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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 bean shaped vase with a white and grey glaze and a rough texture

Clay Conversations: Tim Copsey

[ Artist Interview )

As a part of our ongoing Clay Conversations series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Copsey, the artist behind the exquisite White Vase acquired as part of the Golder-Thompson Gift.

How did you get into ceramics?

I was brought up in a village with a brick works as its sole employer, either that or farming. Clay was everywhere, it was an easy plaything.

I had a great pottery teacher at school – Mr. Ralph – who encouraged me way beyond what was asked of him, I’m sure. I fully intended to pursue ceramics at university, but while there, I became much more excited by working collaboratively; with dancers, musicians, writers and filmmakers and this led to a career in film making. However, 15 years ago I had the opportunity to get involved with clay again and the connection was immediate, visceral. Within a year I’d built a wood kiln, set up a studio and fell deeper and deeper in love. The support I’ve had from the ceramics community in this time has been incredible, becoming a selected member of the CPA and recently winning an AA2A (Artists in Art Schools) placement has been fantastic for steering my work and professionalism.


Photograph of a ceramic vase that is mostly round with a shiny white glaze that looks a bit like a messy icing. At the bottom you can see the brown of the vase and the texture of the surface is quite uneven.

Timothy Copsey, Small Round Shino Vase

Which artists inspire you?

Those who are playful, but also deadly serious about their work. A Simon Carroll exhibition at the V&A really cemented my decision to pursue ceramics professionally. I’m drawn to work that vibrates between mastered craft and chance mark / volume making, such as Toru Ichikawa, Osamu Inayoshi and Rafa Pérez. I’m also interested in artists that investigate the performative nature of clay such as Miquel Barceló and William Cobbing. Film makers such as David O’Reilly makes work that has inspired my aesthetic; ‘ugly / beautiful’ work that shows it’s seams and celebrates its building technique.


We understand that the landscape where you live inspires your work. Could you tell us about that?

The landscape is often the jumping off point. Not least when titling my work – but also as a source for materials; gritstone, ash, clay for slips, wooden tools that I make myself. But its influence on the style of the work; shape, surface, colour is where the Pennine landscape is at its strongest. The rounded slab vases are in some way inspired by drystone wall cap and tenter stones. The bottles and cups with inclusions are directly inspired by waterfalls in many ways; the rocky outcrops that divert the flow of water, how the water / glaze flows around these, the way that water / light / lustre is reflected by these surfaces and finally, I suppose in a nod to the onomatopoeic ’tok-tok’ of the Japanese sake tokkuri in the movement and sound of the landscape.


Photograph of a ceramic vase with a shiny iridescent glaze with flecks of gold and white and red. It is s rough oval shape with an uneven texture.

Timothy Copsey, Langsett Moor

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

Like most ceramic artists I’ll employ whatever building technique gets me to the finishing line – although finishing is something I struggle with occasionally. By that I mean my pots are often fired multiple times, and in some cases it can be years between these firings. There’s a flux between my starting and my finishing. I do have set starting points however – bottles and cups are thrown, they can then be altered, carved or have inclusions pushed into the body. Larger bowls, vases and sculptures are slab and coil built, from there they can be thrown on the wheel, or pierced, pummeled, pulled and crushed. I use different size bucket lids for my discus shaped “blossom” vases, so these start off exactly the same and then get altered to give them individuality. Work is often slip coloured (I use crushed lava and porcelain). I woodfire most work, after that it goes to an electric kiln for low fired glaze work and finally fired at 750°C for gold and silver lustre and then if it doesn’t work it goes through the whole cycle again…


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

It’s thrilling to have had this work gifted. It’s a large ‘bean’ shaped woodfired ‘blossom’ vase. It was purchased from my first show at the Rabley Gallery in Marlborough, so it was a great to surprise to discover where it was headed. Using shino and ash glazes, it’s quite a dense piece, heavy so that it could contain a very large branch of blossom. It’s inspired by the snow on Black Hill (Holme Moss) so named because of its exposed peat. I think it’s a quiet piece, simple, solid and it comes alive with the very simple addition of a branch of heather or cherry blossom. I’ve worked often with an Ikebana artist – Junko Popham – based in Manchester, and she would treat this piece very simply, I think.

Photograph of a bean shaped vase with a white and grey glaze and a rough texture
Photograph of a bean shaped vase with a white and grey glaze and a rough texture

Timothy Copsey, White Vase

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

I’ve just completed an AA2A (Artists in Art Schools) residency at UCLan working with the MA students. It has been an incredible experience, not least for the excellent technical support I’ve had, but also access to a huge kiln, so I could build bigger than I would normally. I’m very pleased with much of the later work that I’ve made during this period. Some of these pieces are in a solo exhibition that is currently on at KERB in Manchester. I’m rebuilding my kiln and hope to be taking on an “assistant” very soon… maybe producing a line of tableware, watch this space. I’m also planning a few larger exhibitions for next year. So I’m busy!

I’m also incredibly pleased to be included in Ashley Thorpe’s latest publication; Contemporary British Studio Pottery, Forms of Expression published by the Crowood Press (2023). The book is a survey of artists who start with the vessel and use it as a creative jumping off point. It’s an inspiring read and I have to say humbling to be amongst them.

Find out more about Tim and his work via his Instagram.

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