For this ‘Work In Progress’ we're invited into the Sussex Downs studio of fine artist and ceramicist Pollyanna Johnson, who is launching her collection ‘Hounded’ on Tuesday 12th April.
Here she delves into the significance of this collection, from the women in art history she portrays on her hand-made ceramic plates to the experiences of sexism women continue to endure which inspire her powerful artworks.
I have a studio in the garden which overlooks the Sussex Downs, where I experiment with shapes and play around with clay. This is a messy process and I don't take it too seriously. After the pieces are fired once, I then spend days in the study, planning, and painting onto the pieces. I have always loved sitting for hours listening to audiobooks, getting lost in detailed painting.
I have an archive of women from art that I want to paint, and I'm slowly working my way through them.
Often portraits are serious and it seems fitting to add a strong phrase like ‘Don’t tell me to Fucking smile’. I always think the women I portray most probably faced sexism, maybe they were even told to smile. When I was painting one of these plates, a friend called me to inform me someone had just told her to smile, and that she was lost for words. Being told to smile is such a loaded remark, and my retort is now fired onto a plate for permanence.
The idea of this expletive being used stems from figures in art history like Daphne and Apollo. Daphne transforms into a laurel tree to escape Apollo’s sexual advances, and I imagined her saying at the time ‘Will you just fuck off’. The beautiful painting of Daphne and Apollo by Rene-Antoine Houasse inspired my small platters.
I love old objects that tell a story, so try to make my pieces feel timeless. I think a simple way of doing this is using cobalt blue on white to create a traditional Delft style. In this collection, I have used a black and white palette, as I love the stark contrast of the black on white slipped ceramic.
Motto plates and other ceramic pieces from the 1600s are my main source of inspiration, but also the portraits from which I take my women, hugely shape how my pieces turn out.
Opening the kiln can be exhilarating or devastating, or somewhere in between. Me and my partner usually run up the garden in our pyjamas to open the kiln most mornings, as it is like Christmas. It can be exciting but also tense, and quite often things don’t turn out how you expect them to. Taking away some of the control you have with a piece can be frustrating but also freeing in many ways.