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Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

Photograph of a woman with long blond hair painting a ceramic pot with a raised flora design

Clay Conversations: Jo Taylor

[ Artist Interview )

As part of our Clay Conversations series exploring our growing collection of ceramics, we interviewed Jo Taylor whose Mirror Bowl – Winter recently entered the collection as part of the Golder-Thompson Gift.

What has been your journey as an artist?

I learnt to throw at evening classes at Bristol Polytechnic in the early 1990s under the tutelage of Kevi​n de Choisy ​​. I loved drawing and all things creative when I was younger but went to work in an office after my A levels. My employer at the time (Ford Credit) had a scheme where they subsidised lessons if you chose to learn anything outside of work. This gave me the chance to study both pottery and life drawing. After a few years I bought a wheel and kiln and potted happily as a hobby.

As time went on, I felt frustrated by my lack of ceramic knowledge (pre-internet) and felt I needed to learn much more. I decided to work part-time and study a BA in ceramics at Bath Spa University part-time. After graduation in 2005 I started making and selling tableware alongside teaching, returning to Bath Spa to study for an MA in ceramics in 2009. During my studies based at historic Corsham Court the work became larger and more sculptural; upon graduation in 2012 I began to exhibit the new work, my first solo exhibition being at the Holburne Museum in Bath later that year.

I’ve shown my work in numerous exhibitions over the years but particularly enjoyed showing in Chichester Cathedral in 2022 as part of Together We Rise. This exhibition consisted of a wide variety of sculpture by members of the Royal Society of Sculptors, curated by Jacquiline Creswell.


Whose work are you inspired by?

My work is primarily inspired by ornament in architectural features, particularly anything Rococo. I love the variety and ambition of the style and the disruption of formal rules. It allowed for adventurous artistic expression and the creation of fantastical and very sculptural interior landscapes.

Artists I admire are those making three-dimensional work where form and surface are beautifully resolved. This includes well-known figures such as Barbara Hepworth, Ken Price, Ron Nagle, Hans Coper and Lucie Rie.


Photograph of a woman with long blond hair painting a ceramic pot with a raised flora design

I also admire many contemporary makers. I featured Claire Partington in my book Handbuilt Ceramics and am constantly impressed by her combination of incredible making skills, wry observations of contemporary society and detailed historical references. Paul Briggs, another maker from the book, makes the most incredible pinch pots, alongside his Cell personae body of work which comments on social justice in the US. I’ve never commented on society in my work, so I admire makers who achieve this so skilfully.


What techniques do you use in your work?

I use a wide range of techniques in my work; throwing, handbuilding, extrusion, some sprigging, use of slips and stains, gilding and very occasionally glazing. I use the wheel to make components most of the time, building blocks to create a larger structure. I’m equally happy coiling and just enjoy using my hands to form the many additions I add to my work. I often colour the clay to achieve a range of shades and normally fire work just once as it is normally left unglazed. I use different types of clay ranging from heavily grogged to porcelain.


Could you tell us about your work Mirror Bowl – Winter?

I’ve been an exhibiting artist with Rabley Gallery, based just outside of Marlborough, since 2015, have attended regular exhibitions there and have enjoyed a term at their printmaking school.

The gallerist Meryl Ainslie invited me to respond to Nana Shiomi’s beautiful woodcut prints, the Water Mirror series. The prints depict tea bowls full of water in the four seasons and have a remarkable surface because of the wood grain. The technique used by Shiomi is rooted in the traditional methods of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock.


Japanese woodcut of a handheld mirror on a yellow wooden stage and a red background by Nana Shiomi

Paying close attention to the colours and shape depicted in the print, I decided to use smooth black clay to make the bowl on the potter’s wheel. To evoke the depth of surface of the woodcut I used porcelain casting slip on the outside of the pot, applied with a Chinese brush and scraped back in places to reveal the black clay underneath. Each pot also had a different colour of slip applied on the outside towards the base, in reference to the four seasons with purple depicting winter. The inside of each piece was glazed with a white semi-matt glaze, which when applied on top of the black clay creates an interesting surface, working in harmony with the throwing rings. The application of glaze to the inside created a lot of tension in the firing and many bowls did not survive the high firing and succumbed to circular cracks. This means the series is really short and there aren’t many of these bowls in existence! It is a departure from my regular very ornamental work, and I have really enjoyed making occasional short series of more functional style pieces for Rabley.


How does it feel to have your work in the collection as part of the Golder Thompson gift?

I am very grateful to be part of the Golder-Thompson gift – it is an honour and a privilege to have work find its way from my small studio to such a prestigious collection. The gift fulfils an important function in that the collection continues to be a living, thriving and expanding body of work outside of the caveats of other collecting bodies. Works gifted are contemporary pieces by living working artists and it is an important representation of contemporary art which is given context by historic works. Mark and Brian are knowledgeable, experienced collectors and their gifts are not only generous but extremely well considered.


Ceramic artist Jo Taylor gilds silver to the surface of a ceramic pot

What you are currently working on and what are your plans for the future?

I am always busy in the studio, trying to strike a balance between working on new ideas with keeping my galleries supplied with suitable pieces, which are sometimes combined! Currently my work is available through Rabley in Marlborough, Vessel in Notting Hill & Culture Object in New York. Ongoing explorations include working with light and porcelain, often incorporating LEDs, whilst keeping it more towards the sculptural rather than lighting design. I’m also forever expanding on the idea of a sculptural vessel, combining techniques to create ever changing forms.

This is alongside teaching which predominantly consists of delivering short courses at West Dean and working with the Pathways to Wellbeing project at the Holburne Museum. I have been working on various educational projects with The Holburne Museum for ten years. Pathways to Wellbeing is an innovative project bringing museums, art galleries and mental health and support organisations together to work in partnership across the city of Bath.

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