23 Jul Sue Creswell – Artist Interview
Sue was interviewed by Vicki Steward from Normal For Glastonbury.
(Feature Image by Luka Cresswell)
I interviewed Sue in her little flat in Glastonbury High Street. Every surface was given over to her work in various stages of completion. Even the tiny preparation space in her kitchen was dedicated to her ceramics. I was completely gobsmacked that she managed to produce such exquisite ceramics in a very limited space, it is a great testament to her passion for her art. I can only imagine what wonders she will produce when she has the studio her creativity deserves.
When did you start making art?
“I have always been artistic and musical. As a child I loved lying on my belly in the garden, looking down into the grass, observing everything, intoxicated by the smell of the ground. I think that’s where my love of clay came from. I started working with clay in my first year of High School, my art teacher was Mr Rosenburg, he had long hair and a beard, a proper 1970’s hippy and a potter. Towards the end of High school when we were thinking about our next step my next art teacher thought I should go to Art college, but my Dad had recently died in a car crash and Mum was worried about not being able to earn money as an artist so at that time Art school was out of the question. I ended up studying hairdressing at the local art college (ironically),because it was a little bit arty!
I worked as a senior stylist in a large salon for about 4 years but after visiting Pilton Pop festival a couple of times I sold my small flat in Luton and moved to Wookey Hole to work in the Pub and explore watercolour painting. At that time Philpa Bowers was living in the Chapel there and was creating her amazing sculptures. I’ve alway been inspired by her as I remember seeing her working in the Glastonbury Experience on my first visit and feeling a deep connection to the process.
About fifteen or so years later, after spending ten years nursing a family member, I treated myself to a Pottery day class at Strode with Pauline Watson. She ran the ceramics department, was chair of Somerset Art Weeks and had also been involved with setting up Dove Studio with Mike Dodd. I absolutely loved those classes and ended up attending for seven years or so. Pauline taught me everything she knew and the ceramics department at Strode is a wonderful resource.
I remember we had an end of year show for my second year at Strode and one of my pots sold to an artist who wanted to put her paintbrushes in it. It was a wonderful experience handing over that little slip decorated pot to someone who also seemed to love it so much but it was also really hard to let it go! We had an end of year sale and I donated all the things that to my mind hadn’t ‘worked’ . To my surprise all my stuff sold and I wondered “What’s wrong with people?” But there is a lesson there about Ceramics. It’s a process, you create something then give it over to the flames which transform it, especially in the beginning, beyond your control. You can become attached to how you think it will work out and be really really disappointed with the results! I have heard many potters say it can take several days,weeks or even years to get over a kiln firing. But others know nothing of this and see your work for the first time without any of your emotional attachment to an imagined result.
I have sold lots of my work over the years but never enough to make a living from it, as every piece is different and therefore takes quite a while to make. So I have also worked at several B&B’s over the years including the Chalice Well, whilst bringing up my daughter. I have been working full time in care and support for the last eight years .I am now a self employed Micro Provider, registered with the county and I am the local approved carers network lead for Glastonbury, Street and the surrounding villages. I feel proud of this Network as it links all the self employed care and support workers with County Council, and all the referrers such as social workers etc . Hopefully as people become more aware of us the public will be able to access the support they need more easily. But it also links all of us workers together for peer support and professional development. I run this group voluntarily with the help of two other amazing dedicated women.
It was as part of my business as a micro provider, I had a spare afternoon and went and volunteered at Heads Up in Wells. Initially, to support people to use the garden, but this very quickly ended up with me helping people in the small pottery studio there. I hadn’t touched any clay for a while at that point, due to having had to move and my small studio being packed up in boxes in storage, but I realised just how much a part of me clay really is! So I enrolled in what turned out to be Pauline’s last class at Strode. At that time I also bumped into Donna Norton who I had been at Strode with all those years ago, she offered me to fire my work in her kiln. She has been really encouraging, she had used Pauline’s kiln when she started out so she knows what it’s like.
