Anne Barrell – Ceramics with a Maritime Narrative

I am interested in how we look at the world and how we bestow meaning on objects. There is a history to the medium of ceramics which is linked to our industrial heritage and domestic lives. There is an element of the souvenir to my work – not just of a place, but of a time.

I grew up around the estuaries of Essex and have always had a connection with sailing and the sea. Whether that be wading through the mudflats at Southend or Maldon, or family holidays on the Norfolk Broads. Although I studied Public Art and Design and have made some larger tiled panels, most of my work has been on a more domestic scale. I think we should try to enjoy life as much as possible. We create so much meaning through the objects we collect, the gifts we give, and the memories we create. I think of the mantlepiece as a domestic gallery: adorned with curated objects and messages of love at the heart of the home.

I attended art classes in New York and then returned to Britain to do a degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design. I then had a studio at Cockpit Arts in Holborn, London before moving to Eastbourne in 2004.

I am inspired by all things related to the sea and our maritime heritage, as well as by 20th-century British artists. I use the decoration technique of sgraffito: scratching the image into layers of colour on the clay.

There is a definite Alfred Wallis feel to the sgraffito pieces. They feature merchant ships, sailing boats, fishing trawlers and other coastal themes. Rum cups, pedestal bowls, and jugs have hand painted boats and ships traversing stormy seas. As each piece is handmade and painted they all have their own character. My aim is to capture the pull and tug of the sea and coast. I imagine the narratives that I paint on the pieces are related to people; they might be about keeping safe in harbor, or being tossed on a stormy sea.

The more abstract ‘Shell Range’ is made using slabbed clay decorated with soft grey glazes. The shells are completed with a final firing with Gold Lustre. These have a sculptural quality and work well in groups. The gold trim captures that glamorous 1930’s seaside decadence. There’s always a relationship to the emotional pull of the coast.

I joined The Sussex Guild at the end of February 2020, after talking to lots of other members. I’m really enjoying being part of such a high quality and supportive organization. I have met so many accomplished makers, at the shows and as a shop assistant in Lewes. The Sussex Guild shows are a great opportunity to show work directly to public, I really enjoy meeting my customers in person. Although I love working in my studio, it’s rewarding to help customers pick out pieces that suit their personal tastes. 

I’m always working on new pieces and ideas. I work to commission and create collections for shows and galleries. I’m currently working on a special gift commission celebrating a beautiful wooden restored racing sailing yacht. I’m also producing collections for show at galleries next year. It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point, but I love what I do every day and for that I’m very grateful.

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