‘Pottery and Pastel’ – a retrospective by Chris Hughes
With so much uncertainty at present, it is hardly surprising that people are being drawn to seek out activities that will provide some structure to their day during the pandemic. TV programmes like ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’have certainly fired people’s curiosity during lockdown into attempting new skills and hobbies.
For any creative artist, the stimulus of their media will always be the inspiration for their craft – painters using oils; weavers and their threads; sketchers working with charcoal. Likewise, there is an inherent tactile attraction to the potential of moulding a humble lump of wet clay into an accomplished work of art.
This same appeal is well to the fore in the stoneware ceramics of avid potter, Chris Hughes, who has been perfecting his clay working skills well before the first lockdown hit, producing hand-built bowls, lampshades and clocks from his studio in Ainsdale.
Chris confirms, “It is amazingly accessible. You can buy a bag of clay and make your pots – on the kitchen table or the garden bench – if they go wrong you dry them out and reconstitute the clay and start again.”
Chris goes on to add, “I believe that most artists are drawn to the medium that suits them the best. I like clay. I like the feel of it the way it changes, you can model it, stick it together and build with it, carve into it, colour it and just leave it as the colour of the earth. By training I am a geographer, clay is all about earth, fire and water, pretty similar really.”
A former primary school teacher, Chris began making his pots in the late 1970’s after attending courses at Edge Hill College in Ormskirk run by Brian Cook. As his interest in pottery took hold, Chris undertook night-school classes at Southport College and gained a one-term secondment at St Martin’s College in Lancaster to attend the course ‘Clay as a Teaching Medium’ ran by Barry Gregson of Caton Pottery. It supported teachers from both primary and secondary school to improve their own pottery skills and to learn new and innovative teaching methods to use with the children back at their schools.
More assured in his ability, in 2005 he initially set up a studio – Ainsdale Pottery – in his own back garden. Then, on retirement two years later, Chris enhanced his studio environment by building a full workshop and installing his own kiln. The new studio now provided Chris with the space to increase the quantity of pots he could produce and expand the range of shapes and glazes used to create his original and unique pottery.
All Chris’s pots are hand-built using pinching, coiling and slabbing techniques and glazed in sympathetic natural tones. Favourites are blue and black (Tenmoku) and iron, cobalt and copper oxides enhance his usual surface decoration.
A life-long walker and climber, the landscapes of the Lake District and Snowdonia play a substantial part in the decoration of Chris’ pots and contribute to their overall shape and composition.
Chris’ biggest relief landscape lamp so far (pictured) will be on show at The ArtHouse exhibition. “This is the largest lamp I have ever made, seen here paired with a lamp shade made by Joanne Eddon. The landscape is a scene of the Coniston Fells – Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag as seen from the southern end of Coniston Water. This is a place we have stayed at every year for a very long time and this view means a lot to me and my family.”
Chris also likes to draw, using soft pastels, choosing landscape and abstract subjects. His abstract drawings draw heavily on aspects of the landscape and reflect his own interest in, and educational background, as a graduate in geography.
“I don’t make pots during the winter months as it is impossible to dry the slabs so I concentrate on drawing. I work in pencil, pen and pastel and prefer to work at quite a large scale, but I sketch all the time in reasonably small sketchbooks. I have filled many of these over the years and many more this year. It is just not practical to continue to work at large scale so it is these much smaller sketches that I have looked to make use of in making my cards and coasters.”
Caught out, like some many other artists during the lockdowns, with retail outlets shut, galleries closed and exhibitions cancelled, Chris has been reinforcing his on-line presence. “I have hosted my Ainsdale Pottery website for many years but it has really only worked as a ‘showcase’ and a library of my work. Although I have sold a few items, I have never really tried to do more. But with the closure of all other sales outlets, virtual sites have become far more important. I have certainly become more attentive to Facebook and started to use Instagram more effectively. My son, who is my ‘webmaster’ has created several new sections on the website, most noticeably a ‘shop’.”
Treasurer of, and regular exhibitor with, The Southport Palette Club and also at Lancashire Makers in Churchtown and Ormskirk, Chris will be exhibiting at The ArtHouse in Southport end of July.
Director of Southport Contemporary Arts, Norrie Beswick-Calvert, confirms that “The ArtHouse is pleased to welcome Chris Hughes’ solo exhibition which celebrates Chris’ love of landscape and will feature his contemporary, semi abstract landscapes and his landscape inspired ceramics”.
‘Pottery and Pastel’
27th July – 7th August 2021
Tues-Fri: 10am-3pm/Sat: 11am-4pm
Southport Contemporary Arts
65 Eastbank Street, Southport