Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly

19 Sep 2019
Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly

Q&A with Claudia Rankin

Claudia Rankin presents her second solo exhibition at The Scottish Gallery this October. Beastly brings a fantastical array of ceramic creatures to The Gallery in the form of both sculptural and functional works such as animal candelabras and platters. Eyes are wide and fangs are bared – picture the lion from The Wizard of Oz or heraldic beasts from antiquity, whose posturing is touched with absurdity.

Read on to learn more about Claudia's practice, why she became interested in ceramics, her inspirations and her processes.

Can you tell us more about your recent work that features in Beastly?

The titles for my work tend to be simple and descriptive. That way people can see a piece which maybe sparks a suggested narrative of their own. Recently I’ve been playing a lot with making images of animals or figures showing their teeth. Occasionally they look genuinely menacing but more often they appear a little nervous and unsure of their feral strength. So, the title for this exhibition, Beastly, seemed to fit. It summoned for me an image of the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz putting on a show of bravado that thinly concealed his chattering teeth.

Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Works in progress for 'Beastly' in Claudia's Northumberland studio, August 2019

Occasionally they look genuinely menacing but more often they appear a little nervous and unsure of their feral strength.

What is your earliest memory that featured ceramics?

My mother was an antique dealer specialising in Oriental porcelain, so our house was packed with an ever-changing collection of Japanese and Chinese ceramics and we had an early understanding that the sitting room was out of bounds for gymnastics practice. I now appreciate that living with the colour combinations of Imari vases and the characterful depictions of Chinese parrots and frogs were formative in developing my vocabulary as an artist.

Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Claudia Rankin in her studio, August 2019

How did ceramics become your favoured medium?

After I had children it was trickier to disappear to my studio for days on end so I began to develop work that I could make at the kitchen table in any spare moment. For a few years I worked mainly printing and sewing textile collages but then I was given as a present some sessions at a pottery studio in Newcastle. Though I’d previously made sculpture at college and beyond, firing clay hadn’t been a process that I’d really considered before. Somehow, it’s possibilities of form, both modelled and cast and colour really appealed to me. I started collecting wooden print blocks when I was working with fabric and have found that they also provide a great way of applying coloured print to my ceramics. I also use bits of sponge and carved rubber to make patterns with slip on the clay’s surface.

Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Claudia's studio where you can see her collection of wooden print blocks, sponges and carved rubber, August 2019

I started collecting wooden print blocks when I was working with fabric and have found that they also provide a great way of applying coloured print to my ceramics.

Claudia Rankin

What is you most recent inspiration?

My eldest son was studying in Rome and I really enjoyed the opportunity to delve deep into some of the more eccentric museums and chapels on our visits there. On the outskirts of the city is an enormous Museum of Folk Art and Traditions where I was engrossed for hours in their deserted galleries. From the most elaborate votive offerings to brightly painted carts from village carnivals and the most macabre and frankly terrifying collection of puppets and toys - we agreed that we would not fancy a Night at the Museum style lock in there.

Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Photo taken by Claudia during her visit to the Museum of Folk Art and Traditions in Rome, 2019
Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Photo taken by Claudia during her visit to the Museum of Folk Art and Traditions in Rome, 2019

I can’t imagine a higher accolade than someone wanting to live with a piece of my work on their mantelpiece or kitchen table.

How do you feel your work has evolved over the years?

I think my work over the years has become a little less hung up about the conceptual and formal values of my background in fine art. Decorative, distinctive and humorous need not mean that an artwork is lacking in heft... I can’t imagine a higher accolade than someone wanting to live with a piece of my work on their mantelpiece or kitchen table.

Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Large Caddy with Bull and Dancing Shoes, Small Lidded Pot with Bird and Fly & Bear Barrel, August 2019

How do you feel your location and surroundings influence your work?

Settling in Northumberland was never really a calculated decision but following art school in Newcastle, it offered affordable living and studio space set in glorious open countryside and proximity to a good-sized city. My mother is still in London and I love to visit her and to catch up with what’s on in the galleries, museums and shops. Getting back to my studio at home, I appreciate processing all that I’ve seen and done from the relative tranquillity of my home studio.

Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Claudia's tranquil work space in her studio, August 2019

Is there a specific artist that you admire?

I always have a big stack of books and catalogues in my studio for inspiration. Some from museum visits such as the incredible exhibition of treasures from the Assyrian Empire at the British Museum last year. Books on favourite artists… Picasso, Matisse, Guidette Colbert, Bill Traylor and Phillip Guston are a rich source of inspiration and I can lose hours scrolling through Pinterest looking at block printed textiles or Persian plates and saving anything that might spark a new form or decoration on my work.

Is there a certain part of your process that you enjoy the most?

I really enjoy the variety of processes that make up my days in the studio. Some elements such as making moulds and slip casting are quite technical, whilst time spent decorating is challenging in a different way. Recently when I was really meant to be doing some tedious admin, I got thoroughly diverted by painting numerous tiny tiles with coloured slip so that I could finally have a full set of swatches for reference. That was more satisfying than tax returns...

Studio Insights | Claudia Rankin - Beastly
Claudia forming the Hog Barrel in her studio, August 2019

Books on favourite artists… Picasso, Matisse, Guidette Colbert, Bill Traylor and Phillip Guston are a rich source of inspiration.

Claudia Rankin's exhibition Beastly features at The Scottish Gallery from 2 - 26 October 2019.

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