CRAFT Nicola Tassie
This exhibition marks a point of reckoning in the oeuvre of Nicola Tassie, one of London’s most sought-after studio ceramicists and teachers. Drawing on three decades of experimentation, consolidation and reflection, Tassie contrasts functional, functionally ambiguous, and overtly sculptural works to question the practice and reception of ceramics. The exhibition provides a timely opportunity for the audience who know Tassie’s tableware (via regular display at Margaret Howell, The New Craftsmen and The Wills Lane Gallery amongst others) to engage with the scope and depth of her personal investigation into the materiality and conflicted signification of ceramics.
Central to the design of Craft will be a floor-to-ceiling tower of glass display shelves packed with ceramic objects of disparate finishes and genres. Tassie’s signature conical jugs occupy just one shelf. A high shelf is densely peopled with a range of squashed and sagging, unfired ‘bottles’, whose tops – being coextensive with the body of the vessel – render them unusable. They are abject and emotive, redolent of sorrow, neediness, or feelings of failure. Lower down in the ‘hierarchy’, a range of ambiguous shapes and objects that look faux-functional are indeed ceramic renderings of the everyday tools of Tassie’s trade: a sponge, spindle, bowl of water. The installation echoes Tassie’s beloved V&A displays, while upsetting and querying the hierarchies and taxonomies that have dogged ceramic production. To engage with the history of tableware is to engage with taste and social class - we envy the translucency of the porcelain, the ostentation of the lusterware, the finesse of the painted decoration, and more recently fetishise the rough brown hew of a kitchen pot.
Trained as a painter at Central School of Art and Design in the early 80s, Tassie still turns to painting for many of her references. The work of American heavyweight-lightweight Phillip Guston has been a constant inspiration, seen most overtly here in ceramic ‘light bulbs’ and a ceramic ‘shaft of light’ in her new ‘lamp’ pieces, and in the joyfully cartoonish line she employs in a experimental new wall piece, which uses arcs of extruded paper clay to make a gravity-defying drawing in
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