Penny Simpson a long established slipware potter based on Dartmoor tells her lockdown story when she developed new designs inspired after seeing aboriginal art during a visit to Australia prior to lockdown:
Shortly before lockdown I had an exhibition in Japan and decided to combine it with a visit to my sister in Australia. It was my first visit to Australia and so very exciting to see a whole new flora and fauna. There were pleasant walks from my sister’s house into a mountainside park, where I saw koalas and kangaroos just going about their daily lives. I loved the eucalyptus trees with their peeling bark in a variety of colours. Colourful lorikeets and honeyeaters came to feed in my sister’s garden every day.
Covid 19 was only just beginning to appear in Adelaide and so, fortunately for me, the Museum of South Australia was still open. It was unusual for me to have plenty of time on my own to enjoy a museum collection, so I was really able to appreciate their wonderful collection of Aboriginal art and artefacts. I took pictures and made sketches and read about the Aboriginal culture.
As I was about to leave Australia, restrictions began to be imposed and 80% of international flights were cancelled, so I felt relieved to get out in time.
I came back to a UK in near lockdown. It felt good to be back and my apprentice had done a good job of looking after the workshop in my absence. She went off while I self-isolated and was then unable to return because of lockdown.
For the first time in years, I was working on my own. There were also no interruptions from customers or meetings to go to, so it felt rather special, with time and mental space to experiment with new work.
I developed a new colour palette, combining black with earthy colours of ochre, orange, dark pink and white. I used a base of white slip and added colour stains which fortunately I had in stock.
I liked the idea of Aboriginal art originating from the landscape and hope that my ideas will develop to incorporate elements of my own landscape here on Dartmoor. The idea of patterns documenting journeys is also appealing. I use slip trailers to make dots which swirl around shapes created using paper resist.
I started with lidded pots, which gave scope to add shapes to the lids to make knobs. The smaller lidded pots were also inspired by needing something to keep the mint chocolate buttons which I bought from our wonderful Zero Waste shop in, one of the little treats which, along with home baking, helped to keep my spirits up during lockdown. I often find that my best ideas spring from a need for a particular pot.
It has been exciting and surprising to me to see this new work develop. Once I got started, the ideas seemed to develop quite naturally and designs for mugs and jugs followed. Seeing the work all together, I began to crave some simpler designs for items like plates, where the food will take centre stage, so I made some pieces in black, with just some ochre brush marks and impressed shell decoration on the rims.
I’m not sure where the work will go next, but it is exciting to find that I can make something which feels like ‘mine’ but is different from what I was making before. I have learned the value of solitude for creativity; firstly, spending extended time in a museum on my own and secondly, working on my own without interruptions. Now I am working with an apprentice again and the customers are coming back to visit my showroom, which is great, but I’m thankful to have had that time and space during lockdown to develop new ideas from the seeds sown in Australia. I will try and adapt my ‘new normal’ life to create some oases of time and space to develop this further.