Sarah Hitchens is exhibiting at Bluecoat Display Centre until 3 March
Our Directory Maker of the Week, Sarah Hitchens, talks to us about getting into making, what inspires her and her favourite part of the making process.
Who or what got you into making?
My vivid imagination and the compulsion to create from early childhood meant I was constantly making and my bedroom was a riot of colour and disorder much to my mother's ongoing horror. I loved the challenge of learning new skills and my father, a hobby potter, taught me to throw. Taking my ability to make for granted and encouraged to pursue an academic subject, I chose to study Art History at Warwick and then went on to study and practice Acupuncture and Homeopathy for 20 years.
In 2012 my early compulsion to create became overwhelming and I sold my practice and threw myself headlong into the world of ceramics. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do and felt wary of outside influences that might throw me off center, so I chose to educate myself in the studio and when I needed more knowledge I found teachers to help me. After 3 years of throwing in stoneware and porcelain I found myself drawn to the very different qualities of slab building.
I also married into an intensely artistic family and have no doubt that this played a supportive role in my development and encouraged me to spread my wings.
Could you please tell us a bit about your work?
I work almost exclusively with a coarse black stoneware clay and porcelain slips. The work is slab-rolled then torn spontaneously into shape. There is a large element of unpredictability in this method but it yields unexpected forms that have a dynamism and fluidity that are impossible to replicate - when my head becomes overly involved in the making process or when I have attempted to reproduce a piece, I find it lacks the spontaneity I am after.
The work is textured, rough-edged, raw and purposely imperfect. Rips and lacerations are actively encouraged and become an essential part of the making process. This has developed into my chosen language.
Whilst surfaces are often matt and unadorned, I sometimes choose to impress natural objects into the clay and brush slip into the indentations or use a bronze Hans Coper manganese glaze to highlight areas and more recently a wonderfully effervescent volcanic glaze.
What are your inspirations?
I’m intrigued by what lies unseen in the chasm between who we present to the world and who we actually are with all our conflicting feelings, beliefs and dreams. The texture and shape of a life lived, reflecting both the physical wear and the inner growth are what interest and inspire me. Enchanted by the ideal of perfection we can lose touch with the depth and grittiness of living authentically. It is that depth and grittiness that call me to respond creatively. Perhaps in a different way I am still seeking to heal by honouring and giving form to the awesome, unfettered beauty of the whole – warts and all.
I also find inspiration in the landscape, in natural objects that have a way of creeping into my work and in the decay of the world around me: a rusting fence, damp-eroded bark, the bloom of mould on food – the unpredictable nature of life and the process of time which we can’t escape from.
What is your favourite part of the making process?
I love the physicality of tearing sheets of clay and then the playfulness of deciding in the moment what marks to make or what dried shards of clay to add. In my most recent work I have been using thick layers of porcelain slip that I apply by hand – a delightfully childlike activity which is probably my favorite for its simple messiness!
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I’m working on a new body of work: large pod-like forms encrusted in thick porcelain slip and volcanic glazes. The bowl-like shape of my initial experiments is giving way to a more enclosed and secretive form – a pregnant space full of possibility.
I am also currently developing work for an immersive installation of 400 individual ceramics enclosed in an 8ft tall cylindrical tower, a contemporary Tower of Babel. My intention is to celebrate the diversity, tolerance and shared humanity of our multi-cultural, global society. The individual works will create a vibrant spectacle that presses in around the viewer in the confined space of the tower and alludes to the challenges presented by over-population.
My work is on show at the Bluecoat Display Centre in Liverpool in an exhibition entitled Journeys in Mind and I will also be showing some of my new work at the National Centre for Craft & Design from 17 March – 29 April.