have introduced much more colour into your work, how important is colour in the creation of your work?  How do you decide on what kind of piece you are going to embark on?  Do you draw or make studies beforehand?

Colour is becoming ever more important in my thinking when I build each piece. I’m ever more fascinated in the different ways that colour can effect the feel and visual effect of a form, from the vibrancy given by certain colours to how different tonal changes which can really aid the flow and depth of the internal pattern. I never make sketches beforehand, but I do know the colour and have an idea of the direction pattern might take. Often though when the building begins and the pattern progresses, I can have a mind change and things can instinctively move in another direction. This can sometimes lead to the biggest surprises and therefore be the most satisfying in the making. 

Clients constantly marvel at your work, trying to work out exactly how it is made.  Do you ever explain the exact process and if not, what can you tell us about the processes involved in the making of your sculptures?  

The work is constructed of many wheel thrown sections where each layer in every form is an individually thrown piece, constructed over or under one another in sequence to create a rhythm and flow. I generally choose not to reveal the exact nature of how they’re made as the intrigue captured in the work is important, and I like to keep this intact. I believe that to reveal too much about process would lose this intrigue, even at the expense of perhaps being considered over secretive about my process sometimes.

Are there any artists or ceramicists that particularly inspire you?

Barbara Hepworth has always been the biggest art inspiration as it was her work which made the change in my journey from function into form. Many other artists who work in abstract using shapes, pattern, and geometry are also a big draw for me.

What advice would you give budding ceramic sculptors?

Clay is such a versatile material, but it also requires good skill and there are so many different techniques to get your head around. There is not enough time in life get a good skill base in more than a one or perhaps a couple of these, and then take an idea through to fruition. To be in the strongest position possible I would suggest that any budding maker simply narrows their focus, whilst putting as many hours in as they can to build good skill. In my experience technique must come first and foremost, and if you get a good grasp of this whatever is made will become ever easier and will go in so many more directions than it would if you only have the basics.

Your work is in a number of museums including, the Musee Ariana in Geneva, Musee National de Ceramique de Sevres in Paris and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge?  How does this make you feel?

Amazing, and for me the ultimate accolade possible is to be collected by a museum. I feel incredibly lucky to have had my work accepted on such a level and amongst such great and important works as there are in all of these institutions. 

What’s next for you after Collect?

I’ve purposely made the year ahead a quieter one than I’ve had of recent. The aim for the rest of 2019 is to step back a little from making under total pressure and re-evaluate the making process in a calmer setting. I’ve no real set aims for the outcome, but I do hope that my work will only progress quicker and in strength without the pressure of continuous deadlines.

Cavailero Finn will showcase a series of four new ceramic sculptures by Matthew Chambers on its stand (1.4) at the Craft Council’s art fair, Collect 2019.  The acclaimed International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design which is in its fiftienth year, kicks off next week on February 28th and runs until March 3rd at the Saatchi Gallery in London. 

Also on the Cavaliero Finn stand will be work by Ashraf Hanna, Frances Priest, Ikuko Iwamoto, Daniel Reynolds, Galvin Brothers, Sun Kim and Annie Turner.

We look forward to seeing you at Collect and showing you our latest collection of work.

Find out more about Collect here