Anna Barlow is a young ceramicist born in Bristol and currently living and working in London.
Anna has a BA (Hons) in Ceramics by the Bath Spa University College and has had her work shown in galleries across the world.
Interested in the rituals of food, Anna's sculptures capture fleeting moments in the life of decaying ice-creams. 'I am fascinated by the way we eat food, especially by the rituals around celebrational or indulgent treats that have developed; by the way they are assembled, displayed and then eaten. I am also interested in how food tells a story of the people and place it’s in', says the artist.
Using solely clay, porcelain and glaze, Anna spent 8 years experimenting and researching the right techniques and materials that would allow her sculptures to look as close to real food stuffs as possible; her sumptuous glazes have been amazing her viewers since. It is hard not to view her work without feeling your teeth ache, and her rich colours and finishes leave it up to the viewers to imagine the flavours of her ceramics.
Anna's pieces have been featured in numerous publications such as The Independent, Ceramic Review, Centre of Ceramic Art, Red Bird and BBC, amongst others.
EXHIBITIONS, AWARDS, RESIDENCIES
Sandbox, solo show at Whistleblower Gallery, Brighton UK
Summer Residency, Whistleblower Gallery, Brighton, UK
Useful/Beautiful, Why Craft matters, Harewood house, Yorkshire, UK
Altered States, Studio Eleven, Hull UK
Céramiques Gourmandes, Fondation Bernardaud, Limoges, France
Window Display, Last Tuesday Society, London, UK
Useful/Beautiful; Why Craft Matters, Harewood, Leeds, UK
Miam, miam! Bernardaud Foundation, Limoges, France
Summer Show, Whistleblower Gallery, Brighton, UK
Collect 2018 at Saatchi Gallery, The Cynthia Corbett Gallery, London
Here we go!, Whistleblower Gallery, Brighton, UK
Ceramic Art London, Central St Martins, London
“Spoiled” Solo exhibition, Craft Central, London
Museum of Ice Cream, New York
Palm Springs Art Fair, Rebecca Hossack Gallery
Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Charlotte Street, London
Solo Exhibition, Landmark Shopping Centre, Hong Kong
Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong, Rebecca Hossack Gallery
Affordable Art Fair New York, Rebecca Hossack Gallery
Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, Rebecca Hossack Gallery
Lapada Art and Antiques Fair, Rebecca Hossack Gallery
Art Hamptons, Rebecca Hossack Gallery
GICB Biennale 2015
India Art Fair, Scream booth, New Delhi, India
Summer Exhibition, Scream, London
Deception: Ceramics and Imitation, Group show, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
London Art Fair, Bicha Gallery
Collect, Saatchi Gallery, London
AAF Singapore, Bicha Gallery
AAF Hampstead, Bicha Gallery
Savouring the Remnants, solo exhibition, Bicha Gallery
AAF Stockholm, Bicha Gallery
Royal Academy Summer Show 2012
Ceramic Art London 2012
AAF New York, Bicha Gallery
We sometimes have other available works by Anna Barlow, or can accept commissions. Please get in touch if you want to know more.
A conversation with Anna Barlow
by Noemí Cámara
Thank you so much for meeting with me today and for showing me around your studio.
Thank you for coming!
It’s so nice to see all these little bits of sweets, cupcake cups and ice-creams laying around. I find it very interesting to see how you construct a piece using all of these…
Yes – although I have gone a bit crazy with the bucket (picture below)… it’s an experiment of sorts.
There’s so much detail in it! All the different textures and glazes and variations…
Shall we start talking a bit about how you got started as a ceramicist?
Yes, let’s do that! Originally… well I was very lucky that I managed to do Ceramics all through schooling. I don’t think a lot of people do that now… At Primary School they had a kiln so I got to do a bit of pottery there. In my Secondary School they had a very good Pottery Department as well; I then moved to Cornwall where, again, they had an amazing Pottery Department. So I guess I have been doing this for a very long time!
I didn’t necessarily think that I was going to be a potter but I went on and chose an A-Level in Ceramics. So I guess it was a natural progression. By the end of my A-Level I decided I really liked clay. It took me that long!
I moved to Cornwall and met this old potter called Tom Fisher. He was a proper potter in a freezing cold studio with a toothpick hanging from his mouth… He let me go and make my stuff there. So I hung out with many potters for that whole year. After that I decided I'd pursue a degree in Ceramics.
After my degree I was desperate to become somebody’s assistant because I felt that would teach me how to learn more about how to use my imagination and get my ideas together.
I came to London and I was very lucky to intern for Kate Malone. I’m still actually working for her.
How was the experience of working with her?
Oh, I learned so much! I think working with someone who is really established, you don’t just learn the best skills but also how they are managing their life, their career, their family…
Were you always interested in art? How was your upbringing in terms of your exposure to it?
