Multi-media Artist x Ceramist and Founder of Kana London
22/ Conversation With Friends - Alessandra Chambers and Ana Kerin
For the first Conversations with Friends feature of 2021 we get to read this refreshing exchange of questions between PE artist and founder of hand-made homewares and interior art studioAEAND, Alessandra Chambers, and ceramist, sculptor, and founder of Kana London, Ana Kerin.
We love being a fly on the wall as they discuss their unique work processes, how they deal with creative block, nostalgia, and the importance of a good working space. We hope you enjoy this long-form interview, exchanged over WhatsApp throughout the various lockdowns that happened last year, and the beautiful imagery combining Alessandra’s PE debut collection ‘STILL LIFE . SERIES I’ in the dreamy backdrop of Ana’s ceramic studio.
Alessandra - Ana, My first question is what do you do when you are feeling creatively blocked or stagnant?
Ana - I've taken my time with this one. I had to think really hard. I don’t think I ever feel really creatively blocked or stagnant. I feel frustrated sometimes (often) with figuring out the technicality of how to make something.
My huge challenge lies in how to deal with running about 10-15 years behind with making all the ideas I have. Like these furniture pieces I started sketching and designing when I was at uni and they are still a WIP, I have about 2 scripts in the making. Random starts of chapters for 3 books. 65 not yet developed or scanned rolls of film and one day I need to put that website together for my photography that I have been paying domain for about 10 years. Same with domain for my fine art. I am a very scattered person and I am torn between about 15 things I would like to be doing at the very same minute.
My challenge lies in how not to freeze. Procrastinate. Overthink. Panic. Give up without trying. Let the overwhelming feeling of “I will never make it all work“ and focus on one breath at the time, one project. And move forward step by step slowly manifesting and creating at least ONE thing at once.
Alessandra - Love this - so curious! Having ideas is such an exciting feeling, the inception stage is so powerful. I find it quite helpful to have a notebook with ideas. And to be able to come back to this from time to time.
Ana - My first question for you is, How do you feel when you are making your work. What does this process mean to you and bring to you?
Alessandra - So... when I am creating is when I feel truly my most confident. I am alone and comfortable in myself. I know what I want, what I like and most of the time have a pretty clear idea of how I’m going to get there. Even if something isn’t going the way I want it to... I quite enjoy that cathartic feeling of getting frustrated and scribbling over the page or just saying ‘fuck this’ and screwing it up. It’s definitely a feeling and an emotional process. I think you know immediately ‘yes this is working, or no, I don’t feel this’... outside of my practice I can lack in confidence from time to time, so for me, to be in my own head and be excited by my own ideas, feel confident and decisive is a really nice space to be in.
I am trying more to commit to completing pieces of work... even if I’m 10 seconds in and am thinking it’s no what I intended I’m trying to keep going, rather than giving up... I’m not sure why but I’m hoping it’s good for my patience 😂 I also try to keep things for as long as possible because your opinions change...
When I am printing I find this really therapeutic because it so physical, especially the way I work with cutouts. I am spontaneously creating the design as I am going, so there is a lot of movement, repetition. I love that it is such a process, every step. Getting out the equipment, prepping the space, the screen, creating the cutouts, mixing the ink, ironing the fabric etc and then the whole pack down is a whole other process in itself. It’s a labour of love for sure, but one I find really rewarding.
Ana - HAHAHA I love the second bit - I can relate so much. Do we all create these beliefs and limitations or play game with ourselves and it’s hard to tell sometimes if it’s helpful or not. But I believe in the intuition here guiding us a lot.
Ana - Just a thought / and also kind of under question - do you work simultaneously on many pieces at once that are in different phases? I find this so helpful and pushed my work so much. As one development feeds the other, and while I might sometimes overdue one piece this way I can step back work on a different piece and give myself some time to think... and thank I have this moments of clarity when I can return back and continue working... I can see how much it helps the “growth” or development of my work... maybe it’s also down to the fact that working so intuitively and quite fast. So I need to allow time in between phases to reflect... do you feel similar as I know you work in “batches”?
