For this ‘In the Studio’ feature, we chat with new Partnership Editions artist Pollyanna Johnson about the process behind creating her beautiful ceramic pieces. She takes us inside her studio, sharing insights on her debut collection 'Eyes That Follow You' and the influences that shape her work from English delftware to the Guerrilla Girls.
How did you become an artist, what's your training and background?
Spending hours drawing as a child, I never really considered doing anything else. My BA was at Chelsea College of Art, followed by a Masters in Drawing at The Royal Drawing School. My work has always been highly detailed, figurative drawings and paintings, with a strength for building tone. My ceramic work feels like a natural progression and exploration into the surfaces I paint on.
Pollyanna Johnson's studio
What are your influences - generally and specifically for this collection?
My initial influence when starting ceramics was English delftware with its decorative but simple blue and white designs. I like the idea of portraying women like Frances Andrews from Thomas Gainsborough’s ‘Mr. and Mrs. Andrews’, or Queen Mariana by Velasquez, on a plate that could be made around the same time these were painted in the 17th/18th century, in a juxtaposition with modern themes.
I project my feelings and experiences onto the women I paint, and imagine them in their own lives being frustrated by gender bias, and confronting the patriarchy of the time. The group of artists ‘Guerilla Girls’ have always been inspiring to me with their punchy slogans, picking out the inequalities of society and the art world. The ceramic artist Philip Eglin is also someone I always look at. His work is beautiful but imperfect. I find his work intriguing, as the lack of polish means the marks of the artist are visible and palpable.
'Fuck Off' in 24kt gold lustre
Fuck Off Apollo by Pollyanna Johnson
What does your process look like? Why do you choose to work with this type of ceramics?
I am often inspired to make a ceramic piece after seeing a particular shape or design in a museum collection like the V&A, or in an antique shop. I would then reinterpret this in my own style in clay. In the time it takes to make, dry, and fire the piece to bisqueware I then decide what I want to paint on it. I use white clay and slip with bright underglaze colours, and a transparent glaze to gain the texture and finish that I want for my pieces.
Detail studies in Pollyanna's studio
No Breastfeeding In The Gallery & Pinch The Nipple - with shells by Pollyanna Johnson
What emotions or responses do you hope to create for the viewer with your work?
Some of my pieces come from a place of disquiet, inspired by mine and others' experiences of sexism. Overall, however, I am poking fun at some of the absurdities of society, and having fun with paintings of women that I love. I also want to make pieces that people would like to have in their homes. If the viewers connect with some of the feminist messages, and want to join me in poking fun, and putting a finger up at the patriarchy, then that is fine with me.
Decorative ceramic pieces from 'Eyes That Follow You'
Could you tell us more about your debut collection?
I am a painter using ceramics as my canvas, creating beautiful objects inspired by women from art history. I promote these women to the centre of attention, transporting them from the dusty backgrounds of paintings by Old Masters.