If you can't stand the heat...

Potters no longer want to churn out identical clay bowls. Now they experiment with copper wire, crumbs and - dog biscuits
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The Independent Online

"We want to have the freedom to produce what we want," says Nadine Warden, the spokeswoman for the group of 12 ceramicists exhibiting at Burning. It might sound like a high-flown ambition, but Warden and her like-minded contemporaries - all graduates of South Thames College - are determined not to sell out. "We don't want to be drawn into a situation where we're churning out identical bowls. I've done that, and it's lucrative, but I want to move on."

"We want to have the freedom to produce what we want," says Nadine Warden, the spokeswoman for the group of 12 ceramicists exhibiting at Burning. It might sound like a high-flown ambition, but Warden and her like-minded contemporaries - all graduates of South Thames College - are determined not to sell out. "We don't want to be drawn into a situation where we're churning out identical bowls. I've done that, and it's lucrative, but I want to move on."

Individualism, then, is the key tenet of Burning, the first exhibition devoted to ceramics at Oxo Tower Wharf, on London's South Bank. Warden and her compadres, Joanne Janicka, Sally Kohler, Rejane Labaune - "the driving force of the group" - are bent on celebrating diversity. The ceramicists are a multicultural bunch, says Warden. Labaune is French, Janicka Polish and co-exhibitor Doxol Sivropoulos Greek. Their work ranges from the purely functional to the sculptural and decorative. They love experimenting with unexpected materials, incorporating into clay, their shared raw material, anything from paper, stainless steel, copper wire and, in the case of Warden, Winalot dog biscuits.

A tight-knit group they had a wellreceived exhibition earlier this year at London's Air Gallery. But how does Warden reconcile her Utopian desire to make whatever her heart desires with commercial reality? "We all do other things. Some of us, like myself, are on a professional development course at South Thames College, where we can still use the ceramics facilities, which are great. It may sound naïve but I want to make what I want to make and if anyone wants to buy it, that's fantastic."

Warden's headstrong stance will stand her in good stead: the ceramics at Burning, a selling show with works priced from £50 to £400, will appeal to a very specialist market, namely to those sold on craftsy, studio-style pottery. (You won't catch the minimalist lines of Bodo Sperlein or Caterina Fadda here - two young Oxo Tower-based designers who have helped rid ceramics of its craft-shoppe, studio image and made it appeal to loft-dwellers.)

It's not surprising, given her horror of mass-production, that Warden produces very expressionist, organic-looking pieces - the result of a great deal of eccentric experimentation. There's no way of knowing precisely how her "laminates" - layers of blue and white porcelain sandwiching sheets of stainless steel, overlaid with copper wire - will emerge from the kiln. "All these materials shrink and warp differently," she says. She also makes "grogged" stoneware (crumbs of fired clay added to raw clay for texture and strength). Then there are those puzzling Winalot biscuits. "I was feeding someone's dog once and thought, 'Why not use them?'" is her potty explanation. "They actually burn away, leaving holes."

Barbara Andrews also makes work pitted with holes, albeit to more pleasingly decorative effect. Her intriguing hemispheres of clay, with perforated craters, recall the work of avant-garde Italian artist Lucio Fontana, who pierced his canvases to create a subtly three-dimensional effect half way between painting and sculpture. In cream and ash-grey, Andrews' work - biscuit-fired first at 1,000Å¡C, then glazed at 1,300Å¡C - recall eerie satellite pictures of lunar landscapes. Some are filled with otherworldly, barnacle-like protrusions. "My work's influenced by underwater creatures," she says. She also makes arrestingly bizarre pillow-shaped pieces that are punctured with larger, Gruyere-like holes.

Andrews sees her "handleable" objects working best as decorative still-lifes "you can play with and rearrange". More contemporary-looking than craft shop-rustic, this work would sit better in a modern home than most pieces here.

So too would the work of Janicka, who produces lamps and candle containers with cream ceramic and paper pulp shades. Her row of Crumpled Lights, inspired by art multiples, are so-called because their shades have a rumpled texture, like fabric, causing the bulbs and candles inside to glow at different intensities. "I want them to look similar but subtly different," says Janicka, who also combines clay with cotton and denim. Much of the other work here is frighteningly organic - fine for those who like ceramics with a hippie vibe (murky earthenware shades, asymmetric shapes and a stubborn insistence on the handcrafted, however heavy-handed). And, in the name of self-expression, there's a lot of aimless, wacky, self-indulgent experimentation in evidence. The work of Janicka and Andrews, however, has more direction, and is more directional. It's definitely worth keeping track of it in the future.

* Burning is at the.gallery@oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1, from 12-28 August (020 7401 2255)

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