Collective Exhibition 2023
In October 2023 I held a solo exhibition at Kloverhaus Gallery, Moira to showcase a new collection of work. The exhibition titled 'Collective' aimed to celebrate my decorative style focusing on textural mark making and tonal glazing and also provide a vehicle for new explorations into sgrafitto techniques. My love of nature would inevitably be to the fore, but I aimed to pair this with my fascination with words and language. In the exhibition I explored imagery inspired by the curious and delightfully apt collective nouns used to describe groups of animals.
A Loveliness of Ladybirds
These relief ceramic panels have been inspired by elaborate illustrated letters found in old manuscripts and religious texts, focusing on the abundance of curling foliage, flowers and in this case, ladybirds.
Although the origin of this collective noun is unclear, it points to the beauty of the brightly coloured mass when they converge. Originally named ‘Our Lady’s Bird’ after the Virgin Mary, who was often depicted in works of art wearing a red cloak, the bright colours are a warning to predators but a source of joy to gardeners and children alike. Many cultures consider ladybirds lucky and in countries including Russia, Turkey and Italy the sight of the insect is either a call to make a wish or a sign that a wish will soon be granted.
A Skulk of Foxes
The wonderfully descriptive words earth, leash and skulk are used to describe a group of two or more foxes. Using either ‘to skulk’ or ‘a skulk’, the word seems to perfectly express the intentions and movements of a fox. Derived from the Norwegian dialect word skulka, it means "to lie in wait" or "to lurk."
The poor old fox has a bad reputation stemming back to the fifteenth century. Reynard, or sometimes Reynardine, was a cunning, cowardly fox appearing in a series of French folk stories - a sort of trickster figure constantly in trouble with his other animal friends and up to various capers.
This series of panels showcases the fox’s skulking movements, captured using the ceramic technique of sgraffito. The effect is achieved by scratching through a layer of painted on underglaze to reveal the lower layer of contrasting colour clay.
A Romp of Otters
Groupings of otters are variously termed a romp, a raft, a kennel, a bevy and a family. A ‘romp’ seems the most apt term to adequately sum up what joyful and energetically playful creatures they are. As a child of the 70s and 80s, the film ‘Tarka The Otter’ is a core memory, forever endearing this fabulous creature to me.
In this ceramic panel, the otters are captured moving sinuously and effortlessly in the water, creating ripples and bubbles, and never managing to catch one another. They are textured with impressed marks with a floral style pattern while the water features flowing lines and areas of stippled marks to enhance contrast.
A Peace of Doves
Bevy, cote, dule, flight, piteousness, pitying, prettying, and pretence are just some of the nouns used to describe a collection of doves. But a lesser known ‘peace’ of doves, inspired by the association of doves with peace and tranquility, encapsulates a group of these birds in harmony. It alludes to the serene atmosphere these doves create, exuding a calming influence when flocking together.
This collection of double-sided hanging decorations are pared back to simple silhouettes, enhanced with impressed decoration and finished with gold foil to add richness. In recognition of their role as a symbol of peace, the doves hang in an olive tree.
A Swoop of Swallows
Flocks of swallows, alternatively termed a flight, a gulp, a kettle, and a richness, are mesmerizing sights, showcasing the remarkable flight agility and synchronized movements of these graceful birds. These tightly knit communities of swallows pledge to socialize, roosting, nesting, and feeding together, encapsulating the essence of unity and cooperation within their collective existence. Emanating energy and enthusiasm, swallows inspire awe among spectactors fortunate enough to witness their mesmerizing ballet in the sky.
In 2022 I introduced swallows to my range of work, and they have become one of my most popular animal creations. This trio of relief cut out swallows captures their wonderful agility and sinuous collective movement. Impressed marks and patterns are enhanced with the swallows iconic colouring including trademark bright red throat.
A Family of Sardines
Sardines are all about unity, so it makes sense that they're known collectively as a ‘family’. When they're under threat, they instinctively squash together to form gigantic “bait balls” as a way of averting predators.
In this piece I have used quite a bit of artistic license to form the simple fish shape and decorate each individual sardine with underglaze patterns. Sardines, in reality, have very little pattern on their scales being mostly silver in colour. This style of decorative work harkens back to my original plan to study printed textiles at university.
A Sun of Adders
There are an amazing 25 potential nouns to describe a collection of adders, the most common being a nest, den or pit and amongst the most expressive a mingle, slither or strike. But a ‘sun’ of adders aptly conveys both their wonderful ability to curl up into a rounded shape as well as their preference for bathing in the sunshine to warm their cold blood.
The adders in this ceramic panel have been created within a sun-inspired mandala design, giving ample opportunity for experimentation with mark making, texture, pattern and colour combinations.
An Eclipse of Moths
Moths and moonlight are inextricably linked and while a ‘flutter’ and ‘whisper’ are wonderfully evocative of their nighttime flying, an ‘eclipse’ of moths perfectly links the two in beautiful visual language.
I find that moths are greatly underrated and commonly considered second best to their butterfly cousins. The sgraffito technique was perfect for bringing out their wonderful decorations, patterns and fuzzy bodies and antennae. The eight black and white platters with arching crescents and full black or white backgrounds represent the different phases of the moths’ beloved moon.
A Down of Hares
Groupings of hares are variously described as a drove, flick, herd, husk, kindle, leap, race, trip and warren, but ‘down’ is the most commonly used noun. A ‘down of hares’ encapsulates the image of these sleek, agile creatures gathered together, exhibiting their social tendencies in a collective display. Within this down, hares can be observed engaging in various activities that emphasize their natural instincts, such as grooming, foraging, or playfully darting across the open terrain.
Hares feature widely in my work and are one of my most requested animal creations. For my ‘Down of Hares’ I have been inspired by iconic stances of hares, completing them in a sgraffito style. As a lover of printmaking techniques, the sgraffito technique of cutting through the top layer to reveal the underlying lighter clay colour has allowed me to achieve a style very like a lino or woodcut.
A Tiding of Magpies
Alternative collective nouns for magpies include a chatter, gulp, mischief, or tribe.
The ‘tiding’ of magpies is a fitting term which captures the social nature and the often conspicuous presence of magpies. The concept of a ‘tiding’ captures the lively and active behavior of magpies as they engage in complex social interactions. Additionally, the term ‘tiding’ reflects a sense of perception often associated with the behaviour of magpies. Due to the mythological beliefs surrounding magpies and their association with luck, the rhyme "one for sorrow, two for joy" links their presence to omens or possible future events. In this context, the collective noun captures not only the physical gathering of the magpies but also the symbolism and perceived meaning that they evoke.
An Ostentation of Peacocks
The most common terms and collective nouns for peacocks (peafowl) are an ostentation, a pride and a muster. When considering the overall appearance of this colourful bird, it is easy to see that at least two of the more frequently used group names above clearly indicate the stature, nature, and appearance of one of the world’s most impressive members of the avian family.
When I decided to relaunch my artistic career in 2016 a circular peacock panel was the first piece of work I made. Its superlative detail offered a wealth of opportunities for me to create pattern and texture and experiment with impressing marks into the clay. And of course, it’s vibrant colouring in shades of emerald green, turquoise, and teal helped cement my favoured colour palette that can been seen across my range as well as in this newest piece.