I’ve worked hard on the piece over the last month or so. This was with help from my own colleague Patrick O’Donohue who is a great ceramic artist, who initially suggested some ideas for the form of the artwork inspired by the ceramics of Jiktha Parmer, who creates some wonderful painted vessels. As I’m not a 3D artist, Pat thought it would be a good approach to collaborate; where I could paint on a vessel that he had thrown. He was absolutely right.
My design was based on an initial suggestion by Stu’s workmates that reflected his love of family and his family life, based on the idea of using different hands to express this. All Stu ever really wanted in life was a family of his own so I held onto this idea, combined with a love of nature that he also had.
I normally work only from primary sources, but after a few failed attempts at drawing from my own hands to get started, I quickly realised the limits of this. Having no one else to model for me, I instead decided to make studies from lots of paintings in books in my collection, looking particularly at Renaissance artists such as Pierro Della Francesca, Mantegna, Fra Angelico, and Botticelli. I really enjoyed this and found it really absorbing. Through the act of drawing from these sources it really taught me a lot and opened up the possibilities. It’s one of the oldest artistic traditions, copying from old masters, but not one I’ve directly done much of myself. I really learned the value of it more deeply.
If I had to have a ‘desert island painting’, it would always be Pierro’s ‘Baptism of Christ’ at the National Gallery (above). There is something in the tenderness between the Christ figure and John the Baptist that I find incredibly moving. The way the whole scene is painted with both a clarity and restraint is inspiring. The actual casting of the Christ figure must be one of the greatest things in Western Art. I wanted to convey some of these feelings in the piece too if that’s not too presumptious of me.
At half term Pat threw some terrific large ceramic plates in terracotta, which were then fired and I then painted. Below is the image before it was glazed and fired again. You can see the teal blue background is much lighter before firing. I think I prefer the darker fired blue.
It was a relief handing it over today. It has been a difficult piece to make, both emotionally, and trying to work with different materials such as glaze paints. I also felt the pressure of expectation of everyone at Stu’s work. They were really pleased though, so that’s great. I remember last December when the Principal, Dr Lynne Morris MBE, retired from Joseph Chamberlain College where I teach. There was a huge send off for her and celebration of her professional achievements and her very long, prestigious career. I found it a very difficult evening, as my thoughts were full of Stu, who was by then off work and we had learned he was not going to get any better. I just thought Stu will never have any celebration of his own working life, he has just slipped quietly away home. But these last few months have proved how wrong I was as I have seen the impact Stu had on all those around him and the huge gap left behind. Now, to have an award named after him is very comforting after those feelings at that retirement evening. I feel very proud of Stu and glad I could play my own part in marking his personal and professional achievements like this.