Cathy D'Arcy - Article by Gary Cornford

01 Jan 2006

To market, to market to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

Well, some folks do think that rural life be getting to me. In fact, my recent trip to market was to the Broadway Market in Hackney to see a variety of animals in the Two by Two exhibition at Broadway Ceramics. This is a co-operative run by a group of potters among whom are a number of LP's finest. I had come particularly to meet CathyD'Arcy and see her'beastly bandits' which I and many others had admired at LP's Open Exhibition at Morley last November. The bandits are jolly, blackandwnitestriped creatures with flat, humanoid feet. The black stripe across the eyes is like a mask, hence the bandit name. They have equine shapes and playful-puppy characters which almost invite one to throw a ball...........! Oh come on. A ball in a china shop? That's not on, rural influence or not.

It is Cathy's duty day at the gallery and after a tour of the premises, which are still being completed, and a look at the members'work we settle to chat about Cathy's work and her eventual arrival in bandit territory.

After leaving school Cathy went to the London College of Furniture to study textiles and eventually set up a studio weaving knotted rugs on a wonderful loom from an elderly lady in Wales who had used it to weave stoles for Harrods during the war. This weaving days came to an end when the business of bending over a loom for hours caused back problems togetherwith the arrival of herfirst child.

After a while she felt she had to get out and do something besides parenting so began potting at an adult institute where she gained her City and Guilds and Advanced City and Guilds certificates. Working from home she set up a gallery with three other potters at the Alexandra Palace Garden Centre selling their own work. After a year, two of the group dropped out and Cathy saw this as an opportunity to try a different sort of ceramics. Up until this time she had been throwing domesticware very intensively and herhandswere beginning to be painful and so she enrolled on a two year course at the City Lit where she found herself still throwing but doing sculptural pieces ratherthan repetitive throwing of jugs, bowls and mugs.

Following on from the City Lit Cathy set up her present studio just round the corner from the Broadway Market making pieces assembled from thrown-porcelain elements and decorated with her trademark black and white bands. She was still getting pain in her hands and decided to analyse what was causing the problem. She made changes to her posture but soon realised that it was the repetition that was the problem. "I used to throw twenty pots without stopping. Now I only prepare four balls of clay at a time and then get up and walk away from the wheel. As a result my hands aren't too bad now. As far as the animals are concerned they came about after a really intense time last year when I had to get three lots of work ready forthree different galleries. When I had finished I had two weeks to go before my summer holiday and decided to just do something for myself. My early years were spent in Africa and Kuwait and I think I was influenced by the local arts and crafts we had around the house. At one time I had also made papier mache animalswhichwere more lifelike than the bandits. So I decided to try making animals from slabs of clay. A studio colleague was using Earthstone and I thought I would try it asa change from porcelain." In fact Cathy is so impressed with the smooth Earthstone body that she is now planning to throw with it so that she can make larger pieces than the porcelain will allow for her non-bandit pieces.

In the begnning was the six-legged bandit. "The character just evolved and I was very happy making it and looking forwards to going into the studio every day. I didn't do any sketching beforehand. After I had done two or three I tried sketching ideas but none came. I was just doodling with clay. In the case of the six-legged bandit I started from a cylinder for the body and added neck and head. When it came to the tegs I realised that the body was too long for four legs. Not having worked with Earthstone before I didn't know whether it would warp or not so added two more legs in the middle and that was it."

Subsequent bandits have four legs but I think old Six Legs looks fine just as she is. Cathy's one concern is that the straight legs make the animals look rather rigid and she would like to get more movement into them. Formy part I like the rigidity simply because the very nature of the beasts suggest latent energy and the possibility of action the moment you turn your back on them. We discuss the possibility of working to a largerscale but she is restricted by her kiln at present. In fact she can only fit one band it at a time into her top-loader. "People think the animals are tiny when they see them in pictures." In fact the animals are about 40cm long and 30cm tall". Cathy is particularly excited that the animals will be getting an outdoor showing at an Artspace exhibition run bythe Barn Galleries in Henley where they will be standing in grass and will surely be reminiscent of zebras on the plains of Africa.

