"Tender, direct, resilient, with a thin skin: that is how my work touches you. To sustain this means remaining open to the emotions and sensations of an ordinary life.” —Elspeth Owen
Elspeth Owen is very much concerned with the tactile qualities inherent in her forms while she is making them. She is less interested in the finished pieces, and the idea of putting them behind glass so that they can’t be touched is an anathema to her. She wants people to handle them—with care, and asks that they be held in both hands when picked up. They are clearly precious to her. Her vessels are about texture, weight, and balance.
When I visited her studio in November of 2011, she told me that she strongly believes “the fired clay speaks for itself in many ways, communicating beauty and memory through the vessel.” However, she has created an Arte Povera of found objects in response to the equivocating phrase “quantitative easing,” used by the Governor of the Bank of England for printing extra paper currency: a comment on how illusory verbal language can be.
Owen came to ceramics late, after taking a B.A. in modern history at Cambridge and starting a family. She did not study ceramics at the bachelor level or equivalent, which enabled her to go her own way without pressure to conform to an academic way of thinking about her craft. Indeed, she told me that if she were to teach a graduate course, she “would have only one lesson: Go away and experiment, find your own path.” But it has also meant that she has not been able to sustain herself in the traditional manner of teaching in art colleges while she made her work. She seems to have ignored current trends and been more focussed on finding connections to intuitive and ancient ways of working (and also on selling her work). She missed out on the challenge and stimulation of an art college but eluded the dogma. In her 1985 article in Ceramic Series (No. 30), for Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Tanya Harrod states:...