When they put a call out for artists at Heart of the Tribe, Donna encouraged me to apply. The team here at Heart of the tribe are really positive, encouraging, kind and understanding of what it can be like to be ‘Artistic’. It is wonderful to have a home in the gallery for my work, which means I can continue creating and exploring. It’s been such a shame its had to shut in lockdown
At present my ‘micro’ studio and lack of any space for a kiln really does hamper my work and prevents me from making many of the things I dream of making, as does having to work most of the week. The one good thing about working at home is that I’m always thinking about pottery and sometimes I have to get up at 3am to make a thumb pot!”
Where do you get your inspiration?
“The list here is endless….Japanese Pottery, African pottery, all the different ways of building and firing. When I get a lump of clay, every lump is different, so I make something different out of it. I’ve done a lot of Glastonbury Tor themed work and often include local wild flowers and plants. Potters are very often of the landscape where they live. I love the first view of the Tor as you come from Bristol. It symbolizes everything good about this place to me.
I also have an allotment, so that’s another way I work with the earth. I do the ‘no dig’ method. It’s more of a garden and a nature reserve than an allotment really. I’ve got a little pond, I love it. People say I’m quite earthy, grubbing about in mud suits me. I like sitting out on the levels sketching and listening to the birds. I am finding a lot of inspiration out there at the moment and I feel like using this in an abstract way is brewing up at present.
I’m turning my car into a bit of a camper van so I can stay out and be closer to nature and travel down to Cornwall more often. I am Cornish on my mum’s side and feel a great connection to the landscape down there also. If I didn’t live here I’d love to live in Cornwall”.
Are there any potters whose work you particularly admire?
“Too many to mention, but I will just a few… Philippa Bowers obviously, Mike Dodd, Phil Rogers, Jason Wasson, Craig Underhill, Lucy Rie, Andy Ward for his use of wild clays, Keith Brymer Jones because he cries with the joy of it all and so do I and Greyson Perry for all his work especially in lockdown…there are many, many more. I use Instagram a lot and follow hundreds of potters and many follow me @gigis.garden. I also get inspiration from watching videos on youtube, African women spending hours beating out a pot, but then I don’t end up making exactly the same thing. My recent large vessels have been coiled and beaten in a very similar way to African potters but the decoration went in a totally different direction”.
What themes come up in your work?
“As a young girl my Nan taught me all the names of the wild flowers and how to look closely at them to identify them. I include a lot of wild flowers in my work. Sometimes, I look at something and decide to replicate it, but then I get the clay out and it’s not what the clay wants to do, so I end up making something else. Sometimes once I’ve built the form I can see patterns and ghosts of shapes on the surface of it that want to come out in the surface decoration.
One of the first things I made at college was a little moon, so I’ve continued developing them over the years. At the moment they are small on little plinths, I’ve got so many ideas for things to do and make. I’m developing some amazing porcelain lamps at the moment, shot glasses, vases, vessels, Moon sculptures, mugs and jugs. I want to make really big stuff. If I had the studio space I don’t know what I’d make first, probably a really big vessel, with multiple layers of decoration and firings finishing with a gold lustre layer on the one thing. The other day I was sitting out on the Levels, there was a fence post made out of a railway sleeper with amazing patterns on the surface. It is right alongside where the railway line used to be and appears to be many years old. I’ve taken an impression of this with clay….luckily only one person saw me doing this! I’m going to use this mould to create textured vessels”.
Ultimately, I’d love to be able to get up every morning and just start making, see where the creative process of working with the clay on that day takes me. In a larger studio I’d like to splash slip around far more freely than I can at present. Make really big bowls, which I love doing and larger amounts of smaller pieces like mugs and small bowls.
I’m trying to just play in a really free spirited way with clay and hopefully convey my love of the medium and nature to everyone. It’s the same with my garden, I don’t try and bully it, if something comes up I tend to edge myself around it. I like the idea of people seeing my stuff and wanting to touch it, I even kiss some of my pieces while I’m making them”.
Sue has a permanent collection work on display at Heart of The Tribe Gallery and you can see what else she gets up to by following her on Instagram