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Introducing ceramicist Hannah Tounsend

Hannah Tounsend with her large statement hybrid vessels

Cavaliero Finn was first introduced to Hannah Tounsend’s beautiful ceramic sculptures by Robin Cawdron Stewart, deputy director at Sothebys who has bought from the gallery previously.  Her sculptures combine ceramics and printmaking to create collections of sensitively realised vessel forms that explore the layered landscapes and sea-washed, weatherworn surfaces of the British coastline. Marks, lines and diffused merging colours are built up, cut through and dissolved away.

Living by the coast in Lyme Regis, I was particularly drawn to Hannah’s work and after visiting her stand at Ceramic Art London both Juliana and I knew her work would sit extremely well within our portfolio. We debuted her work at our, A Sense of the Familiar curated for the Dulwich Festival in May 2019. Later this year Hannah will find out if she has won AWARD which is the British Ceramics Biennial’s exhibition and prize which focuses on extraordinary new works being produced by some of the UK’s most talented artists working with ceramics. A specially convened panel has selected ten artists for representation in the exhibition, of which Hannah is one, the AWARD winner will be given a cash prize of £10,000 for excellence, innovation and creative ambition. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for Hannah.

We caught up with the artist recently to find out a little more about her work and her inspirations.

Print Beaker: 95mm diameter, 95mm height.
​White earthenware with slip and underglaze decoration.
Sculptural vessels not suitable for domestic use

How did you become a ceramicist Hannah?

A chance moment led me to ceramics. I was studying to become a vet when I wondered through the ceramics department of my local university on my way to somewhere else. I remember light was flooding in from high windows, there were a few students quietly engrossed in their making and I was struck by the certainty that this was what I wanted to do. I had always loved making as a child, but as my studies had become more serious there had been less space for creativity. I left vet school the following year to do a BA in Ceramics and Glass and have never regretted my decision. 

Large Print Vessel:  340mm diameter, 520mm height.    
​White earthenware with slip and underglaze decoration.

Your work is heavily influenced by your relationship with the shoreline, how did this come about?

I was born and have lived in the Midlands for much of my life. The sea for me is a destination – the first glimpse of it at the end of a long car journey is always a special moment. The shoreline is never a landscape I travel through, always one I travel to, an endpoint. For me it is a site of observation and contemplation – somehow outside of everyday time. Over the years the pocketfuls of pebbles I carry back from the shore have been joined by camera and sketchbook. I return to the studio with records captured whilst sitting within sandy dunes, at the base of towering cliffs or in the shadow of harbour walls. Here these frozen moments, fleeting sensations and half discerned thoughts are scored and layered into the lines of my vessels and prints. The shoreline saturates these pieces; it is present in the stance and structure of forms and felt within the diffuse merging colours of surfaces.

Pair of Statement Print Vessels: 550mm diameter, 750mm height.
​White earthenware with slip and underglaze decoration.

Walk us through making one of your vessels… what materials and techniques do you use? 

My vessel pieces have emerged from the development of a hybrid making technique that combines the traditional ceramic disciplines of slip-casting and throwing. Within an open plaster mould I build layers of printed, poured and painted casting slips, overlaying colours on the porous surface. These designs are incorporated into a cast shell of white earthenware, before mould and cast are fixed centrally to a throwing wheel. A partially thrown cylinder of plastic clay is joined to the cut rim of the still-moulded cast and fully thrown out to form the softly textured upper portion of the piece.These forms are created from two clay bodies and two making processes, they hold both a visual and literal tension. The dual aesthetic of the form is resolved with the careful placement of multilayered layered pigments, engobes and glaze.

The Making Process: layering surface marks.

What makes your work unique?

When creating work my key concerns are composition, mark and surface. The dual nature of my practice allows me to explore these themes across two disciplines and to combine vessel and canvas in composite artworks.

Tall Medium Print Vessel and Monoprint.

Is your work in 2d a precursor to your ceramic work or does it exist have a sole existence?  Tell us about this part of your practice?

The two disciplines of ceramics and printmaking are inextricably linked in my work. Initially my paper monoprints were created as a way to explore surface and mark-making; confined to my sketchbooks they were precursors to ceramic outcomes. However I quickly came to view these 2d pieces as works in their own right and to present them alongside my vessels with equal significance. The dual nature of my practice has driven much of my development as an artist. Over the years the conventions, tools and techniques of the print room have marked my ceramic work, whilst aspects of working with clay have widened my approach to print. This crossover has resulted in richer, more complex ceramic, paper and canvas surfaces than I could have otherwise achieved. 

Installation of 8 Print Beakers at Cavaliero Finn’s A Sense of the Familiar Exhibition
95mm diameter, 95mm height each.
​White earthenware with slip and underglaze decoration.

Since obtaining your MA you have been the recipient of a number of awards.  Is there one that stands out for you personally and if so which one and why?

Winning the British Ceramics Biennial’s ‘Fresh’ award in 2015 was a key moment for me. As well as raising my profile, the prize of an international residency allowed me to develop a specialised mould and the making strategies needed to create my large-scale ceramic hybrid pieces. 

Low Medium Print Vessel

What’s next for you?

I am working on an exciting competition piece this summer that explores and celebrates the ceramic practice of extensive material testing. -announcement coming in the next couple of weeks! I am moving into a much bigger studio this month. This will give me the space I need to create the large scale vessel and installation artworks that are becoming a significant part of my practice

Tell us one piece of advice you would give aspiring ceramicists?

Make the time to be inspired.