Matt Chambers

Portrait of Matt ChambersCrescent by Matt ChambersTwist by Matt Chambers
Eclipse by Matt Chambers
Decrease by Matt Chambers

Ceramicist Matthew Chambers makes complex geometric stoneware sculpture and vessels. As his primary interest is the actual process of making rather than producing a functional or figurative form, his work is strictly abstract. He says, ‘I explore shape through construction and my forms are quite precise but have a natural quality. I try and make these two different aspects complement each other.’


What made you decide to become a ceramicist in the first place?

I started working in ceramics by accident. It was 1993 and I was unemployed and a potter (Philip Wood) in the village where I grew up was looking for an apprentice, so I decided to give it a go. I hadn’t been good at much at school and I found that this was something I could focus on, and as I continued my throwing skills developed and I generally became more confident about working in clay.

Why did you decide to do a BA in ceramics and go on to do an MA at the Royal College of Art?

I worked for Philip for seven years as a full time production potter making a range of tableware, and near the end of that period I was beginning to develop an urge to have a go myself and make my own work. The emphasis at college was completely different to my life as a potter’s apprentice; with Philip it had been more about developing making skills and attention to detail, and in college it was more about studying why I was making an object. The combination of my practical skills learnt in production and the questions posed to me during my time as a student have both helped me to find my own voice and develop my own work.

Your work since leaving college has been very sculptural, why did you decide to stop making functional ceramics?

Although I spent so long making functional pieces with Philip, I simply became more interested in form whilst I was at college. Handmade tableware is still an area that’s close to my heart, but it’s just not the path I decided to take. At the moment I have a range of semi-functional vessels, but these are really intended as decorative objects and not for use. I’m more interested in making abstract rather than representational work as what I enjoy most is the making process rather than the subject matter. I’m interested in Constructivist art from the early part of the 20th century as well as artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Bridget Riley and Mondrian’s structural paintings, and all of this feeds into my work.

How do you make your pieces?

All sculptures and vessels are made using separate thrown sections and then constructed together to form one piece. I don’t do any drawings or designs and all the experimentation with different forms is done during the making process. I enjoy seeing how one form leads to another and how the different forms fit together.

Does colour play any role in your work?

I use mainly earthy colours in my pieces. It gives them a feel similar to stone and I think this helps to give them a more sculptural quality. Although geometric, they are also quite organic in their form and I don’t think synthetic colours would suit – natural colours look much better. I have tried using bright blues and yellows before but it didn’t work as well. The pieces are not often glazed and I mix my colours into the clay body before I start working it.

And how important is texture?

All the pieces are highly finished – I sand them at different stages of the process and polish them with diamond pads after firing. I like the fact that they don’t look as smooth as they actually are – people expect them to feel rough because of the speckled surface effect and are surprised when they find that they’re smooth to the touch.

Can you tell us about the work you are doing for Habitat?

I’m designing a decorative water piece made out of polystone which will be about 60cm wide. It’ll be launched early next year as part of their Spring/Summer 09 collection and it’s the first mass-produced design that I’ve done. Although I really like being involved in the making process and producing one-off individual pieces, it’s been a great opportunity to design in this way and I hope it will open up some new doorways for future work.

How do you plan to develop your work?

If it was possible I would love to work on a bigger scale but it is technically very difficult to make these pieces much larger – 60cm is about as large as I can go at the moment. For a start I'd need a much bigger kiln, and if they’re too big the pieces can become too heavy to manoeuvre and there is a much bigger risk of them cracking. It would be great to have a go making them in a different material as a public art piece, perhaps by bronze casting or constructing in steel from welded sections.

I haven’t really planned out what I’m going to make in the future – I'll take on new opportunities as they arise and let my work develop naturally, with a new idea following on from an earlier one. What I’m clear about is that I want to just keep it going and keep it new – I don’t want to be knocking out the same thing for the next 10 years, and would like to phase out older forms as new ideas develop. This will help to keep older work collectable, new ideas fresh, and will also keep me excited and engaged with my making in the years to come.