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25th January 2017

Matthew Raw on the tiles: Clad at the Ragged School Museum

The story of a community, a society , even an era is often told by its buildings – not just at the macro scale of their architecture, but also at the micro level: the bricks, tiles and paving stones that make up the finer details of their exterior For ceramic artist Matthew Raw, co-founder of Hoxton’s Manifold Studio, tiles tell tales.
Photography by Marina Castagna
Right now, he’s preparing for his first solo exhibition, ‘Clad’, a series of eight sculptural works that will be showing at Ragged School Museum in Mile End during London Craft Week on 4–14 May. Here, he explains the inspiration behind the show, the challenges of making the pieces, and why the Ragged School Museum is the perfect venue for the show…
“The pieces for ‘Clad’ are all based on ‘the tile’ and the grids that we find around us. Modern grids found in cities are generally graphical, and I have been inspired by them, but I also class a cobbled road as an urban grid, which is obviously much more organic. Five of the pieces are wall-based, one lives on the floor and two are freestanding sculptures. Some of the pieces are plentiful in the number of elements that make them up (the most extreme of which is the 100 tiles that come together to create ‘Individual Motives’), while others are bespoke and look to have been plucked from an imaginative group (‘Flex’). ‘The Inscription Remains Forever’ suggests transience, and sits among works that have been made physically permanent with adhesive (‘In / Out’).
Photography by Marina Castagna
It is ‘urban grids’ that I am particularly drawn to. Brick walls, tiled façades, paving, etc. I have come to realise that growing up in post-industrial Manchester has shaped this appreciation and aesthetic interest. A pre-Christmas visit to Lisbon really hammered home to me the international and historic significance that tiles have. Living in London surrounded by such a variety of interior and exterior architecture and building techniques provides me with a constant inspiration, as does travelling the Tube, which further localises my research.
Photography by Marina Castagna
All of the works take different amounts of time to produce. Most of them are made up of multiples, so it means a lot of juggling in the production stage. Every piece is hand-made through a variety of techniques – press-moulded, rolled, scratched, carved, slab-built and coiled work combine to produce the pieces at the making stage. I then have to factor how to ‘finish’ them, which can add a second firing in the kiln if the piece is glazed. The irony is that I got hooked on using clay due to its immediacy, however the process soon becomes time consuming once the drying time and firings are taken into account.
Photography by Marina Castagna
I think that when you take the plunge to translate tests and/or ideas into a fully-fledged piece of work, then there is loads of tweaking and new understanding as you go. The piece that is the most risky (and therefore exciting) are the tiles that make up ‘Individual Motives’. After firing I am taking the tiles to the studio of Martin Smith (acclaimed ceramic artist and former RCA Ceramics & Glass head of course), where we will trim them down using a diamond saw to achieve a crisp edge. I’ve never done that before, but need the tiles to ‘butt-up’ against each other in a precise way. To achieve the scale that I want for ‘Flex’ I have had to do lots of work behind the scenes in preparation for the thick, heavy slabs. Time will tell if this works out. Other pieces that I am more practiced at in the making are pushed in the installation (‘Create A Scene’ and ‘Fearful Symmetry’) or glazing stages (‘Panel Discussion’).

Photography by Marina Castagna
The interior and exterior of the Ragged School Museum is incredibly rich and relevant to me and Clad in terms of architecture and how it has been used. It helps the show explore how the area has witnessed first-hand the move from an economy built on hand manufacturing in the pre-industrial era to its current post-industrial landscape. Its canal-side location also sparked the idea to transport the pieces on a barge to the museum from my studio in Hoxton – a physical link between where the work will be shown and where it was made. And in more contemporary terms, it has seemed like the right place at the right time. Erica Davies, director of the museum, has been unbelievably supportive and enthusiastic, which helped me acquire the funding, and is now crucial in seeing the project through.”
Photography by Marina Castagna
Find 'Clad' at the Ragged School Museum from 4 - 14 May.

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