Following on from the bandits, Cathy is working on human figures very reminiscent of African sculptures, squatting like primitive totems and clearly marking herchildhood influences. It is amazing how her very early contact with ethnic art has survived. From the age of seven Cathy was sent to school in England at the very progressive Bedales school. Here she was able to explore clay, knitting, bookbinding and woodwork as well as the more usual arts. She says that she was very lucky in that respect but the downside was only getting to go home to her family once a yearwhich she dryly describes as "not a normal upbringing". As well as the skills she learnt at school herfamily background is 'arty-crafty' in that herfather was an architect until she was eighteen when he and her mother moved to a commune in Somerset. They set up a smallholding and he seats chairs with rushes whilst her motherdoesleatherwork.Cathy's sister also studied textiles and herthree children are all involved in creative studies such as film and design technology.

The subject of children leads us to an Art for Schools project in which Cathy was involved in Finsbury Park. The scheme was to make tiles on the theme of plants which rather than being flat were created in 3D on the tile before painting with velvet underglaze colours. "What was amazing was the number of children from widely different cultures and the way this was expressed in their flowers. For instance one little Chinese boy was engrossed in modelling a chrysanthemum and an Indian boy carved paisley patterns on histile". In fact, showing exactly the same sort of influences as Cathy reveals in her bandits.

I ask Cathy about her predilection for black and white and whether she ever used colour. "Oh yes. When I left college and was making domestic earthenware I used lots of bright colours; blues, yellows, greens, again with blackdesigns on them. I also used barium glazes on porcelain giving purples and lime green but found the colours contaminated the pieces next to them. I tried keeping them to separate kiln shelves but even so found that I was getting a lot of wastage. I would like to get colour into my present work as people do respond to it but then again I do like black and white". The stripey bandit's bands are velvet underglaze on to the earthstone fired, unglazed to 1200c.

Moving from the gallery to Cathy's wonderful studio with tremendous views accross London and shared with three other potters. "It is good to have other makers around to bounce ideas off and to share with. One of my colleagues has just acquired a slab-roller which has been great for my slab work". So I get to meet the first three totemic figures in plain Earthstone. I forgetto askwhetherthey would have any black additions. It is also a chance to see Cathy's porcelain pieces, particularly an array of wall mounted discs - in black and white of course - in front of which the three figures sit reminding me of the three wise monkeys. Contrary to the perception of her bandits appearing small her porcelain pieces look massive in photographs. She cites Hans Coper as a major influence for his shapes, colours and the, similarly, monumental scale of his works.

We talk about galleries and Cathy says thatthere was a time when she took her work around "from the Isle of Man to the Isle ofArran". Butthe sheer effort of preliminary visits; delivery of work if mutually agreed; thetripforthe private view and then the collection of unsold work over long distances becametoo much. Nowadays she uses the internet to assess galleries and finds that many galleries approach her through her gallery pages on the LP, Hidden Art and Studio Pottery websites. She now resists the urge to visit each place and uses carrier firms to transport her work.

It is time for me to leave and let Cathy get back to her beastly work. I bid farewell to the bandits and head south to green- welly country. I shall keep a lookout for bandits on the way, which will make a nice change from the essential Battle habit of keeping an eye open for Norman Archer.
Gary Cornford

Contact Cathy at: 13 Elyne Road, London N4 4RA
Tel/Fax: 0208341 4212 Email:
You can find Cathy's work at:
Buckenham Galleries, Southwold
Curve Gallery, Sheffield
Burnside Gallery, Isle of Arran
Wonderwall Gallery, Cirencester
Isle Gallery, Isle of Man
Broadway Ceramics, London
Start Gallery, Brighton