Clay creatures – Rosie Connolly

“What I find intriguing is the transformation of something that is perhaps seen as grim or ‘grotesque’ into something beautiful, distinct and new. The contrast between the delicate treatment of the surface, the material, and the form itself create a friction that is intended to generate a dialogue and a different way of viewing things.”

Rosie Connolly’s work has received nothing but great reviews in her field. Her journey in the career of art was influenced by a roller coaster ride of no limits. Throwing herself into the world of ceramics was not always her ultimate goal in life, but the path that brought her there makes an extremely great story to tell.

Garde Magazine sits down with Rosie and shares her story.

Why didn’t you choose ceramics in the beginning?

When I was applying for my BA, I was a dedicated painter, I had always made paintings. But my foundation course had a ceramics room that really piqued my interest. It was full of different clays, chemicals and equipment I had never seen before.

The summer before I started at Chelsea, I enrolled on a short course in ceramics and was captivated. Influenced by this, my paintings slowly became more sculptural and full of texture. I added sawdust, sand, plaster and anything I could find to mix with the paint.

I soon realised that I could not achieve what I wanted in paint and threw myself into ceramics. I think studying ceramics in a fine art context was extremely beneficial to my practice. It really pushed me to experiment and test the boundaries of the material.

I felt as though I wasn’t bound by any limits, I could use the clay in any way I wanted to. It fuelled my interest in the significance of the display of artwork, as the impact of the museum is deeply ingrained in ceramics.

Is there any other media that you like to use?

I made some work in bronze during my degree, cast from a clay sculpture and some pieces cast in wax. I liked the clash of different materials shown together. It undermined the presumed preciousness of the ceramic pieces, adding a jarring feeling to the installation.

I would definitely like to take this further and explore working with different metals. Currently, I am thinking about incorporating glass into the work somehow, that is the next challenge.

Tell us what you have learned as you reflect on your creations.

There is always more. A project is never really finished; it develops and feeds in to the next. I remember my tutors telling me ‘the final show isn’t final’ and they were right. Likewise, there is always more to know, to find out. Always dig deeper.

In what ways do you think clay represents you the most?

Clay has completely transformed my work. I am able to realise things in clay that I could not properly express before. The process of making in clay is slow, disciplined and methodical.

When I was painting, I often found that the speed with which it allowed me to work could be detrimental to what I was trying to achieve. I would act rashly and, in my view, ruin a piece with a few brushstrokes. I did not think I had any patience until I started to work with clay, when I found it was infinite. Working in clay makes me carefully consider everything I do, each mark, each twist, and each feather.

Do you like animals a lot?

I do like animals! Particularly birds, I am mesmerised by their vibrant colours, feathers and the fact they can fly. They are so strange, as though from a different time. I suppose with their close links to dinosaurs they are. Foxes are of particular interest to me too. Their prominence in myth and folklore give them a mystical quality, whilst their presence in towns, cities and on the roadside gives them the appearance of outsiders.

Your works are mainly based on animals, why is that?

I find animals fascinating. They are so other to us, but so easily imbued with human qualities. Using animals in my sculpture is a way of exploring human concerns from a removed standpoint, not unlike in Aesop’s fables. The heightened extremes in the lives of animals epitomise the physicality I want to portray.

Also, they are mainly laid on the ground. Why?

I am really interested in the somatic qualities of clay, how it relates to and reflects the body. So in my sculptures, I want to portray weightiness, a sense of gravity. The pieces have a feeling of stillness, whilst also seeming to be on a tipping point, on the verge of something else. There is a subtle tension. I like the idea of a graceful slump or an elegant crash. 

Could we ask why your works are mainly monotone?

I used to use a lot of different colours in my work, mixing up matte, dry glazes to apply to the sculptures. But as I have continued, I have found that fired clay in its original raw state, is so tangible and corporeal. It is far better suited to what I want to portray. Using glazes and lots of different colours adds decorative aspect to ceramics, something that I think detracts from texture and form of the work.

Is there a unified message that you want to convey from the animals?

I don’t know if there is a unified message per se. I am interested in conveying a physical awkwardness, a collapse, and a frailty in the forms. There is vulnerability in the positions of the pieces, almost helplessness.

What is your next project?

At the moment, I am planning on expanding some of my sculptures, like the swan and the small birds in ‘Flock’ into larger series. I think the way multiple works can relate to one another through how they are placed is really thought provoking. They can form a spatial narrative as the accumulated carved lines of texture form each piece and, in turn, each piece forms the installation as a whole.

What is your future plan?

The possibilities seem endless right now. Since graduating, everything is wide open. I have my studio at 318 Ceramics in Farnham, where I am busy building up a body of new work. It has been fantastic, I was worried coming out of university that I wouldn’t have anywhere I could continue making my sculptures, as working in ceramics I need more than an empty room as a studio.

I want to keep making, keep creating and to start showing my work. At some point in the future I would like to continue my studies. I am looking for opportunities to make some work in response to a particular museum or collection and exhibit it among the original pieces, enlivening and reanimating them in a new context.

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