Grove Vale Ceramics is new. Their March 2020 launch in East Dulwich, London, was delayed by the pandemic, and for weeks, as their doors remained closed, passers-by pressed their noses to the glass, admiring the ceramic displays. Now their doors are open and they are welcoming visitors to browse parades of abstracted vessels, organic sculptural forms, and delicate decorative assemblages.
Grove Vale is a gallery and workshop that is home to four ceramic talents, long-time studio mates established in their own individual practices. Lise Herud Braten, Karine Hilaire, Elza Jaszczuk, and Amanda-Sue Rope met at The Kiln Rooms, a communal, membership-based studio space in Peckham, South East London. Their work is diverse and their backgrounds and influences are similarly so.
The four makers decided to swap the communal studio life that they had outgrown for the new space. Grove Vale Ceramics offers a permanent and more personal work space, and their ambition has created a space that brings together the often-divorced activities of making and display. Where ceramics are too often exhibited on individual pedestal plinths, spot lit in the classic white-cube space, far removed from their tactile, organic origins, Grove Vale Ceramics avoids any hint of the formal gallery. The objects are shown as one might arrange a collection at home. They recall a personal arrangement brought together through happenstance, time, and whim, not through agenda or narrative. The displays have a domestic echo in scale and closeness, almost conscious that a piece taken home becomes part of someone’s life.
Although the four potters’ works are diverse, it is not obvious that this is four bodies of work brought together. They are unified in their diversity; they sit together comfortably. The makers’ collective attention to aesthetics, whether producing functional or sculptural works, allows vessels to sit alongside each other without being jarring. The objects cluster on surfaces, make pairings, and point at siblings across the room, highlighting each other’s uniqueness. The space is light and bright; large windows bathe the pots in clear daylight, not tailored ambient gallery light. The display is neutral and natural, a mix of clean white shelving and an antique butcher’s block, carved through use and memory. There is not a plinth or a Perspex cover in sight. These surfaces are your windowsills, your bookshelves, your dining room table.
Grove Vale Ceramics encourages a personal closeness with the objects and the proximity of the workshop invites the visitor, admirer, perhaps buyer, into an environment they would not usually see. In connecting the displayed objects with their organic origins and often messy production techniques, this allows an understanding and appreciation of the skills, creativity, and time involved. The makers are nearby to answer questions, offer insight, and create bespoke pieces, but the visitor is free to browse and even to handle objects.
That is to say, the floor plan is in fact mostly given over to personal workspaces, throwing, handbuilding, glazing stations, and a private meeting space. The total premises is approximately 645 square feet (60 square meters). The makers share the kiln, slab roller, and general work benches, but have their own wheels and personal hand tools. For the sake of efficiency, they always bisque fire together, and often share space in glaze firings too, as they are firing to approximately the same temperature. Since the gallery is part of the main space, it’s important to keep on top of cleaning. Each maker wet cleans their workstation daily, as well as vacuuming and mopping any spills or dust off the floor as they work. They invested in a high-quality HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner that makes it easy to keep the environment clean and healthy.
While they all find inspiration and motivation in being immediately able to see a newly completed piece in a gallery context, their main aim for this space is to allow each of them to always be working.
Shared Space, Diverse Inspiration
Following a degree in fine art, Amanda-Sue Rope worked as a digital designer and illustrator for 10 years. During this time, she took an evening course in ceramics at Morley College in London, and now her practice is primarily focused on working with clay. Amanda-Sue also teaches ceramics at The Kiln Rooms. She creates both sculptural and functional ceramics on architectural themes with an aesthetic consistency reminiscent of still-life painting. Rich red clay bodies and black shimmering glazes mimic industrial skylines and once billowing chimneys. These follow a series of creamy, stone-like white vessels, and among these are delicate utensils. Amanda-Sue’s vessels often begin on the wheel, thrown forms with elements occasionally cut up and reassembled like 3D paper collage. The decoration is minimal, drawn from grid systems and mark making, glazed only on the interior so the external naked clay body can be celebrated.
