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Interview with ceramicist Penny Withers

We are delighted to be showing the work of Penny Withers in Persistence Works Gallery until 24th March this year. Penny has been a long term studio holder here at Yorkshire Artspace and many of you will know her through her work, which is sold nationally, and her classes in her studio. Penny kindly took the time to tell us a bit more about the background of this her most recent work.

You can catch Penny in the gallery on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 12pm-2pm, where she will be throwing clay live and talking to people about her work and the ideas behind this exhibition.

Can you describe your work to someone who may not be familiar with it?

Thrown clay is the starting point for most of my work. One of my signature forms is a flattened cylinder. I started using this form in wood firing to capture marks left by ash and flame moving across a broad surface. It translated well into electric kiln-fired pieces, with glazes poured, brushed and dipped to create interpretive images.

How does the work in this exhibition differ from your work to date?

The brief for the Ways of Making exhibition programme was for ‘new work’. I have used this as an opportunity to explore the construction of large-scale pieces made from thrown sections. The theme has grown from a response to the Peak District landscape to personal reflections on the significance of routine activities in a ceramics studio.

You have been working with clay for most of your career, what is it that draws you to the material, and has kept you working with it?

I have been working with clay for most of my career, though my Degree is in Fine Art/Painting. I found the tactile experience of moving clay around similar to applying and blending oil paint with a brush. Also I was fascinated with learning the technique of throwing: the immediacy of the physical co-ordination necessary for working with natural phenomena, i.e. a vortex and the elements of earth and water

Do you plan your work before you make a start or do you design intuitively as you go?

Developing designs comes primarily from observation of chance effects which occur during the making process or of glaze reactions that have happened in the kiln.

How has the Peak District influenced this exhibition?

There is a prevailing unruffled-ness about Sheffield people, which I believe is due to their proximity to the levelling influence of the wild and wonderful Peak District. I do not seek to replicate the immensity of landscape but only to study and begin to understand the similarities between rock and clay.

Do you feel Sheffield is a good place to be an artist?

I grew up in London and left when I was 18. It is a hard but exciting place. I moved to Sheffield in bleak times, 1980. All colour seemed to have been sapped from the place leaving grey, coffee and cream. I witnessed the transformation of a city that eventually found its identity, not based on large scale coke and steel production, but on skills that designed and made; fine blades, surgical equipment, tools.

I am overwhelmed by the support I have had from Sheffield friends, family and colleagues while producing ‘Scale’. It is a great place to be an artist.

· What’s the next project on the horizon for you?

This exhibition is a return to formative grounding in Fine Art, being now equipped with a toolbox of ceramic materials and processes. I would like to build on the themes I have used in ‘Scale’, connecting with landscape and physical geology. Meanwhile I will continue to develop the glaze landscape paintings and show my work at Fine Craft events.

This exhibition was supported by the Sheffield Culture Consortium through Making Ways. Funded via: Arts Council England Ambition for Excellence.

Funders and supporters