Well, it was always the thing I liked doing. Very early on I think I just said ‘I just want to be an artist’. I liked the idea of the simplicity of making something and selling it, and then making another thing and existing in that way. My mum and dad weren’t particularly ‘arty’ but, weirdly, my mum’s parents were portrait painters: My grandfather went to the Royal Academy and my grandmother, amazingly, went to the Royal College… Although I actually never met them! My mum always encouraged me… Funnily, I think it was at my first show, she had never mentioned anything before, all of a sudden she said my ancestors, before my grandparents, had been working in the pottery business… they all had worked in Stoke-On-Trent! Really weird…
Can I ask you who or what inspired you?
Honestly, I think the first ceramicist that really inspired me was Kate Malone so it was kind of weird to go and work with her. She was making really colourful pieces. I remember not being interested in brown pottery back then so when I came across some of her work… well, I really connected with it. It was an amazing impact and it really drew me… I also always loved Frida Kahlo.
Another person that kind of got me into the idea of food and ceramics was a lady called Morgan Hall. She came to lecture at Bath, where I was studying, and told us that once she was making these great big pots and she was just making and making and making, and she was finding it all a bit tedious, and was wondering what the problem was with it all until she decided she was going to design a vase for the sole purpose of storing marshmallows. That idea made her happy so she kept at it. And then one day, apparently, she went around to her client’s house and found her pot standing proudly in the kitchen actually filled with marshmallows!
I think from that point on I just thought, well, why not just fulfill a fantasy… food is so meaningful to all of us!
'Why not just fulfill a fantasy… food is so meaningful to all of us!.'
How did you end up making deserts, sweets, ice-creams?
It was very interesting to me to think about the way people were eating food. It was quite fashionable at that time, it probably still is, to look at the rituals of eating. I became fascinated by food but also with its relationship with ceramics. Obviously those two subjects are naturally interconnected. I thought about this and realized that rather than making a teapot I could probably make something else that was more me… I mean, I could make a pot for sprouts but that wasn’t really it. At the same time I started to think about ice-creams and what ice-cream meant; when you are eating ice-cream you’re not eating it for your health, it is quite a frivolous thing to do, you’re eating it maybe to celebrate, to gather. Also, ice-cream is only here for a second; it’s not a food that is going to last; it’s a one moment treat. So I started making giant ice-cream bowls… but they weren’t working. I started to experiment with the concept. I did many sketches of out-of-balance ice-cream bowls… I tried and tried and tried but the idea just wasn’t working… then I started to realize that ice-cream is usually presented in glass for the purpose of seeing its beauty, its colours… It took a little while but I realized it was actually the ice-cream that I was interested in making rather than the bowl it went in…
How did you arrive at the narrative about gluttony and the psychological nuances of experiencing a food-related treat?
To start with the ice-creams I was making at first were huge. I made one which was seven foot tall; it was kind of climbing up a mirror so you could look at its reflection… That piece was just about the pure fantasy, the gluttony… that sort of thing. Then once day I decided to concentrate on ice-cream being quite precious and small… So I took it back to a smaller size, a more natural size, and, suddenly, it became very much just about the moment, about capturing it before it would melt, before it would disappear. As time went on it became more about the story and possibilities about the ice-cream. What happens if you put an ice-cream on top of a cushion? Does it become a domestic object then? Is eating it about having a moment alone, and if so, is that an indulgent happy moment or is it sad and ridden with guilt? I discovered so many things around the story behind it…
It’s interesting because you have the excess of it, the gluttony aspect of it, which may be read as somewhat obscene, but it also has a more intimate and delicate reading… I guess the pieces provoke many reactions depending perhaps on the viewer’s own personal experience with food.
Absolutely! I often read about the history of food and its role in different societies. I think your approach to looking at and presenting your work is so current yet also somewhat reminiscent of periods such as that of Careme, Escoffier or even Ancient Rome or the Middle Ages...
When I was researching to do this interview I came across a conversation you had had with a journalist where you were discussing the politics of art and consumerism. I thought it was really interesting to see how conscious you were about your pieces provoking that type of dialogue…
Yes, indeed. When I came to London I didn’t have much money but I always could buy a cupcake from, maybe, Selfridges for £3… most people have that money, hopefully they do anyway, and I really liked the idea that you could kind of live a mundane life with not much excitement but you could still buy this small perfect cake in a small box, and give you that access to luxury, to a more exciting experience… that idea really appealed to me. I think that’s why cupcakes became so successful.
The idea of consumerism really came from the shoes. I had been working really hard in my studio for a big show. I hadn’t really been out much. I tend to sort of borrow in the studio…. The first day I came out I went to Oxford Street, I think it was the time when the economy was quite peculiar; I had heard on the radio that the heights of women’s heels get taller when there’s less money in the system. That really stuck in my head. Apparently people get more showy, there’s more sequins... And I remember going to Top Shop and everything had sequins on it, everything was sparkly, all the shoes were so tall as well, I had never seen anything like it! It really made such an impact. And it also made me think about how we treat out stuff. We kind of have this beautiful thing on a window display, it’s the thing we need the most, we really, really want it, we buy it and it’s so precious to us we don’t even dare putting it on, it’s so new and so perfect, then you start wearing it; the first time you are happy, then you get used to them very quickly… and, well, eventually it ends up in Oxfam! With ice-cream it’s the same, it looks so pretty, all the colours, all the flavours, so you first buy it and are so excited about it… by the second or third lick it doesn’t taste as good, half way through it you start to wonder if you should get going… So I felt there was this weird connection between desire and anticipation, and then started to look at what happens when you fulfill that desire… it just became this idea of ‘your shoes are kind of melting away… all your hopes and desires’!!!
