Sculptor Charlotte Barker on her solo show Flotilla

Charlotte Barker's elegant sculptures critically sit on the borderlines of art, design, craft, ornament and functionality. We meet her ahead of her upcoming solo show at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop

Article by Rosie Priest | 28 Jul 2017

Flotilla will be the first major solo exhibition by ceramicist Charlotte Barker, presented as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival programme in the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. We meet in her bright and dusty studio to find out more about her inspirations, nods to ceramic history and the incredible craftsmanship behind the exhibition.

The title itself is a reference to the methods of display of Barker’s work, themselves as much a part of this exhibition as the ceramics: “I don’t really like putting ceramics on plinths very much and I wanted something that wasn’t a table, so I started making small benches.” With the support from her partner and an Icelandic intern, Barker took inspiration from a 17th century 'Pig Table' (one of which is perfectly propped in the corner of her studio), to create incredible benches from newly sawmilled wood, showcasing the wood’s interior grains: “After making a few of these benches, they started to look like a small group of vessels and I really started to enjoy this kind of movement, this kind of suspended in motion idea, and I wanted some kind of movement for the space.”

This creation of movement is echoed in Barker’s ceramic pieces. She explains, “I really like it if the surfaces of my ceramic pieces are almost alive and writhing and skin-like so that you can feel that there has been a hand in there and you can see the path that it has taken.” The contrast between the controlled marking of Barker’s ceramic pieces and the natural markings of the wood creates a beautiful balance between the man made and the natural. “I wanted to bring in these very textured wood grains, to have these two materials against each other, and to have something that is really textured and layered and made by nature, and then my gestures that are texturally marking the pieces.”

It's clear that this exhibition has at times been an exploration of itself, referencing the artworks' creation and display as a continual organic and growing concept. Speaking of the ceramics' relationship with their display benches Barker says “…it reminded me of log driving, and of taking logs down river, and just floating, and putting these works on the benches just reminded me of men walking over logs and this sort of floating group.” A discovery that could only have been made once her artwork had been created, and its display explored.

Having spent much of her Royal College MA creating large scale and colourful sculptures, it is interesting that Barker is now “stripping back” her work. All the ceramics in Flotilla are black and/or white, and none stand above two feet tall. “I had previously been making large scale work, I just realised I couldn’t lift stuff in my own in the studio. So, I decided to start making smaller scale work that I could handle myself, making stuff that I could wrestle with… I do definitely like something that has a physical impact on your body; I almost want to make something that you can get inside. Just something that has an impact on you physically.”

Presenting a mixture of both pots and sculptures, Barker’s work crosses between functionality and fine art, continually exploring the ceramic medium's history. “I like going to museums and seeing what people have used the material for.” This exhibition is by no means an exploration of ceramic history though – it is a reinvention of clay's relationship to its displays: the height the pieces are exhibited at allow the viewers to explore the internal empty space of some of the ceramics; they are showcased as floating objects, not like art works on plinths but as constructions floating down a river.

Charlotte Barker, Flotilla, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop until 26 Aug