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An Interview with Graham Clayton

Graham is a ceramicist working from studios in Borland Road and in south-west France. He lives in East Dulwich.

Can you talk a bit about your background?

I grew up in south-east London, and I have always loved making things. I left school with two O-levels – one in religious studies and one in art and pottery. Art was really the only subject I was any good at!
My early career was in the world of advertising, initially as a ‘paste up’ artist. Then it was very much a self-taught subject, but the graphic art background was a great discipline to have. For example, in translating form and visualisation. After a stint of 15 years and then being self-employed, I began to feel a need to free myself up and be more creative, so I embarked on an evening class in ceramics at the City Lit, which lead to a part-time diploma course. After that I studied for a BA in ceramics at Camberwell College of Art. I was then fortunate enough to be able to continue with my ceramics whilst working part-time as a landscape gardener.

How did you first become interested in ceramics?

I think it was my need to escape the two-dimensional and embrace the three-dimensional world. I loved using clay at school and later realised that this was the medium for me.

Where do your ideas for your ceramics come from and what materials do you use?

Ideas come from everywhere as I’m not very good at sticking to one idea. I can read a book, see something that triggers a thought, usually something from memory or something ancient or something organic, then I will do a simple sketch – my sketch books are full of ideas.

As an example, I feel that the ‘centaurs’ that I made are from childhood memories and stories about toys.
I use clay to express my ideas and use a strong earthenware body containing plenty of grog. Grog is clay that has been fired and then ground up, and can come in many particle sizes, from fine to coarse. Its addition gives the clay strength. I can then manipulate the piece as I build. Sometimes the finished work is cast in resin or, very occasionally, in bronze. I am drawn to form rather than surface decoration or colour and use simple slips and glazes. I also like the unpredictable effects of smoke and raku firing.

Are you inspired by any particular artist?
There is not one artist that influences me, but many and for different reasons. I love the monumental abstract sculpture of Henry Moore; in fact, all sculpture from classical to modern, brutalism the symbolic and mixed media paintings of Anselm Kiefer, and the images of the film-maker Peter Greenaway. For me it’s all about light and the way it affects our visual understanding of form.

Can you talk about your process of working?

I usually start from a plaster mould that I have made using bits and pieces that I have found – toys, simple forms or, as an example, a child’s ball.

I press clay into a mould to form a wall. Once I release the clay from the mould, I cut, join, reassemble and add clay slabs and ‘bash’ with a wooden spoon into the shape I want. It’s very subconscious and meditative. I rely a lot on the way light creates shadows – then I’m off, as it just happens!

Where do you exhibit your work?

Over the years I have exhibited in galleries including Cork Street, the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, the London gallery Cavaliero Finn, which also has online sales, and the Dulwich Festival’s Artists’ Open House.

What do you like about living in south-east London?

I was born in Camberwell and have always lived in south-east London. I love the edgy vibe, its mix of people, the green open spaces and the local culture.

How long have you been involved in Artists’ Open House and what do you like about being part of it?

This will be my 7th year of opening my house to the public. I like the opportunity to display my work in a home environment and alongside the ceramics of Catherine Macleod, who shares the Nunhead studio with me, and Odette Selva’s jewellery.

The feedback has been brilliant. Last year, we had nearly 500 visitors over the two weekends, which was fantastic. My garden has also become well known, appearing in a book and in the RHS Garden magazine, so some visitors came to see that – but we hope looked at the ceramics, too!

I also love the interaction with our neighbour, garden designer Antonia Schofield, who showcases her garden with illustrator and glass engraver Steven Myers. For these reasons we get a variety of very interested visitors.

What are you showing during this year’s Artists’ Open House?

There are some new ceramic wall pieces, vessels and forms, alongside maquettes of new centaurs which I will be working from in the future!

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