Katharine Morling

Katharine Morling Collecting Wood by Katharine Morling
by Katharine Morling
by Katharine Morling

Ceramist Katharine Morling is best known for her life-size black and white sculptures full of quirky, graphic detail of domestic objects such as tables, chairs and ladders. Although she calls herself a '3D person', drawing is very important to Morling and her sculptures are in effect sketches of clay furniture which play on the viewer’s preconceptions about both materials and function.


How did your career start?

I started training in art therapy but felt I hadn’t developed myself enough to be an art therapist - you need to understand your own practice first. So I started studying ceramics. They have always been my main passion as you can do whatever you want with clay, it’s such a manipulative material compared with metal and wood (materials which I’ve experimented with before).

Why did you decide to go to the Royal College of Art after you had finished your degree in ceramics at Falmouth?

The first ceramics I made were highly glazed, very decorative majolica type wares which were a bit traditional really. I wasn’t very happy with them as I felt they were steeped in history and constricted by the rules about ceramics I had picked up at college. They didn’t really represent me as a person and way people thought about them – seeing them as something fun and playful - was not really how I thought of myself as an artist. So I went to the RCA [in 2007 to do an MA in Glass and Ceramics] and my work completely changed as I started doing my black and white pieces. I feel that now my work has a darker element to it and I’ve got a much clearer artistic voice – although I’ve still got a long way to go.

How did you develop your newer black and white style?

My black and white pieces started off as sketches. I spent lots of time drawing at the RCA and I wanted to translate my sketches into three dimensions, to be inside them and walk around them. I’m a 3D person and these pieces mark the crossover between ceramics and sketches. I’m actually making a full-size room set for the European Triennial of Ceramics and Glass in Belgium [run by the World Crafts Council in Mons until 30 January] complete with furniture which you can walk around which takes the idea to its logical conclusion.

How do you make the pieces?

I start off by making little clay maquettes to help me work out what I’m going to do and then I make clay blanks which I sketch the details on to.

Why do you leave the pieces unglazed?

I like the fact that people don’t know what the sculptures are made out of when they first see them because people aren’t used to seeing white unglazed clay. They sometimes think they’re made of paper or sugar icing so leaving the pieces unglazed allows you to play with the idea of uncertainty. It adds another layer to them as people want to touch the pieces to work out what they’re made from. When something is glazed it’s much more obvious that it’s ceramic and people immediately know how to categorise the work.

Many of your pieces are sculptures of domestic objects or furniture. Can you explain why you are so fascinated by these forms?

I haven’t worked out why I make so much furniture yet. I’ve already made 12 chairs but don’t really know why or why I never do figurative sculptures. I think it might be to do with expressing an awkwardness in the domestic environment. I just allow myself to make the pieces even though I am not sure what they mean. I think it’s important to keep my work instinctive – I just make what I feel I need to and don’t want to over think it as it might lose its freshness and became too laboured.

Are you trying to convey a particular messages through these pieces?

If I could explain what I was trying to do in words I wouldn’t have to make things. I just hope that people will look at the works and understand a little bit about me and a little bit more about themselves. The work is really about the human condition, what I feel as a person and my personal experience of being alive. For example the pieces called Sketch of My Tools is about work – we all have to work and my tools are particularly important to me. And then you could say the ladder pieces are about the ladders we are on in life – career ladders and housing market ladders. Some pieces are more obvious – for example, the series of boxes and trunks with wrapped with locks and chains are about secrets.

Is drawing still an important part of your practice?

Yes. I set up a drawing club at Cockpit and we draw every week. We’re trying to teach ourselves things that we feel our art education missed. And we also like to challenge ourselves and to push ourselves to do things that we don’t do in our practices – we are currently doing portraits and I never include figures in my work.

Do you have plans to use your art therapy training at all in the future?

I didn’t, but recently I did some workshops at Orleans House and found myself working with young people from troubled backgrounds. I wasn’t expecting that as it’s not what I normally do, but I found both the experience and the children’s work really interesting. I normally limit myself to 10 days a year of teaching, but I would be happy to go back and work with that group again as they were so open and honest in the way they translate ideas and emotions into clay.  

Interview by Diana Woolf