Ben Arnup studied art on foundation at York School of Art, then qualified and practised as a Landscape Designer. He became a full time potter in 1986 and between 1989 and 2001 taught ceramics at Selby College. He has shown his work in many exhibitions in London, Belgium and The Netherlands as well as at previous exhibitions at Pyramid Gallery.
A distinctive feature of Ben’s work is the transformation of perspective which is re-interpreted in three dimensions. The pots, which are slab built and decorated with inlaid or scraffito coloured slips, or ‘marbled clay’ (see below) are understood from some viewpoints but have the suggestion of changing volume and form as the observer changes the point of view.
Making Marbled Clay – Artist’s statement
I fire to stoneware, so when using stains at the higher temperatures the lighter warmer colours can be fugitive. A 20 degree difference alters the colour balance.
As I am making a laminate rather than an agate, I think I get away with a greater intensity of stain. The clay is a course white stoneware body mixed with the same amount of porcelain. The stain is added into a clay ‘thumb pot‘ at up to 5% for dark cold colours and up to 10% for pale warm colours.
I join slices of coloured clays together to make a small tablet, then I cut the tablet in half and rejoin it with the internal faces side by side. The tablet is then rolled out to make a larger slab. After turning the clay, I use base clay to thicken the slab. I then roll it out to an oval slab 600mm by 1200mm , with additional applications of clay on the back. In some place the base clay comes through in traces.
I use one piece of clay to make a pot to maintain even shrinkage and thicknesses. This method can mean the centre of the clay can be bland, so it is useful that I need it in two halves. I will have a changing range of designs, and a template may have to be made to suit the slab.
Assembly is slab construction with beveled inside edges at 45%. The filets of clay to make the base are fixed prior to the tricky task of putting the sides together and getting the corners to match up.
While the pot is still open topped, I often seal it leaving a blow hole in the top seam and then orally inflate it, pinching it shut after checking the curvature of the pot. Assembled, I do lots of checking, correcting and tidying up at various stages of hardness. When the pot is a stiff leatherhard, I mark out the surface drawing and cut out the obligatory opening, or not! Nothing ever stays the same.
Solid Illusions – Artist’s statement
Constructing pots is a game, where I play with our perception of reality. Any wit or subtle humour in the ceramics is intended. The simple shapes and spaces described by the drawn illusion, is contrasted by the solidity of clay, where the surface patterns and textures give contrary evidence, that of a shallow form. My own fondness for a matt surface, with textures, perhaps with a remote pattern has been various over the years, by developing scraped course clay surfaces, sponged slips or glazes and then latterly laminations of stained clays.
I like a material to show solidity, the surface to be the seen surface. For example – a scraped course clay surface with a matt oxide glaze mostly wiped away, enhancing the character of the surface, rather than covering it.
There is a contradiction between the most basic method for making vessels that is potting, set against a suggested illusion, which might be more deftly applied on a computer. Yet I seek a fit, where the object makes a comfortable whole (and then throw in some other discord). Currently I am using overstated isometric perspective, describing relatively simple forms set out on a swimming background of multi-coloured stained clays. For the body of the pot I seek a softness, beach like, liquid, flowing, to tussle with the drawing. Seeing a drawing of a box is an observation of logic, whereas the ‘shifting sands’ of the laminates asks an open question. The observer will mostly know the game I am playing, and the fun is in their uncertainty. I want the pot to say “What am I?”
‘Since being small I have relished perspective, and the simple construction of a drawn space. I remember from 4 years old being absorbed by drawing maps of imaginary places, and aerial views of villages. Time could become abstract with my distraction.’