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Matthew Raw
13th January 2017

Q&A: Barging into 2017 with Matthew Raw

Ceramic artist Matthew Raw is a shining star of East London’s creative crowd. A co-founder of ceramics collective Manifold (along with eight others from his course at the RCA), one of Matthew’s defining moments in recent years was his 2014-2015 residency at the V&A. Since then he’s been busy with exhibitions, exploration of his craft and inviting people into Manifold’s Hoxton home for workshops and an eye-opening look into his world. 

Fast-forward to late 2016 and Matthew joined Zetteler as a client, with our stop off to see him being one of the highlights of Zetteler On Tour. Now that 2017 has arrived the passionate artist is looking forward to an incredible year, which includes his debut solo exhibition at Mile End’s Ragged School Museum, to open in May, coinciding with London Craft Week.

We caught up with Matthew to learn more about Manifold, his explorative work and what on earth he needs a barge for. 
'AEIOU (Mysterious Origins)' by Matthew Raw
How do you describe what you do to people who don’t have a comprehensive knowledge of ceramics?
It’s not always the easiest of conversations, but we get there. I usually say that I am an artist who works with clay. I then have to explain that I don’t make pots “like in Ghost”. But my recent focus on making tiles is a more approachable hook. ‘Sculptural tiles’ take a while longer to unpack, so it depends on how much time we have. Teaching and running workshops is part of my practice too, which I enjoy talking about.

Do you regard yourself as a craftsman or an artist? Or both?
It is important to me that I make my work, and I love working directly with clay and other materials. My work however starts with ideas rather than repeating or perfecting techniques. I find a material and technique best suited to communicate the concept, and as a result I don’t think I have a constant aesthetic style. I’m not fussed by the question per se, but I guess I feel more like an artist, or a ‘maker’.

How did Manifold come to be?
In the summer of 2009, my year group on the Ceramics & Glass Masters course at the Royal College of Art, organised and installed an exhibition at the Freud Museum. The planning and event was a success, and we realised that we worked well as a team. After graduating, nine of us (half of the year group) decided to stick together and try and find a space to work. We got lucky when a studio became available in Hoxton unexpectedly, and we pounced, naming our collective ‘Manifold’ after a (loose) Swedish translation meaning ‘many hands / skills’. Arch 33 on Ermine Mews has been home ever since.
Tile experiments for 'Clad' by Matthew Raw
'The Poisoned Chalice' by Matthew Raw
What do you hope to achieve with 'Clad'? And why did you choose that name?
'Clad' is the culmination of a three year period exploring the form of tiles, and what they do and can communicate. I’d never rolled a proper tile before being awarded the Jerwood Makers Award in 2013 to create an installation of a tiled pub façade. Since then tiles have held my attention, and most of my recent projects and residencies have revolved around them. This show will challenge me to make works that speak to one another and harmonise with the unique location of the Ragged School Museum. The show will explore our individual roles in the changing nature of the areas in which we live, touching on notions of perception, transience and the “hand-made”. 

What’s with the barges? Is there a connection to the theme of the show?
My route from home to the studio takes in a stretch of the Regents Canal, so I have a daily relationship with it. My studio is a stone’s through from the canal, which if you head East along it, takes you to the Museum in Mile End. I wanted to celebrate this physical link by transporting my work from where it was made, to where it is to be shown in May. By doing so I’m part of a rich tradition of moving ceramics on the canal – Josiah Wedgwood invested heavily in the canal system to prevent huge percentages of his ceramic factory’s work smashing in transit on dodgy 18th Century roads. 
'The Shifting Spirit' by Matthew Raw at the Jerwood Space, London
'The Shifting Spirit' by Matthew Raw at the British Ceramic Biennial, Stoke
What made you want to exhibit at the Ragged School Museum?
The grand old building itself was the initial attraction. It’s sign flows over undulating brickwork and it stands proudly looking over both the canal at the back, and Mile End park and stadium at the front. After a few looks around, I approached the Director, Erica Davies, and learnt more about the incredible life the building has had. This includes a significant period when Dr Barnado's set up a school for the impoverished children of the East End.

What’s the biggest challenge you face with 'Clad'?
The trickiest factor was pulling ideas and conversations together, getting them down on paper and communicating it to the Arts Council. But came together it did, and when I got the green light from them I was ready to crack on.

What’s been your favourite project/exhibition/residency to date?
Travelling with work is always attractive. Time spent in Detroit back in 2011 was really important for me in a transformative period. I gave a talk at a residency centre in Denmark entitled: ‘Work you wouldn’t make at home’ exploring how the direct environment in which one makes influences their artistic output. A stand out residency is the one at the V&A Museum – it’s hard to top being paid to go there everyday for 6 months to play around with clay and meet incredibly knowledgeable people.
Detail from 'The Shifting Spirit' by Matthew Raw
How did you come to work with Assemble? Tell us about the Seven Sisters project?
Out of the blue. They were a year into the project (an Art on the Underground commission for the ‘Underline’ series) but needed a bit of help with how to make tiles. It was a bit intimidating rocking up to their workshop with some rolling pins and a bag of clay, but we got on, and started playing with colouring clay. A year on and we have a thorough body of tests which have informed the overall design. Our tiles will adorn an old triangular kiosk at the entrance to the station on Seven Sisters Road.

Who do you most admire in your field, present or past?
My studio had a show at the Siobhan Dance Studio a few years ago called ‘Under the Influence’. We encouraged each other to single out someone who had played a significant role in them becoming an artist. I picked a Manchester based artist called Stephen Dixon who I was mad in to when I started using clay. He describes himself as a political commentator, and his work opened lots of things up for me. Others include (for different reasons) Sam Bakewell, Grayson Perry and Alison Britton.

What sort of themes do you find yourself returning to? Is that a conscious or unconscious decision?
Lots of my thinking and work comes back to the 'transient movement of people'. It is a wide-ranging topic, but one that for good or bad continues to be incredibly relevant. I like to find individual stories and experiences in among statistics. East London (my home for the last six years) has a rich history of people arriving and leaving – I’m attracted to this melting pot and people’s attitudes of what is working and what is not.

Test tiles made with Assemble for Art on the Underground project
'Heavy Space Utilisation' by Matthew Raw and Thom Swann at the V&A Museum during London Design Festival
Follow Matthew on Instagram or see more of his work at mraw.co.uk


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De Beauvoir Block
92 De Beauvoir Road
N1 4EN

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