Catherine Mountford and Candy Ward graduated from the Ceramics Design course at Central Saint Martins in 2015.
Since then they have set up a not-for-profit ceramics exhibition called Tactile Minds, in support of the mental health charity MIND. The exhibition brings together 22 ceramic artists and makers, including a number of other UAL alumni, who have made pieces in response to their individual mental health journeys. The exhibition, which runs from 18 – 23 September, is part of the London Design Festival. We spoke to Catherine and Candy about their time at UAL and why this cause was so important to both of them.
Why did you choose to study ceramics?
Candy Ward: From studying my Art Foundation course, I found that clay gives you instant gratification, it is responsive and forgiving, frustrating yet liberating. It is a material like no other.
Catherine Mountford: I had studied architecture but not completed the course and took evening classes in ceramics at my local college. It was the rhythm of the potter’s wheel and it was the fact I was totally immersed in what I was creating on the wheel that drew me to working with clay. This was the beginning of discovering the therapeutic qualities of handling clay. The evening classes were not enough, I wanted to know more and have the time to research and explore the all-encompassing world of ceramics.
What were your highlights from your time at CSM?
CW: The facilities and knowledge of the staff at CSM were amazing. Anything you wanted to try and make, the amazing technicians would do their best to help you achieve it.
I also miss walking down the main corridor and seeing all of the other courses’ artwork displayed for different events throughout the year. Always something inspiring to look at!
CM: From my interview for entry on to the course to my final year presentation, I always felt 100% supported both academically and personally by the remarkable technicians and tutors that run the ceramics course. 3 weeks before giving my final year presentation my mum passed away very suddenly, without the support of the academic and supportive staff I would not have achieved what I did whilst an undergraduate at CSM and would not have gone to achieve what I have done so far in my own practice and accompanying jobs after graduating.
Have the connections you’ve made at CSM helped since graduating?
CW: Catherine and I met at CSM, plus there are others exhibiting with us that we met there. The ceramic community are really helpful in sharing opportunities and resources which is really nice.
CM: Most definitely, Candy and I met at Central Saint Martins – she is one of the first people on the course I met. We are overwhelmed by the support CSM graduates and staff past and present have shown us for Tactile Minds and it is a real compliment that our head of course Kathryn Hearn will be taking part in the exhibition as well as other CSM graduates.
It is amazing how far the ceramics CSM family reaches, with thanks to those I have met at CSM I have been introduced to other ceramic makers and creative professionals.
How would you describe the style of your work?
CW: My work is quite playful. Although I do sell commercial items, for me it’s more about the process and the feelings within the work. Most of my work is driven by my own issues with my body and my eating disorder that I’ve been managing for 12 years now.
CM: My tableware designs are particularly inspired by fleeting and transitional landscapes and seascapes that I witness on coastal walks. These fleeting displays never appear the same or tire to inspire: thundering grey skies, ephemeral cloud formations, coastal tonal swells, peeking sky blues and rolling hills and cliff faces. I predominantly work with plaster moulds and although this is to gain repetition in form, the scope of surface decoration is vast when using stains in the clay body and surface. This provides a unique identity to each piece with the scene on each object developing as the viewer explores it further. I think this is the essence of why I make using these particular methods as one piece is never exactly like another.
How did the group Tactile Minds, come about? / Why did you want to support the mental health charity, MIND?
Mental health and the discussion around it seems to be thankfully becoming something people are not afraid to openly discuss. However, talking about it is only one part of what can be a lengthy journey for many. We have both channelled our own mental health experiences whether that is from eating disorders, anxiety and depression or grief by working with clay and know how incredibly therapeutic it is to do so. From discussions with other ceramic makers and artists we knew we were not alone in this and were confident others would join us in exhibiting work around this subject. We were not however, prepared for the overwhelming response we received from ceramicists far and wide applying to take part, the stories they have shared with us of their journeys so far and how in many cases this exhibition call out has opened them up further to express their experiences.
We knew that we wanted to hold a ceramics exhibition that would coincide with the London Design Festival 2018 at the House Mill and knew we wanted to do so in support of a charity that is extremely important to us both. Having witnessed first-hand the NHS’s lack of resources when it comes to mental health and therefore the great importance and aid of supporting charities like MIND and Heads Together to help a large number of communities all over the UK, we decided as the House Mill is in the London borough of Tower Hamlets and Newham it would only be appropriate to support this local branch of MIND.
What is next for Tactile Minds?
We would like to keep fundraising and advocating for mental health but we can only do so if others are willing to be involved. We would hope to organise and curate another Tactile Minds exhibition and hope that this first exhibition will encourage others to be involved in. And although male suicide rates are the lowest they have been in the UK since 1981, interestingly out of 22 exhibiting ceramic artists, only 2 are male. We hope that for everybody viewing the work of 22 ceramicists will encourage those who already work with clay and express their mental health journeys in this medium but perhaps not so openly to be more open, or perhaps someone who has never touched clay before, to do so.
Alongside Candy and Catherine, a number of other UAL graduates are also exhibiting with Tactile Minds including Steph Buttle, Zoe Clare, Sarah Christie, as well as CSM course leader Kathryn Hearn:
The Tactile Minds exhibition runs from 18 – 23 September at The House Mill in Bromley-by-Bow.