Alessandra - For sure, I am always working on different pieces at once, mainly because there are certain stages where I can’t physically be doing the work, like having to wash fabric, letting the ink dry and cure, etc. I often have piles of different cloth and paper lying around in drawers ready to pick up and hop from project to project. It feels a bit intense knowing you’re going to sit down to do the same task all day, I like to have variety.
Ana - Oh! Same. So intense. And intimidating and somehow frustrating sometimes. Almost “fearing” the fact of knowing that’s it now for the next 8 hours. I feel you very much. It helps that our process actually helps us to have a dynamic work routine. For me is also so much of the phases. Prep, asking, making, washing, drying, continuing, sometimes are weeks in between while work is drying or firing and I am piling up working on a batch to glaze it at once! The washing up phase seems to be 80% of working with clay though…
Alessandra - This is so true of printing too! The actual printing is 20%!
Alessandra - I know you love to cook, and this is something I really love and warm to about you. What is the most nostalgic food for you?
Ana - Yes you are right. I adore food. And I love to cook. I think about food, recipes, flavours and textures a lot of the time. It inspires me so much.
My most nostalgic food is such a hard one. I think the longer I live away from home the more nostalgic I am and there are different feelings attached to that. I am longing for things I can’t do, such as picking wild herbs and drying them for tea in the winter. Picking mushrooms and making them in a mushroom soup or sauce that goes with potatoes like my grandma would do it. And picking blueberries. Basically, I am nostalgic a lot about all the foraging with my family. But as a dish - tarragon, mushrooms, and potatoes - the combination of these flavours.
Alessandra - Yes, tarragon, and mushrooms are such a delicious combination! My mum recently made me an Ottolenghi recipe, almost like a mushroom broth with tarragon, it was delicious. I’ll have to find the recipe and send it to you.
There is a great pick your own farm down here in Sussex which is such a beautiful day out, we should do it next year. You have to take a little knife with you to cut down your veg, like broccoli, cauliflower, etc. And you dig out your carrots with a pitchfork. It’s so much fun and so rewarding. I also love when you are on country walks and go by big blackberry bushes, having a little break, and snacking on some blackberries.
My most nostalgic food is stuzzichini which my grandpa used to make. Stuzzichini is of course an appetizer/nibble, but my grandpa used to always make me a little plate of different cheeses onto broken pieces of Ryvita or dried bread dipped in olive oil, and he called it stuzzichini. I loved Pecorino with Ryvita. That is so nostalgic for me.
Ana - Oh delicious! Please let’s do days of foraging and visiting the farm. This literally sounds like my dream day. I feel quite embarrassed about how little I spend in the country in these 9 years living in London. London sucks you in. And it’s hard to leave. You've always been so good at it! I always seek the sun and heart. But this year I really appreciated local trips and I did always feel so fond and in love with the landscape and the weather! Also, we should do Sloe berries picking end of summer and make loads of sloe gin for the winter!
I like the sound of your grandpa. Your Grandpa knew how important snacking is. And cheese. I think we would get along.
Ana - When we worked on our ceramic wall mural piece we were having some very nice conversations and you once described yourself as an “organizer of shapes” - do you still feel this way? Your latest series of pieces for Partnership Editions really reminded me of that and I loved it so much when you said it…
Alessandra - I loved spending that time in the studio with you! And it was so fun to realise those shapes and forms in clay.
For sure, I get so excited about arranging things and how things ‘fit’ together.. the negative space between things and the conversation shapes/forms/objects have between each other. So yes, ‘organiser of shapes’ is still my abstract title!
Ana - I love your abstract title. For me, you will be always “organiser of shapes”.
I loved that time we had in the studio together and the project as well! it was amazing to be in the studio together, to work with you to hang out and chat. But also showing someone the process of clay and seeing how they respond to it. It’s always very interesting for me and it’s part of the collaboration process I love. I still hope to get a huge mural commission signed off where I could get you on it, as I think our piece had such great potential!
Alessandra - do you have any particular colours that you are drawn to, and why?
