Homegirl London pays homage to Rowena Gilbert. Maker of beautiful British contemporary ceramics. Her style focuses on the fusion of strong design with complementary patterns. She views the clay vessel as a bold canvas to which she applies metal oxides for the distinctive reds, blacks and blues which she layers on the surface and marks with various tools. Her work largely consists of striking vases in an array of sizes and bowls. She’s come a long way from her days as a ceramic student, winning a string of awards and showing at numerous exhibitions. I caught up with Rowena to ask more about her charming ceramics …
Q: What made you decide to study ceramics?
A: My art teacher at school was a huge collector of contemporary fine art ceramics with works by artists such as Ewan Henderson, Gordon Baldwin, Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach and Betty Woodman, to be taught by someone so passionate about contemporary ceramics was a massive influence to me (without me realising it then). I loved ceramics at school but just as much as everything else, the whole spectrum of art, design, craft (and maths!). My degree course (BA Hons Three Dimensional Crafts) continued that broad approach within fine art, design and craft contexts with the focus on material knowledge, techniques and processes. I loved working with all materials but something drew me to ceramics specifically in my final year at university and now I’m hooked! Clay is such a special material, dug from the ground, shaped then fired to a permanence that could last forever makes it’s so magical and yet so elemental. It is such a malleable and versatile material, giving you such freedom to express yourself in an endless array of ways.
Q: What inspired you to launch your own ceramics business?
A: I sold all my work at my degree show and had interest from a handful of galleries, so straight away decided to get a studio space and set myself up as an artist / maker. I managed this with the help of a Princes Trust start-up loan. My father Terence Gilbert (a very established fine art painter) gave me great business / art mentoring to help and advise me through the transition from art education to art career.
Q: Tell me more about your distinctive style.
A: My main focus with my ceramic work is finding that perfect fusion of strong design, innovative style and spontaneous expression, that counterpoint of form, design, colour and texture. I love well-made things that hold a simple but powerful expression. I love working with a very simple colour palette but using different surface textures such as mattes and gloss, to give my work an extra depth. I also love simple but bold gestures, stylish yet artistic.
Q: Why the focus on vases and bowls?
A: I love objects that sit between art and design, things that are artistic but are well designed and functional, things that can be admired purely for their form and surface that sit alone as art objects, but can also be touched and used because of their function. Giving something a function invites you to have a whole different relationship to the object, a tactile relationship as well as a visual. I think everyday objects should be beautiful. I plan to extend my range to more bowl and dish shapes that can bring dining to a much more stylish level.
Q: Do you have any of your pieces at home and do you keep fresh flowers in your vases?
A: Yes, I have many of my own ceramic pieces at home (as well as ceramics by many other artists). I always keep one of my favourite pieces I’ve made each year, it’s lovely to have pieces at home I made years and years ago, to be able to always see them and reflect on how my work has developed over the years. And yes, my boyfriend buys me flowers all the time (I’m spoilt!) so I’m constantly using my vases in my home.
Q: What’s been your most memorable career highlight to date?
A: Winning The Best Up and Coming Local Artist Award, Brighton & Hove in 2002, the year I had graduated gave me a massive boost of confidence at the start of my career. Then, last year I was a Finalist in The Craft & Design Selected Awards for Ceramics, which again has given me a massive boost of confidence and I am having such great success in the galleries that represent me that things just couldn’t be better at the moment.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I’m currently working on lots of new ideas; new shapes and designs and colour ranges. I’ve had lots of fun trying out new ideas this year and so am hoping that I’ll be ready to show them off soon.
See below for a selection of pieces from Rowena, the prices range from £12 to £169. You can buy direct from her website Rowena Gilbert , also like on facebook Rowena Gilbert Facebook. Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Rowena Gilbert, special thanks to Rowena Gilbert.