Cambridge Open Studios 2016 - Alan Foxley

Alan Foxley

On a sunny morning in June, we visited the garden and workshop of Alan Foxley in Saffron Walden. We were struck by the distinctive sculptures that dotted the garden, and were keen to hear what informed Alan's work and about his love of this ceramic medium...

Alan Foxley Large Scale Ceramics

What strikes us primarily about your work is its scale. What attracts you to make such large works?

I like working across the whole scale, making pieces small enough to fit in the hand to pieces as tall as myself where the whole of me is involved, as opposed to just the fingers. As a student I remember making a very large coil pot rather like an ‘Ali Baba’ pot about 36” high when most of the other students were working on hand held pieces. It’s a bigger canvas to work on.

What themes and forms reappear in your work, and why?

One of the projects I was working on during my student days was the study of cell structures and bubbles which has left a long lasting mark. I find that I’m often returning to this cellular network in some of my ceramics. It's almost a subconscious thing. You are exposed to different visual stimuli in your life, and it can be the smallest things that capture your imagination, and you think, yes, I want to make some work about that.

Alan Foxley Ceramics

On reaching retiring age I continued as a full time potter but decided to go back do doing work for myself, although I felt as though I was in a vacuum. Work began by a rekindled interest in Egyptian scarabs and other amulets, and also armour, and that started to form subsequent pieces. My work often features trapezoidal shapes as a result of this.

Tell us about the materials you prefer to use, and your specific firing process.

I use Crank clay mainly with the addition of Porcelain, and generally dry matt glazes and oxides. It is a stoneware grogged clay and has a coarse texture but is especially good for working on a large scale. I have been using it for a very long time and find it is malleable and takes texture well. I am fully aware of its limitations and how far I can push it.

Form and texture play a very important part of my work. Studies of both natural and man-made surfaces provide ideas for surface treatment - worn or time worn and peeling painted surfaces all suggest ways of dealing with the ceramic surface, also the use of dry and crater glazes continues this journey. The work is fired in a top loading gas kiln fired, usually to 1280 C in a reducing atmosphere, providing a quiet restrained pallette.

You have exhibited and sold your work at many events, galleries and shows over the years. How do people in general respond to your work?

Over the years I have shown and sold work in galleries and large ceramic shows, also at my Open Studios. The advantage of going to shows is the feedback from potential buyers. The most emotional response was at a show in Cumbria, where a lady strode very purposefully over to a large piece, and gently put her arms around it. She explained that she had not come to the show with the intention of making a purchase at all, and was simply visiting with friends. She said she just had to buy it. This strong emotional response was very lovely. I do enjoy it so much when people are confident to enjoy the tactile quality of my work. A lot of creative appreciation should be done through the fingers, I feel, and not just to be a purely visual experience.


Have you always made fine art ceramic pieces, or more utilitarian works?

When starting out as a full-time potter my work was of a utilitarian nature, stoneware lamp bases, mugs and jugs etc. eventually concentrating on house names, numbers and commemorative plaques until reaching retiring age when my work returned to the fine art side of ceramics, mainly abstract forms but with the occasional figurative piece.

Now I'm pleased to see that there is more of an appetite for the more abstract, fine art, innovative genre in ceramics. People are more willing to invest in art pieces for their homes, gardens and workplaces. This is the type of work I want to make, and it's very fulfilling working in this way.

You are always looking at tweaking your process and experimenting; what kinds of things are you exploring now?

I still enjoy experimenting with glazes and colour and the way in which they can work with the textures I use.
After taking a series of photographs of reflections in Newlyn harbour this led to a body of work in which colour played a dominant role.

Currently I am using some volcanic glazes which produce a bubbled and cratered surface but on rubbing these down with abrasives become a relatively smooth surface revealing a network pattern similar to the studies I did as a student.

Apart from Open Studios, are you exhibiting anywhere else this year?

I am now cutting back on shows and exhibitions this year, with the odd commission and just showing at the Anglian Potters exhibition at Emmanuel College Cambridge 13th - 28th August, and Innovations in Ceramic Art 5th, 6th November, Guildhall, Cambridge, which is a delightful show with many potters from all over the UK. It attracts people who are passionate about pottery and ceramics, always a nice friendly affair.

Alan Foxley Workshop

What weekends are you opening this year for Open Studios

I will be open weekends 2nd & 3rd, 9th & 10th, 16th & 17th July where Anne and myself are showing.


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