Alice Johnson lives and works in London. She began working with ceramics while studying for her Bachelors Degree in Illustration. Alice then went on to study at the distinguished Royal College of Art and was supposed to be working towards her final physical show, graduating from her Masters in Ceramics, however, COVID-19 changed this. The show became a virtual one and tested the artists who could no longer access the tools and materials that they were previously using. During this time Alice used her initiative and turned to the materials around her. Polyfilla and newspaper have now become her go-to materials. Read on to find out more about this exciting, emerging artist!
Please tell us a little about you - what is your background?
Originally, I studied illustration for my BA at the University of Brighton. The course really pushes you to work outside of the sketchbook, and that’s where my interest in ceramics began. Even now, I find this way of working informs my practice - the idea of bringing a drawing to life in clay is just another way of drawing, really. Narration and communication are integral to my practice and have evolved through the materiality of ceramics, and colour and shape are at the core of my practice. Through my work I engage and examine the relationship between objects and the domestic; how objects can serve a purpose but also evoke a story or a sense of nostalgia while transcending time, and in turn carrying memories with them.
How did you start working with ceramics?
During my BA at Brighton, I began making a lot of sculptures, starting with air drying clay. I find it just didn’t have quite the same feel – it’s very brittle and stubborn to work with. So, I went over to the Ceramics Department at the University, and I haven’t looked back! I have been predominately self-taught, making it up as I go along, which is why I went to the RCA to develop my skills.
Who/ what are your biggest influences?
At the moment, I am hugely influenced by the domestic space and the rituals that take place there - I am interested in celebrating the everyday. For my dissertation, I wrote about Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex. The house acted as a canvas to the artists that lived there, and I loved looking at the idea of functionality and sculpture coexisting in one liveable space. The home has traditionally been a very private space but in the digital world, these boundaries are being blurred.
I am also obsessed with the aesthetic of the 1970s, particularly interiors and food photography. I love how garish and completely over the top it is while emitting a certain charm - this is often where I get my colour and form inspiration from.
Betty Woodman has been a huge influence, particularly how she pushed the boundary of art and craft and 2D and 3D. Then others such as Franz West, Picasso, Moore and Hepworth; to name a few.
What themes do you explore in your work?
I am intrigued by our relationship with objects and the versatility of coexisting materials in a ‘domestic collage’. Objects are the props of our existence in the theatrical interior scenes we inhabit. While exploring the material landscape of the domestic and how the roles of the functional and the sculptural play within this, I look at our modern and primal rituals within the private yet digitised domestic space. I intend to create work that embodies this by abstracting the familiar and functional and turning it into something sculptural.
How do you develop your ideas and what’s your process of working?
I always start by doing lots of drawings. Sometimes I scan the drawings in and make digital collages to roughly plan what I will make. I hand build my pieces and find that however hard you try to follow a drawing the clay has a mind of its own and the piece ends up looking completely different - but I think this is the joy of clay. You can control it but it also controls you. It can be an emotional heart-breaking rollercoaster at times!
We love the work you've been making during lockdown, from Polyfilla and Papier-Mache - has using a new medium made you approach your ideas differently?
Using Polyfilla/ Papier-mache began in a tongue in cheek way! I was supposed to be working towards my final, physical show at the RCA but sadly due to current circumstances, it became a virtual one. It was suggested that we get our work digitally rendered, however, this completely contradicts the tactility of ceramics. As I was unable to make any ceramic work during lockdown I turned to the materials around me; the byproducts of our daily lives. Materials such as newspaper, foil, cardboard, etc, along with Polyfilla, tape, paint samples. On reflection, working with these domestic materials was poignant to my original research. I set out to transform the mundane to the marvellous; to celebrate the everyday rituals in a time when we were so aware and at one with them. The totems I created set out to embody this.
Working with these materials allowed me freedom in that I am not solely depended on ceramic. I can work in a different way if needs be. Although saying that I have really missed working with clay and can’t wait to get properly stuck in again.
Where do you work from? How do you like to work?
I have just moved into a new studio in Hoxton which is really exciting. It feels like turning over a new leaf from the mess of the RCA. It feels strange touching clay again after so long but I'm excited to get back into the rhythm of making and thinking of some new ideas. I find that I need to write daily to-do lists of what I need to achieve to keep me on track otherwise it's easy for me to go off on a tangent.
Follow Alice on Instagram and watch her journey unfold!