“It seems you have a ‘national reputation’”, my Mum said over the kitchen table.
I laughed so much I almost choked on my curry.
“For what?” I enquired.
The phrase came from a press release, the ‘blaze’ gallery had sent to the Bristol Evening Post newspaper, previewing my first solo show to be held at their workshop/gallery in the heart of the City.
Towards the end of 2003 I had been invited to show there during the spring of 2004. This was too good an opportunity to refuse. The gallery have a programme of exhibiting established makers as well as new comers so I was following in the footsteps of people like Mo Jupp, Paul Sandammeer and Mike Lawson with the promise of more big names to come.
I was particularly happy to be showing in blaze, which was started by my friends from the BA Ceramics course at UWE, Bristol. I was deeply impressed by their courage and commitment, opening the gallery in 2002, which has one of the best small showing spaces in Bristol.
With an eye towards March 2004, the end of 2003 approached and I considered what large pieces I could make or would have available. At the same time, I was pursuing new lines of work and remained unsure as to whether they would be ready or resolved in time.
In January, I also received an invitation from the Rufford Craft Centre to take part in an exhibition entitled ‘Fruits and Flowers’ which opened at the same time as my blaze show. The invitation asked for 6 – 12 pieces (or even more). This was another golden opportunity which I could not pass up and so sent off my CD of images and some text and got to thinking what to send where, how and by when?
The Rufford opportunity came about as my work had been seen in Art In Clay at Hatfield House and I had been the subject of a personal recommendation. This confirms to me the value displaying work for reasons other than financial. Even though at such shows my sales are somewhat depressed, I refuse to be. My fellow makers say it takes time to become ‘established’ and so I am very happy to show my work and see the smiles on people’s faces. If I need to justify my work, then this is it.
As the deadlines approached, some things were working and some things weren’t. While I was still in between part-time jobs and not selling any work, money was running out but I was thankful to at least be able to prepare as well as possible for the shows and told myself that job-hunting would re-commence after the deadlines had passed.
With the invitation postcards printed and posters prepared, things were coming along nicely. It made me laugh to see a photograph that had been rejected earlier because of a camera fault, skilfully cropped to produce a very good image.
With a week to go I lost two major pieces in their last firings. One of my initial responses is to say, “I’ll make it again…even better!”. However, upon reflection I wonder if it’s just better to move on. Certainly, the pieces are hardly ever made the same again. Often some elements will be absorbed to re-appear later in something else.
With no time left for any further firings before the shows, I spent a pleasant day driving up to Rufford with a car full of pots. A beautifully clear day revealed light dustings of snow on the ploughed fields and forests of Nottinghamshire – an unexpected treat that almost took my breath away.
Back in Bristol, another car load of work made its way to blaze. I was thankful to be able to leave the unpacking and setting up for the girls in the gallery as there were plenty of last-minute things I needed to attend to elsewhere – getting a new comments book, display book, a large poster, personal statements and text to print and laminate...
A last minute hiccup over flowers meant I was able to choose flowers myself to suit the individual vases. This turned out to be such a good thing, as each vase is designed with certain flowers in mind and look empty without anything in them. My favourite flowers are gerberas, so often my vases are made for them, but the show also featured a vase specifically designed for roses. Thankfully, a nearby florist had just the right size and colour roses to complement the piece.
By late afternoon, everything seemed in place and so people went home to change before the evening function. Although I’d told friends and family about the event I was still surprised when they walked through the door! Some especially, had made quite long journeys for which I was very moved. Some words of encouragement, some sales and lots of happy conversations with like-minded people made for a very enjoyable evening. I had to laugh as I rarely go to private views and if I do am usually gone in the time it takes to drink an orange juice. But this time I had to stay and enjoy it, and….I did both.
Now the show is over and everything has been cleared. The gallery has returned to its usual appearance, desks and counters moved back to where they once were, while plinths and cabinets once again display work by the blaze members. I can’t help thinking of Mr Benn returning from an adventure only to walk down his street where everything looks much the same, although inside, you know something special happened.
As a result of showing my work in blaze, I was invited to fill the showcase at the Prema Arts Centre in Uley, Gloucestershire, immediately afterwards - from April to June. Of course I jumped at the chance, saying I would be very happy to show the work, but hesitantly enquired if it mattered that some of the larger, more important pieces were not for sale. I was then told that the centre would love to display the work anyway, and that sales were not the prime objective. Many children would be passing through during the holiday period and it would give them great delight to see my ceramics. Indeed, after they had been up for one day I had to return to add some more pieces and was told that that during registration for the previous evening’s pottery class, ‘squeals of delight’ could be heard.
‘Ahhh’… I thought to myself…’they understand…’
CLICK HERE to see Ed Silverton's profile page and more images.