I look at Instagram, which I’m quite addicted to, and that too has the instant quality we are talking about, that instant satisfaction, it seems like Instagram may not be so good for you, just like sugar, but you can’t resist it. So I started to look at it as a way of researching and following food trends. I really want to make sure that the things that I’m making are of this time too. Doughnuts are big now, so I have to do doughnuts and I want to make sure they are sparkly, and have sprinkles on it, everything has to be embellished and shiny!
I’m curious… Are you a baker yourself?
Yes, I do like to make cakes. I’m always the one that’ll make the birthday cake, you know… I’m slightly obsessed about it!
We are showing some of your sculptures in the gallery (including the bucket!), and they do provoke opposite reactions. Is that something you are aware of?
It’s hilarious! Some people hate them! They get really upset by them sometimes, which is so funny! I love that. If I’m honest, some people are really good at denying themselves ‘the treat’. Some people are very good at discipline and won’t have food that’s not good for them. They’ll view my sculptures under a very different light. I don’t think I’m making something that appeals to everyone.
I had this couple who saw one of my cushion ice-cream. The lady said, you know, 'I get that, I totally get that, you’re at home, and you’re happy… you’re enjoying the moment…', whereas her husband said, 'Really? I don’t get that at all… I don’t really want to look at it…' It is like a mirror of people’s habits.
I would like to ask you about the process of experimentation that helped you discover the glazes you use.
Well, I have said in the past it took me eight years but it really did take me about 12 years all together! I mean, I’m always learning… I started experimenting during my first year at university and during the whole first year of having my studio I dedicated it almost entirely to glazes. I started putting colour into the glaze and then experimenting with edible-looking shades and materials from different suppliers, combinations of textures, etc; but yeah, it’s still ongoing… and it’s not just the glaze, I use lots of different clays as well, for me I think it’s probably the interplay between a high-fired porcelain, which would be the pastry or the paper cases, and the icing… that sort of static flat colour… I play around with colours that are sponged onto the dry surface which can give it a little bit of a sheen so it looks like it has a bit of butter on it, and then it’s about the fluidity of the glaze… I think it’s that’s relationship that kind of makes it feel like it’s melting.
'I break a lot of rules when it comes to ceramics which often comes back to bite me… '.
How do you initiate the process of creating a sculpture. Do you start knowing what you will make or is it still a process of experimentarion?
A bit of both. I’ll have an idea of what I’ll want to make. More often than not I’ll spend quite a few weeks building a bank of things I’ll end up playing with. So I’ll make all of the macaroons and the pastry cases and doughnuts, get them all ready and prepared in big storage boxes, and then I kind of work intuitively but very much with an idea in mind. For example, with my bucket piece that you are showing at Whistleblower, I made a mould of the bucket, I press-moulded it, then there was a moment where I thought ok, right, here I go… I guess it’s quite a daring moment when I have to take the work that I have been making for a few weeks and then start playing with it, trying to forget that I have put too much work into it, I have to take risks; I feel that that’s part of what I want it to come across in the work, that there’s a story behind it, it has been dropped or smashed up… there’s that moment of control which I really enjoy, I guess I like that factory work approach. Then I have to let it dry for quite some time and hope it doesn’t crack. The next thing is the glazing, which is another risk on top of that. I break a lot of rules when it comes to ceramics which often comes back to bite me… Sometimes I’ll put a porcelain piece inside of another and will let it dry for as long as I can afford it… but porcelain is quite sensitive and every time I fire it I’m taking a risk. So yeah, I can sketch as much as I like but then I really have to work intuitively as I go along both to create a piece as well as to see how the materials that make it are going to react.
What are you currently working on?
My other new thing is black glass and introducing black into the sculptures. I’ve noticed that there’s something vaguely aggressive in my work. I went through a period where I was using pink quite violently. I was putting pink on pink on pink. People understand that this is quite a monstrous thing. It’s pretty but it’s also quite savage. I realized there are quite a lot of people that saw that as a symbol of happiness. I’m just interested in discovering a darkness to my work. The connection between serious stuff and sugary stuff is what I’m really interested to explore.
Where do you see progressing to?
Ah! Gosh! I don’t know… But I always see myself building knowledge. I have an almost instinctive feeling that everything I’m doing is a build-up to something. I don’t know exactly what that’ll be, or where that will take me but with every piece I always have a feeling I’m learning something new to take me someplace else in the future. I don’t know… I also see maybe portrait or figurative work… I think every piece is leading to the next one so we will see!
Well, I can’t wait to see some of that! Thanks so much for the chat.
Interview, photography and design © by Whistleblower Gallery, 2018. All rights reserved.
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