Welcome to Amy Worrall's world where beach bodies and Sanrio characters are made of clay.
Ceramics seem to be quite on the rise now – and Amy Worrall’s work brings a fresh and quirky twist to the plethora of sleek, minimalist cups and plates that have flooded Instagram. The British artist creates pieces that are lovably humorous and kind of make you feel all warm inside, be it headless female bodies which make the best pot for your favourite cacti, plates with drawings of BFFs in pastel-coloured swimsuits, showing off their bare bums or boobs, or just carelessly chilling on pool floats with their fashionable sunglasses on, or cute skeletons casually sitting and smiling, waiting for you to display them on your bookshelf.
We talked to Amy about her lovely clay ladies, switching from illustration to ceramics, her recent relocation to Stockholm, and much more!
Hi Amy, how are you?
I’m good, tired but good!
Let’s start with a tough one: if you were to describe your work in one word, what would it be?
Oh god, that’s difficult. I guess ‘idiosyncratic’, it’s a bit of a cop out though as it can be applied to everyone, but that’s also what I like about the word. It’s so broad yet so specific to an individual, which I think quite nicely describes my work.
You have a background in illustration – what made you switch to ceramics? And what do you like the most about the medium?
I was feeling really lost with illustration and found myself increasingly producing 3D work that didn’t have a place in the commercial industry. I started playing with clay and something clicked in my head, I’ve always loved physically making things and ceramics justified me leaving behind pen and paper.
There’s a weird contrast in ceramics between slow and fast that I love, pieces take shape really quickly, then it all slows down – drying, firing, the pace picks up again with glazing and with the second firing it’s slow again. It’s taught me to patience, which is something I’ve always been lacking in. I also love to hate the anticipation of opening a kiln!
On your website, you mention that you’re using “the majolica technique to achieve vivid, neon colours.” Could you please explain to us what this technique is about?
It’s a name for tin-glazed pottery. Tin makes for opaque white glazes which colour is applied over, the technique dates back to the Renaissance period. Very simply it means that the colours sit on the surface rather than under a glaze giving super bright colours. It’s a method that asks for a lot of accuracy, which I’m not so interested in! I use a completely bastardised version of the technique that is much looser; with it I can create layers and depth much like watercolour. It works really well when I’m painting the swimming pool plates, I can build up the image to create the illusion the girls are really floating in water.
Your work is often mimicking the shape of the female body, and in one interview you mentioned that it was a way to promote body positivity. I think it’s wonderful—and perhaps not so common—to use the craft to promote such radical ideas.
I think traditionally, no. But ceramics is having a moment in the sun, and being recognised as a valid art form. With that it brings the opportunity to express and promote ideas bigger than the craft itself. Coming from an illustration background I’ve always presented my own ideas in my practice so it’s only natural that I carried it into clay.
Speaking of that, is there any other message you’re trying to promote with your art?
I always work with ideas of femininity that has grown into questioning what it means to be a girl, I say girl, as I’m specifically interested in the teenage girl as a social and media construct and the pressure this creates on young women. I suppose it’s not quite a message as such but me shining a light on this bizarre fetish we (society) have with teenagers.
The way you present your work—in front of simple yet bold background—gives it a hint of still life photography. Is there any specific meaning behind the colours and shapes you choose?
A friend kindly pointed out I was taking really shitty photos so after quite a lot of prodding I learned how to use a camera properly rather than just as a thing I pointed in the right direction and hoped for the best. The backgrounds started as a way to entertain myself as I found ‘proper’ photography excruciatingly dull. It all evolved from there, now I see photography as an integral part of my work, I don’t see my work as ‘finished’ until I’ve placed it with a backdrop. I’m fickle in both life and work!
The patterns are heavily influenced by Memphis design and are all loosely based on the movement on water. As my work moves into new territory the backdrops will have to change too, so it’s a really fun conclusion to see what shapes and colours fit. I’ve had a couple of jobs just to paint backdrops, I didn’t realise that people were taking note of what I was doing, it’s great to know that other people are bored of traditional grey and white backgrounds too, sometimes more is more!
You recently moved to Stockholm to study at Konstfack, right? How do you like it so far, both in terms of living in a foreign country and studying at such renowned school?
I’d been talking about moving to Stockholm for years and there came a point in London that my friends started leaving for other countries at an alarming rate, so it seemed like the right time. I studied my bachelor degree at Central Saint Martins so have experienced the pressure of a name before, I was 18 when I started and was completely overwhelmed by the whole experience. Konstfack feels like an entirely different creature, so all those worries were quickly dispelled, this could be total ignorance on my part as a Brit abroad, but I haven’t felt that same pressure, though there is of course still time. I was perhaps too comfortable in London and seeking distractions to keep me away from my studio. Being in Stockholm is not only exciting; it’s also meant that I’ve refocused on my practice.
Not so long ago, you went on a trip to Japan, which seems to have a certain influence on your work, right? I’m speaking of the adorable sculptures of Sanrio characters you have posted on your Instagram!
(Thank you!) Absolutely. Ever since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with Sanrio and going to Tokyo to go to the Sanrio theme park there, which finally happened this summer. I was genuinely worried I was going to burst into tears as I walked in but managed to hold it together enough to dance with Hello Kitty. The whole trip was such an insane sensory overload that I think there was no way I could have avoided it having influence. I hope to go back again soon now I have a clearer understanding of kawaii culture to fully explore, and the darker connotations and the immediate connections with my own work. I think now I’ve completed my personal pilgrimage, I can go back and see Japan without Hello Kitty tinted glasses.
And last but not least – what are your future plans? To be honest, we’d love to see more of your stuff available for purchasing, just saying! ; )
For the moment, I’m trying to see how sustainable it is living the EU life in Sweden! I’m really enjoying working large scale but I’m sure that I will always be drawn to making dining/home ware. I want people to be able to own and use my work. It makes me really happy seeing my work in other people’s homes and being in daily use rather than sitting stagnant in galleries. So it would be nice to find a way to bridge those 2 elements. The world seems like a pretty grim place at the moment, so if I can provide even a fleeting distraction with my work I’m going to run with that.
Amy Worrall: Portfolio, Shop, Instagram
Interview + text: Anna Wim
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