Lise Herud Braten originally trained as a bespoke women’s tailor and fashion designer working for several of London’s top couture designers. She ran her own successful couture business for over 10 years before turning to clay after taking classes at an adult-education art school. Lise acquired a part-time studio space and attended courses with makers she admired. After building up her ceramics career, she phased out her couture tailoring business and has since shown in galleries and ceramics fairs across the UK. Her ceramics, largely sculptural and occasionally functional, derive influence from her library of collected objects and observations of the natural world, from her native Norwegian landscape to London’s urban backdrop. Working with many techniques, from thin thrown vessels to roughly textured slabs of coarse clay, the outcomes are often spontaneous and of natural expression. Each piece is finished with a layering of slips, oxides, glazes, and natural ash between firings, lending texture and depth.
Karine Hilaire first worked in Parisian fashion houses and pursued her passion for arts and crafts through a professional French artisan diploma in ceramics. Before moving to London, Karine co-founded a successful ceramics studio in Paris. In addition to Grove Vale, Karine is a resident artist of Clay Habitat, another collectively run ceramics gallery. She also teaches ceramics and is represented by Thrown, a contemporary ceramics gallery in London. Her previous life in fashion and textiles manifests itself in textured ceramic pieces. Her pieces begin on the wheel, but their final form is distorted asymmetrically, maintaining the fluidity of wet clay and creating an organic, off-balance aesthetic. The vessels’ slip decoration is hand painted. Her inspirations come from her travels and reference woven materials including basketry and traditional ikat textiles from India and Central Asia.
Elza Jaszczuk studied language and worked as a project manager for a translation firm. To find relief from her fast-paced job, Elza enrolled in a council-run ceramics class and fell in love with clay. She took the step to quit her day job and, when she wasn’t making her own work, she managed operations for The Kiln Rooms before co-founding Grove Vale Ceramics. She creates one-off decorative pieces that are both intricate and delicate, inspired by natural elements and organic forms. Each ceramic piece is built from smaller sculpted pieces that evoke growth and spread in the wild. In her recent series, In search for the sea, Elza’s works reference the majestic Baltic landscape of her childhood, drawing on the colors, shapes, rhythm, and dynamics of the seascape.
The aim of Grove Vale Ceramics is to tap into the growing popularity of handmade ceramics. The artists comment that they have seen more young people purchasing and willing to spend more money on a single piece, finding value in individual skill and artistry. This increase in the appreciation of craft objects, specifically ceramics, goes hand in hand with a motivation to buy local and a rejection of mass-produced wares. Their hope is to contribute to a revival of the high street and narrow the still-felt gap between so-called craft and fine arts. However, in their ambition to create singular, precisely made objects that can be enjoyed for their beauty, whether functional or not, it is obvious to say they are already succeeding.
Following a canceled launch due to COVID-19, their first exhibition was staged in the digital realm. Making the best out of a bad situation, they focused on making their website descriptive of their distinctive styles, yet cohesive to represent the harmony to be found in their gallery. They found wide support from the online community, keen to share and discover new makers.
Despite their start lacking the momentum they anticipated, Grove Vale Ceramics is now opening their doors to visitors and the makers are enjoying their engagement with the public. Visitors should expect to see future displays of new works by all four makers, as well as individual showcases, introducing each makers personal style and technique as well as demonstrating how pieces by different makers can converse with and complement each other. And finally, with their much-delayed kiln (a Rohde TE 200S electric kiln) now installed, visitors can enjoy a glimpse into a fully functional studio.
At the moment, Grove Vale Ceramics only features the work of its four founders but they have said there may be occasion to show the work of others in the future. You can also find each artist’s ceramics on their own websites, at art fairs, and often featured in exhibitions at other galleries nationally and internationally.
The displays will be constantly evolving as the makers can focus on their practice, with the responsibilities of running the gallery split between the four of them. The gallery offers what a traditional studio may not—daily interaction with their audience, outsider perspectives on a work, and an inquisitive eye. They hope to attract a range of visitors, from casual browsers to ceramic collectors and interior designers, people who appreciate the beautiful and handmade. It is important to them not to be considered a high-brow establishment, but a space where anyone can enter and find a small gift for a friend or themselves or feel confident to invest in a statement piece.
All photos: Tom Kurek.