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Ceramicist Sue Paraskeva in the studio. Photography by by Steve Thearle.
10th November 2017

Crafts Council: Q&A with Sue Paraskeva

- words by Laura

“For a large part of my life I have made pieces that are beautiful and functional,” says ceramicist Sue Paraskeva, who is exhibiting as part of The New Craftsmen and the Craft Council’s showcase British Craft: The Miami Edit in December. “But now I have developed my practice and alter vessels to form shapes that evoke other meanings and depth.” It’s this evolution that is the crux of what makes Sue’s work so intriguing. Yes, she’s a specialist in finely thrown porcelain, crafting exquisite, delicate vessels that are sort after by collectors, star chefs and even celebrities. But the power of her practice lies in her ability to embed her work with heart-felt emotion, as she discovers new ways to alter pots to tell intimate and challenging narratives around subjects like the body and domestic violence.

Sue was first drawn to the “purity of porcelain” while studying 3D Design at Middlesex University. She relocated from London to the Isle of Wight in 2000 after a residency at the island’s Quay Arts Centre exposed her to the “stripped-back appeal of island life” – a perfect place to focus on her equally restrained pots. Recent projects have featured sixty vessels thrown at the weight of the human heart (shown as part of Aspex’s 2016 Craft Emergency), artistic commissions for the NHS and a room-scale installation of smashed pots – a harrowing visual symbol testifying of the prevalence of violence against women, exhibited at Collect with CAA Gallery in 2017.  

Sue has recently introduced precious metals as a means of connecting her sculptural pieces and it is this she will be exploring at British Craft: The Miami Edit in a special collaboration with designer-maker Sebastian Cox. Ahead of the show, we caught up with Sue to find out more about her process, how inspiration strikes and why she’s chosen porcelain as a medium to explore emotion.

Circle of Porcelain, Sue Paraskeva 2017

Tell us about what you will be exhibiting at British Craft: The Miami Edit…
An artistic collaboration with designer-maker Sebastian Cox. It is a Cox Welsh Dresser with porcelain vessels joined with silver. This new piece involves suspending the vessels and that brings a dynamic energy to the work. It’s very exciting as it is my first collaboration with a bespoke furniture designer.

What are you most looking forward to about British Craft: The Miami Edit…? 
I think that it is a truly a groundbreaking period for British craft and being able to show to a new international contemporary audience is a fantastic opportunity.

What’s your starting point for creating new work? Form or function, material or process?
There can be many starting points, for example, something seemingly random as an accident can be charged with meaning. It’s having the skill, maturity and wisdom to see it.

Smashed Porcelain Plates, Sue Paraskeva

Some of your installations deal with weighty subjects, domestic violence for instance. How do you use ceramics to talk about bigger issues?
My ceramic art is a language that has evolved over 25 years of practice. How I respond to abuse and the cruelty of domestic violence happens intuitively and I render that response in porcelain. It’s profound, often overwhelming and released from my intimate relationship and understanding of the medium.

A lot of your work explores the human body. Past projects have featured pots thrown at the weight of the human heart and lungs and your commission for the NHS have was inspired by blood cells. Do you see a connection between both of these different types of ‘body’ – clay and human?
Materiality is at the heart of my practice. I am a porcelain artist and I use the wheel to create my vessels. With an altered vessel I am aware that I create a seemingly perfect piece and through the act of shaping, smashing or damaging I change its state of being. This can be viewed as representative of the human condition, life alters us and sometimes life alters us in dramatic ways. My installation at Collect – Every day three women die at the hands of someone who supposedly loves them – starts with the average weight of the female heart, 250g, in clay. This is lovingly hand-thrown into a vessel which is then damaged by me. This is a devastating experience and my heartfelt response to this human tragedy.

What do you hope the reaction to your work will be?
I would like my work to elicit an emotional response.

How ‘old’ are the techniques and processes you use?
Throwing clay on a wheel and firing pots are ancient processes and the smashing, well, that's something new.
Blood Cells. Porcelain and Birch Ply, Ryde Community Clinic, NHS Commission 2015, 1 m x 0.75 m
You recently made a range of plates for Tom Kerridge’s pub The Hand and Flowers in Marlow. What practicalities and aesthetics do you have to consider when designing tableware for a Michelin starred restaurant?
Passion, quality, detail and skill are our very much our common ground. Tom Kerridge produces exquisite, though often deceptively simple food, and there are obvious parallels to be drawn there.  I believe that the daily ritual of eating and drinking sustains not only the body but feeds our emotional need for company, pleasure and reinforces the connection with the people we love and care for. Fundamentally these relationships are the important things in life. Eating and drinking from beautiful handmade items adds reverence to this act and I believe enhances the experience.
Koined porcelain with silver, Sue Paraskeva 2017. Photography by Julian Winslow.

We heard one of your clients is Kevin Costner! What kind of ceramics did The Bodyguard star snap up?
Very early on in my career, Kevin Costner bought a 94-piece tableware collection. The work was characteristically minimal and inspired by shells and the coast.

What other projects should we keep an eye out for after the show?
I’ll be exhibiting my Circle of Porcelain installation at Collect Open with the Crafts Council next year.

One Off Porcelain Plates for Tom Kerridge at The Hand and Flowers, Marlow 2015-2017
To learn more about Sue’s work, visit www.sueparaskeva.co.uk.

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