Ana - Definitely it’s somehow ongoing - particularly shades of blue. Terracotta and “yellow and ochre” I also see black coming in and out from my work. I think because I love black ink and charcoal so much...
It’s strange but because the colours I work with are definitely reflections of the space I adore and I am from which is the Mediterranean. They are a reflection of nature but also almost of my emotional landscapes as they are visual memories of the time I spent there. You can see in my colours the vast sea and skies, rocks, red and all the other colours of the soil, greenery of the olive groves and vineyards, and that burned golden landscapes in the late summer. It’s just so visually strong! In the winter we have kaki trees that are beautiful.
Alessandra - Bright oranges against dark browns are one of my favourite colour-ways - I love this about winter here. Winterberries and Rowan tree, just delightful!
My holidays growing up were in the Mediterranean or visiting family in Italy, so I have a real craving and connection to this kind of environment, the colours, landscape, food, interiors is just pure escapism for me. This was really fun actually to bring out in my first collection of oil pastels works for Partnership Editions, which we recently shot in your studio. It was interesting to see how that mutual interest in the Mediterranean palette was so clear when the artworks were in your studio. They just fitted in so beautifully. It was very visually satisfying.
I think for me colour wise, because I love working with natural materials, they are often untampered in colour so are very neutral tones. I love working with linen and organic cotton when you can still see parts of the plant in its raw state like small pieces of flax, or the flecks in cotton which are from the plant, I also love this because it reminds me of vanilla seeds in gelato - and for me, vanilla gelato is an all time favourite!
Ana - I agree! The kaki Persimmon is the same as Rowan trees? It all makes so much sense. I can see your Mediterranean love all over in your work. And you are right it was amazing how our work just incredibly fitted together.
With your latest series I noticed something else. I feel that your work is more than even merging with the space you live and work in. That the brightness and lightness and the ocean views are very present somehow in tranquility and simplicity and lightens for the new paper cuts.
I always noticed that the studio space where I work really influences my work. That it completely transforms it. And I really love my current studio space. It gave me space to breathe to go big with my work and explore the scale! The light is so interesting as well it keeps traveling in patches across the space but it doesn’t have windows on the sides mostly on the ceiling which strangely feels like I relate less and less to the “outside world” and coming more and more into work from really myself.I am more intrigued to go deep with my own internal world and feelings, which is both beautiful and challenging.
I am nostalgic sometimes over my studio in Regents studios that has a walk of windows on the 7th floor where the views were so grand and you could see from far west of Hampstead Heath right to the far east. It definitely reflected in my work and especially in my way I worked with colours and glazed. It’s when I developed many of the glazes I still use now.
Ana - I am interested to hear about your relationship with the space you work in...
Alessandra - Great question and great observation. You’re probably right! I have lived by the sea my entire life, except for short spells living in Berlin, France and London. But I adore the sea and it is really important to me. I take walks by the sea most days and I certainly find it inspiring, and wonder what I can take from this to bring into my own work.
I am obsessed with the fact that the beach for me is like this huge gallery of sculptures. Everything on the beach is unique. I love collecting stones that look like little sculptures, and they often remind me of some of my favourite artists like jean arp, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, etc.
But I digress. Often my work is driven by materials and I am drawn to certain materials for their colour or texture or what they are composed of. I just immediately fell in love with that soft seafoam/sage green paper and brought a bunch of it. At the time I had no intention for it I just knew I should buy some. When I did the small textile hangings ‘MAQUETTE’ series using the vintage Japanese ticking cloth, I really wanted to bring more of a sense of simplicity and balance, and brightness as you say. I often print in earth tones, and my relationship with print/colour is a weird one. I don’t tend to wear any print ever, and I dress usually quite tonal, neutral. So I have been obsessed with the challenge of creating subtle print. I believe less is always best with print. When I used to work for print studios it was always more, more, more... like people see high detail and lots of colour as value for money in a print almost. Which always frustrated me. I think simplicity is best, and I like that it takes a bit of resistance.
