Kate Malone

Kate Malone A Gaudi Pippy Pot by Kate Malone Acorn Boxes by Kate Malone
Open Pine Cone Baby Lady Vase by Kate Malone
Baby Bud Tutti Frutti by Kate Malone

Ceramist Kate Malone makes beautifully constructed, glowing pots, often in complex shapes based on natural forms such as fruit or seeds. A real hands-on potter, Malone says she is ‘addicted to making’ and describes herself as ‘a doer not a thinker’. Although her pots have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the UK, USA and Europe, Malone doesn’t make any grandiose claims for them; she says, ‘I am happy for my pieces to be considered decorative art or craft – in fact I love the word craft as that’s a huge part of what I do’.


Can you explain why the natural world is such great source of inspiration for your work?

I think nature is a magic which exists right under our noses. Our life is increasingly full of technology and administration but in spite of everything the blades of grass continue to grow right under our feet. I marvel at the human body and at nature. I love seeing how things grow and the complexity of natural forms behind their seeming simplicity. My response to nature is instinctive, so my pineapple pot is a gut response to seeing a pineapple, not an intellectual analysis of its form. I try to get to the root of things, to look at their essence.

Do you see links between the natural world and ceramics?

I think the natural world translates very well into the ceramic vessel form as both are containers in a sense. A pineapple holds juice, an apple a seed and so they are both containers of possibilities and symbols of regeneration and I believe an empty pot has the same symbolic value. It’s connected to the Japanese idea that an empty pot is a symbol of something ready to receive things – like a person ready to receive new ideas and knowledge.

What are your other sources of inspiration?

Recently I have become much more inspired by historical pieces. Each year my gallery, Adrian Sassoon, take a stand at the International Ceramics Fair in London, and more recently in the TEFAF Show in Maastricht, where many of the other stands are selling historical pieces like Sèvres, Meissen, or Old English saltware and I really enjoy showing my pieces in this context. I feel very connected with the makers of the past and I love the way that I can tell that the maker of a piece of saltware from the 1700s felt as passionately as I do about, say, a pine cone. These makers from the past must have been as addicted as I am to ceramics – we are both challenged by the same things, by the same material of clay – and to me it’s very relevant that the skills I am chasing are timeless (although obviously in these days of electric kilns etc things are easier for me technically).

Have you ever made any pieces directly inspired by the past?

A couple of years ago I had an exhibition at Blackwell, the amazing Arts and Crafts House in the Lake District, and I made a series of pieces inspired by the original wallpaper there and plants I found in the hedgerows of Provence (France)– a synthesis of nature and history. Then, more recently I had an exhibition at Welbeck (with Junko Mori) making pieces inspired by historic books in the library there, and now, two years later I am thinking about making some ceramics inspired directly by pieces I’ve seen at the Wallace Collection. So I am gradually moving in that direction and my attitude towards historic pieces is changing. For example, I used to find Sèvres porcelain very frigid, but now I am beginning to love it, as although it’s very refined, there are some very wild parts to it – the pattern makers working on the backgrounds obviously had a ball as there are some really funny, almost psychedelic details. And I’m amazed by the technical skill that went into making these ceramics – in the 1760s this was the equivalent to today’s space technology – it was extraordinary what they could do.

How do you go about translating your ideas into clay?

I heard Grayson Perry talking about his work in an interview recently and I thought it really summed up the way I work too. He said you had to trust your ability and feed your ideas like little pets, stroking them from time to time and trusting that they will turn into something. I do little sketches from time to time which I stick into a book and I have a big ‘head’ library, but I don’t really design things before I start making them, I prefer to let the ideas happen during the slow making process – to let instinct fly.

How do you actually make the pots?

All my pots are coiled pots and are very simply made – all I really need to make them is a small turntable, a hack saw blade, a few wooden tools and my fingers. I often take quite a complex shape like a pineapple and then pare it down to simple geometric sections which need to be repeated over and over again. I like this repetitive action – it’s not thoughtless activity but is meditative and comforting. My favourite part of working is modelling and coiling the soft clay – I am addicted to making. I find the glazing more challenging; it doesn’t get any easier and so many things can go wrong.

Your pots always seem very colourful, how important a part of your work are their glazes and colours?

I do make a few earthenware very brightly coloured ‘Tutti frutti’ pots, but the majority of my crystalline high fired pots are not actually that brightly coloured, they just seem so as I deliberately juxtapose certain colours to create an effect of brightness. I do use a white clay body that helps the clarity and transparency of the glazes become strong and bright. I like working in high-fired stoneware which means that my palette is quite restricted, but I love the look and the feeling of stoneware, its sense of integrity and its closeness to the sharpness of porcelain. The touch and form of my stoneware pots are as important as their colour.

Most of your ceramics are in the vessel shape, how important is the notion of function in your work?

95% of my pots have an implied function, if not real one. The vessel shape is really important to me as I like the idea of suggested usefulness. Its domestic association reaches out to the viewer and makes it easier for them to connect with the pot. We are used to having bowls, jugs and vases in the home so the vessel form is easier to bring into the home and makes the pot connect with the heart. Sculptural ceramics make a very different, more self-conscious statement which is not what my work is about.

Are you interested in teaching work?

I do feel a responsibility about educating people about the importance of clay: it gives a great sense of achievement and joy to the maker, so many adults I speak to recall with a joyous sparkle the pottery they made years ago at school. They look like children again for a split second – it’s lovely. But I am concerned about the future of our ceramic tradition especially now ceramics courses such as the one at Harrow seem to be in danger of closing down. As I live abroad for some of the time I cannot formally teach on a regular basis, although I do make a point of lecturing and speaking at conferences and I am especially interested in ceramics being taught at secondary school level. I have been considering recently the idea of teaching in my studio while I make my work, – maybe getting a formal apprentice or two and training them alongside me as an alternative to the standard university education - food for thought. Any young ones out there who fancy being my clay slaves ... ?

How important is your relationship with your gallery Adrian Sassoon? Do they help your practice creatively as well as commercially?

It’s really important. They contribute a lot to my practice and I trust and honour Adrian Sassoon and his colleague Claire Beck to represent my work and that of other makers in or from the UK. They have made a difference to the quality and quantity of my work over the past 11 years as their success in selling it has given me confidence to develop. We work together to show and sell my work, but it’s not only a financial relationship as, at best, it is a guiding and inspiring one. For example, if I want to try and do something new, I discuss the idea with them and we work together to realise it, and at the same time, if they see an interesting way forward for me they will suggest it to me (it was Claire who suggested I look at historic pieces in the Wallace Collection). I find this exchange of ideas to be both fruitful and a great pleasure.

Students often ask if I mind the fact that galleries more than double the artists’ prices and imply that the galleries earn their money too easily, but it is as much work to sell a piece as it is to make it (well probably harder work), and making the work look good is an art in itself ...