London-based ceramicist Abigail Schama studied Fine Art at Camberwell and Bristol, before taking an MA in Art Theory at Chelsea. Abigail pursued ceramics following a career in painting, drawn to the tactile and functional nature of the craft, and learnt the trade under the tutelage of Loewe Craft Prize nominee Akiko Hirai. Her recent work for The New Craftsmen is inspired by Greek mythology, paying homage to tradition while adhering to a more contemporary aesthetic.
London-based ceramicist Abigail Schama studied Fine Art at Camberwell and Bristol, before taking an MA in Art Theory at Chelsea. Abigail pursued ceramics following a career in painting, drawn to the tactile and functional nature of the craft, and learnt the trade under the tutelage of Loewe Craft Prize finalist Akiko Hirai. Her recent work for The New Craftsmen is inspired by Greek mythology, paying homage to tradition while adhering to a more contemporary aesthetic.
Inspired by classical forms, each vessel is wheel-thrown using different combinations of dark and light stoneware, and altered by hand in order to leave an impression of the maker on the finished piece. Abigail experiments with a palette of dolomite and transparent glazes, before lightly gilding each piece with gold lustre. Abigail often names her pieces after goddesses which lends the object an identity.
1. What motivates you to make?
My first training and experience of being an artist was as a painter. With ceramics, I still feel I am painting but with a surface of my own making, and one which can be experienced from all aspects. I love the tactility of clay and how it touches others by arriving into people’s homes and meaning something different to each of us. The life-cycle in the preparation and use of clay connects me to the earth and a sense of my own body. Clay remembers, and the finished piece endures, but this requires perpetual exploration. The quest to express myself is the work of a lifetime.
2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
I have a prevailing attraction to Ancient Greek and Japanese forms. These classic forms were designed to function in a domestic setting, which I then use to interpret and play with. Thinking of the objects used in long-ago times and far-off places somehow allows me to observe their forms from a distance and make something contemporary. Questions of functionality and dysfunctionality are also a source of creativity. The painters Rembrandt and Cy Twombly have left a lasting mark on me, for their use of light and darkness, and in surface gesture. And fortunately, my teacher Akiko Hirai will always be a strong presence in my work.
3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?
I don’t believe there is any process I use which is entirely unique, however, coming from a background in painting and art theory, I bring a certain way of seeing and thinking to my ceramic practice. The more I make, the more I realise that application to the ‘skin’ of the pot creates marks and codes which describe how the pot came into being.
Ideas I have about the amorphous nature of pottery are played out in the names I sometimes give to the works, often names of goddesses, which lend the pieces an identity. I am interested in functions of the body and often use ‘veils’ of porcelain to bandage the surface and draw attention to stresses in the forms.
4. What is your definition or proudest moment as a maker so far?
Amazingly, lockdown presented the time and opportunity to think, and to show how and where I work. I’m always thrilled to have my work appear in well-known magazines, but the making of a short film about my process was a really proud moment. Another proud achievement is the women’s studio community I co-founded called The Mews Coachworks. This is where I work and teach, as well as host events in support of the charity Camden Psychotherapy Unit.
5. What is your dream project?
Having always enjoyed collaboration, especially with makers who work in other media, it would be a dream to work with a poet, a weaver, or even a sound engineer, to share ideas which could be realised in different materials. To take a bowl or bottle away from its expected use, for example.
I have always wanted to know more about Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging; a wonderful project would be to make pots especially to hold such arrangements. This could open up possibilities of seeing my pieces in new and unusual contexts.
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