Alessandra - Ok so my last question for you has to be... whilst we are having this conversation, you are in Mallorca (can’t explain the envy) and you are on a month-long residency - tell me how this has been for you, what have you been working on - artistically and emotionally. Have you had any ‘pings’ in Lacey Phillips terms, moments of clarity, and ideas for the year ahead?
Ana - Haha fair question! Sorry to be rubbing it in! Yes, Majorca is a dream place and this residency was my dream come true. is a very new residency, we have been their first official group. It came at the best possible time in so many ways. ( all my work have almost completely stopped as UK went into the second lockdown ) and it came at my breaking point. I feel really burned out and emotionally depleted after this year. I really needed to step away and have a look at my work and my life from some perspective. Somehow going away, nature, slowing down always brings this perfect opportunity to have the ultimate mirror, reflection on where you are at. I love art residencies for that. They are ultimately a conversation with yourself you never wanted to have while also an ultimate opportunity to be better/to do better at your daily or studio life routines.
I always feel we come to residencies for different reasons. I am looking for ultimate freedom, having no obligations nothing in my schedule, and allowing to sit, think, stare at the wall or at the view while allowing that coming to a stillness inside me ideas surface and bubble.
As soon as I arrived I felt like a strong swell like sea waves in coming under my skin and not stopping. Like it’s been waiting there And I had finally time to just be in the studio for x amount of hours at random time of the day or night and work, experiment, mess things up, try, experiment and repeat and see the work in front of your eyes coming together over a longer Period of time.
I guess ultimately it’s also looking for challenge. Ultimately I always have had a dream of having two bases and having a good work-life balance. Also between my design work, commissions, then teaching, retreats, and my artwork. I can’t work if I don’t have enough space and time. So I have been craving this studio time a lot. And I am learning to work with these phases and the flow I need.
It was amazing to see light to so many of my work that has been living inside me. I am so glad to have introduced you to the girls and really hoping you will be attending one of their future residencies! ☁️🌊🌾 I hope I can make it back too. I think my resolution will be one residency a year is a must. But I also trust the timing that they come when the time is right.
Well you kind of started already to talk about what I wanted to bring in with the last question in your answer to my previous question, so it’s perfect to link it together. I saw your creative path and growth over the last 4/5? years and we meet in person when we both exhibited during LDF in 2017... I have always loved your work. But I can not even explain what a magical transformation and huge leap in quality ( if I may say so! ) and just integrity, depth, and profoundly how strong is your work now in the last year... after you did your big change of direction and went into research phase with exploring natural dye for screen printing and papers and suddenly this incredible transformation and all the things I saw before were such a clear seed for searching something and developing your distinctive style but from that moment onwards it feels it’s like incredible shift and it all exploded into most amazing work.
Ana - I am curious about your thought process and experience on how you went through these conscious steps? It’s very beautiful to see an artist flourish like this! And I feel it would be very insightful for many creatives to read this.
Alessandra - I am honestly so humbled and flattered by this comment and observation of my work - so thank you! Whilst I was living in London a year or so ago I began experimenting with creating my own printing inks by extracting colour from natural materials. I am obsessed with materials that come from nature, which I think is what I love about textiles, the fact that it all starts as a crop and then becomes this incredible diverse resource.
In this case, I think it was a natural step for me to start exploring natural colour. It’s something I haven’t totally nailed yet in terms of colour & light fastness, so the inks I use currently are still ecologically friendly, but eventually, I would like to have my own handmade, natural inks integrated into my collections of work.
In September 2019 a lot of things were coming to a close for me in London - my part-time work, the lease on my flat, and an opportunity arose for me to move into a friend's flat back by the sea in Hove, I decided to just take the leap and leave London. I never really felt connected to London, I’ve always grown up by the sea and this is something I missed so strongly. It has been the most amazing catalyst for my work, and in some ways, the move has given me this great sense of clarity.
Something I was worried about with leaving London was this idea of being disconnected from the place where ‘everything is happening’, but actually I think that distance has made me so much more focussed on my work, my process and keeping relationships as strong as possible from a distance. As I said previously I am most confident when I am working creatively and right now, my work and my process feels intrinsic to me, I really don’t think too much about it, it's like breathing, it just happens.