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Interview with ceramicist Christine Gittins

(April 06, 2009)
Interview with Christine Gittins
 
 
 
Ceramicist Christine Gittins was born and brought up in South Africa. Having trained originally as a graphic designer, she discovered her love of working with clay when she began pottery evening classes in 1982. Before coming to Wales, Christine had enjoyed considerable success in South Africa, the pinnacle of which was the success of her privately owned and well respected gallery. 

Christine settled in Wales in 1994, setting up her studio in The Model House, Llantrisant, in one of the resident artist's studios available at this well respected arts centre. During 1998 Christine set up The Old Bakehouse Studio in Llantrisant, which she closed when she decided to return to a studio space at The Model House in 2007.

Pieces from her collections have been featured in numerous exhibitions, both British and internationally. Her first stand-alone exhibition was at the Beaux Arts Gallery in Bath during September 1995. Another solo exhibition followed in 1998. Christine also participated in the 'Made for Wales' Craft Forum in Barcelona during 1995, and in the UK Festival, Oita City, Japan, during 1998, which was organized by the Makers Guild in Wales. A further example of the high esteem in which her work is held was her selection for In The Window, an individual profile exhibition at the Contemporary Ceramics Gallery, London, during 1996. In 1999, Christine was awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Wales to develop further collections.


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Smaller lidded pot with quill, Christine Gittins

 

Christine describes her work as a cross between African and Western styles. The influence of her birthplace, in terms of colour, form, and the textures she uses to achieve the distinctive look of her pieces, is evident in her work. 

The pieces Christine produces are predominantly classical shapes (using wheel thrown earthenware clay), with spherical designs being her particular favourite. While the form of her work has a strong classical feel, her use of colour and texture give her pieces a contemporary theme. 

Christine saggar-fires her pieces in a kiln, and a combination of salt, smoke, copper and sawdust react to produce the beautiful and individual surfaces that make her work so distinctive. The contrast between the smooth surface finish of her pieces (achieved by burnishing the clay), with the rich use of textures and colours, are key indicators of a Christine Gittins piece. 

Christine is a member of the Makers Guild in Wales, and a member of the The British Craft Potters Association.

 
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 Two jars with gold lids, Christine Gittins
 
 
CC … Christine, in the introduction we touched briefly on why you became interested in ceramics. Please tell us a little more about how you started.

CG … I became interested in pottery when a friend invited me along to attend some evening classes with her. When I made my first pot on the wheel, I knew there would be no turning back! Before long I purchased my own wheel and kiln with borrowed money. Teaching pottery and only keeping one step ahead of my pupils, forced me to into learning whatever I could and developing my own style early on in my career. I am mostly self-taught as a potter, but my training as a graphic artist has always stood me in good stead. Running a gallery alongside my studio has proved to be a good working environment with a lot of benefits.

 

CC … Your work seems very influenced by your birthplace. Please tell us about how this manifests itself in your designs.

CG … I love Africa and memories of my childhood and the closeness to nature I experienced growing up is still a strong influential factor of my work. The essence of Africa is what I would like to express in my work – through form, colour and texture.


 
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Three bottles with long, narrow necks, Christine Gittins
 

CC … Some of your pieces seem to have a strong animal motif and / or influence. Do you think that this is another of the African influences on your work?

CG … Definitely. Whilst I do not usually depict anything figuratively, there are a lot of references and metaphors in my work referring to Africa. A lot of this refers to my interest in the ancient Rock art sites of the San people, or Bushman. I have been using Rock Art images on my work, and visiting these ancient sites whilst in Africa has had a huge effect on my work.

 

CC … The juxtaposition between classical shapes and modern colour combinations and finishing techniques makes your work very distinctive. Why do you think that this combination works so well?

CG … My thrown work is based on classical shapes that have been made by numerous people stretching over millennia - tried and tested! In exaggerating or altering these shapes I apply my own interpretations to create a piece that is current and contemporary.


CC … How important to you is the use of colour in your work?

CG … For me form goes before anything else. The colour on my work is a challenge to achieve. It has been an ongoing and sometimes frustrating journey to achieve a finish that compliments the pieces, without overwhelming the essence of the form.

 

CC … What made you choose to live and work in Wales?

 
CG … I married a Welshman fifteen years ago. Does it need any more explaining?

 
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Five small potsChristine Gittins

CC ... You have a studio at The Model House, Llantrisant. Are people able to come and visit the studio to view your work?

CG … I welcome visitors to my studio in Llantrisant. However, as my wheel and kiln are at my home, I am not in my studio all that often, and it would be a good idea to make an appointment to avoid disappointment.

 

CC … It is difficult to appreciate from photographs quite how delicate and tactile your work is. I saw your work at Craft in the Bay recently. The porcelain-like translucence you give to your work is quite breathtaking. How do you achieve the surface sheen?

CG … I use a process called burnishing. It is literally smoothing the surface of the clay by compressing the particles with a smooth tool like the back of a spoon or a smooth pebble. Burnishing was originally done by primitive potters where the firing of the clay in bonfires could only reach low temperatures. By burnishing the pots they tried to make the pieces more waterproof. A layer of wax brings out the shine and protects the surface. This is applied after the firing. I use a version of this technique to achieve the smooth surfaces on my work.

 

CC … As well as creating wonderful ceramics you also work in other media. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

CG … I also studied photography at University, and with the onset of photo manipulating software on the computer, I have found a way to combine my love of photography with my graphic art training. This is a hobby that I hope to pursue further when I am not able to bear the physical demands of being a potter any more!

 
 
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 Narrow neck potChristine Gittins

 
CC … Where do you find the inspiration for your work?

CG … That is difficult to answer – there is much within myself that I draw on, but I also find inspiration in the landscape, natural beauty, ceramics of ancient civilizations, architecture and the work of other contemporary artists and ceramicists.

 

CC … Do you ever 'go with the flow' to see where happy accidents may lead. Or, is everything that doesn't go according to plan re-thrown?

CG … My work is thrown with precision and, as a bit of a perfectionist, the work going into the kiln should comply to my standards. However, my method of saggar-firing is nothing but “happy accidents”. Once in the saggar the control is out of my hands and I can just wait in anticipation to see what the fire had created on the surface of my pots!

 

CC ... Craft in the Bay is a wonderful exhibition space. How long have you been showing your work there?

CG … I have been fortunate to have been selected as a member of the Makers Guild in Wales when I applied for membership in 1994. Their gallery, Craft in the Bay, is a wonderful showcase for Welsh craft. I feel very privileged to be a part of it.


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Tall lidded pot with quillChristine Gittins
 
CC ... Your pieces are also exhibited in many other galleries and exhibition spaces. Would you tell us a little more about these?

CG … I often exhibit in group shows with the Makers Guild or South Wales Potters. With the makers Guild I've had the opportunity to show work in Barcelona, Japan and Jersey. I also do selected Ceramic fairs. I have recently participated in the Oxford Ceramic Fair. In 2008 I was an invited demonstrator for the Midlands Potters Association and I also showed my work with South Wales Potters at the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. I have work in a number of galleries in Britain and I also show work in galleries in France and South Africa.

 

CC ... Do you have any exhibitions planned for 2009?

CG … I am exhibiting with South Wales Potters at the Gallery at Bevere in Worcester in May and I will participate In Earth and Fire – a selected international ceramic fair in Rufford, Nottinghamshire in June.
 
CC ... Christine Gittins, thank you.

 

© 2009 Caregos Cyf. | Hawlfraint- All rights reserved


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