The process of making, manipulating materials into objects, is a series of transformations, not only of the media used, but also in terms of the accumulated decisions made by the maker. At the end of that process, the potential is there for the viewer to experience some sense of change or transformation when handling or perceiving that object.
Andrew Temple Smith works with porcelain, which produces delicate and beautiful objects but is a notoriously difficult medium to work with. He says it is “like working with toothpaste”, but feels that much of the satisfaction in working with this medium, lies with overcoming its challenging properties. An irregular mound of clay which can be easily dissolved in water, can be transformed by a skilled hand, and extreme temperatures into a finely balanced aesthetic object which can be functional, and can endure for thousands of years.
Temple-Smith’s Nebula series of vessels are thrown on the wheel, and layers of slips are applied and later abraded to achieve unique and unrepeatable patterns and textures which have been described as recalling cloud formations or birch bark. Moving from the exterior surfaces of the vessels the edges are the point at which the surface transforms from monochrome matt to vividly coloured glossy textures.
In his Eccentric Series, the walls of the vessels are initially thrown in a perfect cylinder, and then transformed with gentle pressure, into an “eccentric”, irregular form. These are given highly coloured glazes to accentuate the throwing lines, the trace of his fingers, which he leaves undisturbed.
Much of the pleasure in perceiving Andrew Temple Smith’s porcelain vessels, however, is not in merely looking at them, but in the physical handling of them; feeling the weight of it them your hand, the curves of the forms, and the contrasting textures of the silky burnished porcelain and the slippery gloss of the glazes.
Melissa Wraxall’s paintings and drawings involve a different kind of transformation, drawing inspiration from found vintage photographs, many from her own family archive and transforming aspects of these images into the media of oil paint or charcoal. She is fascinated by the way an arrangement of silver nitrate granules in the emulsion of analogue photographs, transformed by the action of light followed by chemicals, can evoke the trace of a life or a childhood that is long gone. In a similar way, our brains can perceive the arrangement of marks on a flat surface, as form in space, sometimes evoking a transformation in the mind of the viewer; a recognition, an emotion, a long-buried memory.
In the process of drawing and painting from these photographs, Melissa Wraxall attempts to coax these ghosts of the past into the present. Inspired by a facial expression, a grouping of figures, or the shadow of the unseen photographer, she uses the monochromatic tones of her source images, as a license to choose colours freely and intuitively. Central to her painting practice is the materiality of the oil paint itself; choosing when to control the behaviour of the medium and when to allow gravity to exert its force, producing drips and runs. She does not aim for a photo-realist likeness in her paintings, as she feels that this would limit the way she can engage with both the image and the medium.
While the paintings are essentially figurative, Wraxall aims to produce sensuous abstraction in the detail, using a variety of textures and layers of colour, varying between opaque marks and transparent or translucent glazes. She paints with oils because of their rich and lustrous quality, as well as the characteristically slow drying time, allowing transformations and alterations for some days after the initial application. When drawing, she finds that the soft mutable medium of willow charcoal allows a similar process of building up an image by application and removal, creation and destruction. Melissa Wraxall’s response to the photographic images in her archive is personal, direct and spontaneous – the result of both conscious and sub-conscious thought.
The title of this show, Transformation, refers to the process of thinking and making as well as the viewer’s act of experiencing the final outcome of that process. Andrew Temple Smith transforms an amorphous handful of clay into an enduring, minimalist form, which is an aesthetic pleasure to touch and to see. Narratives passed down through Melissa Wraxall’s family, influence her interpretations of the photographs she finds, and transform the way she manipulates the media she is working with. However, the photographs provide only a starting point, from which she hopes to make works which convey a universal notion of the changeable and ephemeral nature of our lives.