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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.

Close up photograph of a black pot made up of what looks like scales scratched through with lines in different directions

Clay Conversations: Sarah Purvey

[ Artist in Focus, Artist Interview )

As part of our Clay Conversations series exploring our growing collection of ceramics, we interviewed Sarah Purvey whose Drawn forms part of the Golder-Thompson Gift.

How did you get into ceramics?

When I was seventeen I left London and moved to Plymouth to study at Plymouth College of Art & Design taking on a two year Btec in 3D Design. The course was a broad introduction to many different mediums including hot and cold glass, silversmithing and ceramics. This was my first introduction to clay and to the possibilities of the material.

After Plymouth I moved on to Bath College of Higher Education in 1988 (now Bath Spa University) to study a BA in ceramics. After finishing my undergraduate degree, a huge gap then followed with my involvement in ceramics until 2008 when I returned to education, again to Bath Spa University, to study ceramics on the Masters programme. I was incredibly fortunate to join the course the same year the university reopened Corsham Court as its postgraduate centre, the wonderful former home of Bath Academy of Art.

Photograph of a woman from waist up sat with arms crossed. She has brown shoulder length hair and wears a dark grey top with a cream scarf.

Which artists inspire you?

I’m inspired by artists whose work allows me to feel the artist’s own emotional and visceral connection to their practice, thinking of artists Anselm Keifer and Franz Kline and ceramic artists Claudi Cassanova and Nicole Cherubini.

You work both on paper and with clay. Could you tell us about that? Do these two artforms intersect in your work?

I’ve always worked in 2D alongside clay, in its very broadest sense, drawing has always been my primary practice. Over the past fifteen years much of my ceramic practice has been involved with the building of monumental vessel structures to carry my mark making, building in essence three dimensional drawings.

This process has recently been further developed after being invited to return to Corsham Court (Bath Spa University) in 2020 as Artist in Residence with a studio specifically for drawing and printmaking creating a balance with my time between two and three dimensions.

Close up photograph of a black pot made up of what looks like scales scratched through with lines in different directions

Could you tell us a bit about the techniques you use in your work?

The vessels are in the majority coil built of many hand rolled pieces of coarsely grogged clay. Each coil is joined to the next at speed in a rhythmic motion of the hand, the marks left behind clearly visible inside each vessel as with the piece in the Pallant House Gallery collection. Sometimes the work remains in its natural clay finish with only the same clay body used to draw external surfaces.

If slips (liquid clay) are applied, they are painted onto the raw standing forms, which are then drawn into, dragged and scored building a multi-layered external surface, revealing and concealing moments in time within the drawing process. The external drawing is built when the piece is still raw and therefore when the clay is at its most responsive. Occasionally I return to a piece and draw again with oxide, the piece is then refired, but the majority of my work is only fired once.


Could you tell us about your work in the Golder Thomson gift? 

Drawn was made in 2021 as part of a series of works mapping emotional traces. Drawn is a small, more intimate piece made of one body of clay. The repetitive use of the five drawn lines is a recurring theme symbolising notions of family.

I’m humbled this piece has been included in the Golder Thompson Gift alongside so many wonderful artists. Mark Golder and Brian Thompson are passionate and knowledgeable collectors of contemporary ceramics, which makes this inclusion even more of a privilege.

Photograph of a black pot that is narrower at the bottom and opens gradually towards the top, made up of what looks like scales scratched through with lines in different directions

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

I’m currently entering the fourth year of my role as Artist in Residence at Corsham Court, Bath Spa University, with my time equally shared between my two studio spaces, working on paper at Corsham Court, and in clay at my studio in North Wiltshire.

During the residency I have continued to work with some wonderful galleries and curators here in the UK, USA and Germany with plans ahead for exhibitions in 2023 and 2024. Currently my work is available with The New Craftsman Gallery in St Ives, Cavin Moris Gallery in New York and Cavaliero Finn based in London.

Alongside my studio practice, I have had the great pleasure of working with Chippenham Museum over the last four years as Project Coordinator for their new Modern and Contemporary Art Collection. Working with the Collections and Exhibitions Officer, Alan Fuller, we have, thanks to the generosity of all the artists involved, begun building a new art collection. The collection reflects the many incredible artists who both taught and studied at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham (latterly Bath Spa University) and the many wonderful contemporary artists living and working in the North Wiltshire area today. It continues to be an incredible honour to be part of this project.

I’m also delighted to have recently had both works on paper and ceramic featured in a new publication by Ashley Thorpe, Contemporary British Studio Pottery, Forms of Expression published by the Crowood Press (2023). The book features the work of artists who use the vessel as one of the starting points for their practice.


Find out more about Sarah and her work via her website or follow her on Instagram.

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