This is my first ever blog post, so where to begin but at the beginning. People wrongly assume that as the organisers of the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair, we have an in-depth knowledge of craft.
Seven years ago, when we decided to launch the show, we knew only how to organise. We brought in the experts. People like Jo Bloxham (Curator/ Collector), James Beighton (MIMA), Jamila Ghazoul (Artizan Gallery), Steve Dixon (Professor of Ceramics/ Ceramicist) and Kelda Savage (Manchester Craft and Design Centre). Together they selected the makers for our first show.
When I look back on that first selection day, it makes me smile. At the time, Ann-Marie and I suffered. What we had thought of as beautiful, contemporary craft was harshly rejected as derivative and lacking in quality, finish or innovation. What they all craved was something new and different or work that had moved on over time. They also sought consistency via a cohesive collection of work. Half way through the selection process, Ann-Marie and I sought refuge in the toilet and wept.
At the end of that day though, as we all walked through the City Centre trying to avoid drunken Glasgow Rangers fans, we realised that the cruel selection process meant that we had the makings of an excellent first show.
Seven years on, we know a lot more. Now we, too, are looking for something new to excite us.
Exposure is education, as Grayson Perry once said, “You have to have looked at lots of things to have the ability to judge what is good art/craft”. I think this is truer in terms of knowing what is poor. You have to know what has gone before, to realize when something is copied. You have to have seen work that is well finished, to see the poor finishing. You have to have seen lots of the same work to realize when something is innovative. But judging what is good – isn’t that more than simple exposure?
There’s good because something is beautiful. There’s good because you love the story behind the work or because you understand it. There’s good because there is a personal connection. There’s good because something is clever or the technique is difficult and probably most importantly for me, there’s good because you like the person who made the work and the work is a reflection of them.
Before we launched the Craft Fair, a group of us visited Aberystwyth Ceramics Fair. In the exhibition shop we saw some work by the potter, Simon Carroll. Knowing nothing about his work, we laughed at the £39 price tag attached to what we, at the time, thought were badly thrown cups with sloppy glazing. Were they having a laugh? Then we saw a demonstration/presentation by him. The work was a reflection of him. There was madness to it. His demonstration involved him sitting on a swivel chair and spinning as fast as he could, whilst someone threw a pot on his bald head. We fell in love with his craziness and became ‘groupies’, getting up very early the next morning especially to see him again. This time, in a more intimate seminar we saw his more vulnerable side and fell in love a little more. When it was time to leave, we all had to take a little piece of him home. The cup is a treasured possession. It contains a little madness that makes you smile and it’s beautiful because he was. I say ‘was’ because, sadly, he died in 2009 at the age of 45.
Fairs like the GNCCF allow us to meet the maker and hear their story and feel a connection to the work we buy. That, for me, is what contemporary craft is all about.
The V&A are currently showing an exhibition of Simon Carroll’s work from Saturday 5 April 2014 – Sunday 4 January 2015.
Here’s what they say about him:
“An unconventional and adventurous artist, Simon Carroll produced some of the most singular and extraordinary ceramics of recent years. Characterised by extremes in the handling of clay and by bold and vigorous mark-making, his pottery has an affinity with abstract expressionism.”