‘Squidge, squadge, squash and splash’ - CC&GG visit to Sandy Brown.
Walking through the door into Sandy Brown’s workshop at Appledoor in Devon, visiting members of CC&GG stopped in awe. The large light space drew us into a studio full of the usual wheels, kilns, clay, glaze bins and pottery paraphernalia.
Singing out along one wall were two rows of 18’’ square 1’’ thick tiles, each with bold, bright brushstrokes, a vast half made open form standing in front of a sizeable abstract painting, large striped platters leaning against one wall and a collection of maquettes gathered on a cupboard top. Decoration achieved through gouged and pummelled clay, cleverly painted with colours - blue, yellow, pink on white pull your eyes around the room. In contrast, Sandy making coffee to welcome us is dressed in black.
By way of introduction we were led upstairs into a white gallery where Sandy’s current ceramics and paintings are displayed. The majority of work is sold through exhibitions these days, this group is destined for a show in Germany and is an impressively cohesive body of work. An eighteen inch crank clay plate, painted with slips and colourful glazes, has metal bolts; the sprung spine of a notebook and chunks of shard, fired onto it giving the piece depth and vitality. More huge abstract paintings and sculptures fill the room, colour and texture on confident forms. We found It challenging to stand still long enough to allow Sandy time to talk, the piecesthemselves demanded attention and members split into small groups examining and discussing, excited by the work around them.
Down in the workshop, Sandy demonstrates and applies soft slabs of crank clay to the large open pot, patchwork style, talking while working and explaining her method of using maquettes as sources of inspiration. Having set a timer for 30 minutes, Sandy plays with the clay until the timer goes off, ‘‘Adventures happen’’ and a nine inch 3D doodle can develop into a four metre high sculpture. Loose cuts of clay are laid onto canvas covered board and pushed with the heel of her hand into a long, irregular slab. Ribbons of crank and porcelain are pushed on, forming random pattern and a flat plastic stamp is pushed onto the surface, creating further texture before the whole is turned over and rolled onto a taped cylinder of foam. It is left until hard enough to stand before adding the base.
Sandy had a difficult childhood but was a champion sprinter at school. It is in her nature to finish work fast but, she jokes, she now has more stamina for the longer race and these days is prepared to be patient, leaving pieces before adding the next stage and avoiding the risk of collapse. The black clay body Sandy is using now gives a strong contrast to inlaid clays, the pieces are then dried, biscuit fired in an electric kiln before decoration of slips and glazes are brushed on. The gloss firing follows with an oxidised atmosphere in a large gas kiln. Reduction effects producing more muted colour response are not part of her desired palette.
After lunch we watch a pile of plates being decorated. Already biscuit fired and glazed, the task is approached in a very Sandy way. ‘’I like creating an atmosphere where I don’t need a plan’’
Taking time to position her many pots of colours exactly where they are needed around the workbench and, only when satisfied they are all in the right place, ‘‘no talking or questions please’’ the plates are painted, deft brushstrokes - stripes, arcs, blobs and squiggles. It is controlled but free, painterly and Intuitive.
We returned to the gallery above, now we knew ’how and why’ we looked with a more open eye, appreciating the bravery and talent behind the work. Photographs do not do justice to Sandy’s pieces and the experience of the visit left CC&GG members heading for home with very vibrant impressions of Sandy Brown potter,sculptor, painter and her work.