Handle with care

Take seven contemporary artists, put them in a high-street pottery- painting cafe and what do you get? Art that's far too good to eat your dinner off. By Simmy Richman. Photographs by Claudia Jancke
My four-year-old could do better than that," is one of the better- worn critiques of contemporary art. But what would happen if the tables were turned? Could leading modern artists do better than your average four-year-old? That was the challenge taken on here by seven artists from a range of disciplines: all agreed to try their hand at plate-painting in a pottery cafe, the latest craze for small, creatively inclined, children (and their mums and dads).

Pottery cafes first sprang up in California, and there are now some 700 doing business coast to coast in the US (with 10 more opening every week). The UK is playing catch-up, and soon cities all over the country will be cashing in on the crockery craze. Andrew Soning, director of Colour Me Mine in London and Manchester, came across the idea a couple of years ago in Los Angeles. He liked it so much that he approached the company's directors with the aim of bringing it to this country. "I just knew English people could be fabulously creative given the chance, and they are really proving that in these cafes," he says.

The chosen venue for our seven intrepid artists was Picasso's Place in Hampstead, north London. This was opened by brother and sister team Rhea Sheedy and Manoj Gohil in September 1998, and they are currently preparing to open their next branch in Bristol. "We get all sorts of people with all sorts of ideas," says Rhea. "One minute it's a mother imprinting a mug with her new-born baby's handprints, the next it's a lesbian hen night where all the guests have been asked to paint a different item for the couple."

To the owners of pottery cafes, everyone's work is equal and breakages are whispered about like distant deaths in the family. To the Charles Saatchis of this world, however, some work is more equal than others, which is where the following artists come in: contemporary realist Nicky Hoberman, Sensation star Martin Maloney, Peter Davies, best known for his work The Hip 100, painter-collagist Simon Bill, ex-Sex Pistols frontman turned painter David Harrison, sculptor Steven Gontarski, and the UK-based Japanese artist Jun Hasegawa. Here's how they got on ...

Picasso's Place, 106 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 (0171-916 1882)

plates 1

Peter Davies

What are you painting?

It's called Small Black Squares. When I thought of painting on a plate, I immediately thought of an Op-arty spiral. I wanted to do something bold graphically.

What would be the most appropriate meal to eat off your plate?

Simple food in a minimalist restaurant.

Describe your (non-plate) work in five words.

Large, often multicoloured paintings concerned with the language of art (how many words is that?)

Who (or what) are your inspirations?

Other art. How I understand it and relate to it. Everyday things. Just living.

What response would you like people to have when confronted with your work?

To think it's beautiful and enjoyable, but not up its own arse.

What are your artistic frustrations?

Pass.

What is the earliest art experience you can remember from your childhood?

A painting by El Greco. I was fascinated by its weird light and it had a monkey in it.

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

A supermodel.

You are famous for painting lists. List your five favourite lists:

My lists are constantly changing. By the time I'm finished painting a list, it's different.

Nicky Hoberman

What are you painting?

She's a girl I call "White Witch". She's an only child who grew up very quickly and because of that she is very strong psychologically and lives in a fantasy world of the supernatural.

What would be the most appropriate meal to eat off your plate?

Spiders' eggs coated in chocolate.

Describe your (non-plate) work in five words.

Confrontational depictions of little girls (and old ladies, but that would be more than five).

Who (or what) are your inspirations?

It changes, but this month I'm into the photographer Diane Arbus.

What response would you like people to have when confronted with your work?

To feel uncomfortable.

What are your artistic frustrations?

It's very hard to justify being a painter today: you sit there with these hairs on the end of a stick in an age of computer technology.

What is the earliest art experience you can remember from your childhood?

A Duane Hanson exhibition.

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

More frustrated and nuttier than I am already.

Are the children in your paintings more at home in the Village of the Damned or the land of the innocents?

That's the question.

Martin Maloney

What are you painting?

It's called Total Devotion. It's a man holding two terriers from a picture I saw in a book about how to raise Yorkshire terriers. I thought it was a suitably chi-chi image for a chi-chi idea painted in a chi-chi place.

What would be the most appropriate meal to eat off your plate?

Vol-au-vents at a cocktail party.

Describe your (non-plate) work in five words.

Simple art for clever people.

Who (or what) are your inspirations?

Fashion, lifestyle, hair, clothes, make-up, cinema and popular culture.

What response would you like people to have when confronted with your work?

To like it, know it, understand it and get pleasure from it.

What are your artistic frustrations?

When art is considered inaccessible. When the experience and enjoyment are divorced from what people instinctively know is good.

What is the earliest art experience you can remember from your childhood?

Drawing girls' platform shoes. Entering a Blue Peter contest to design a fashion item. I'm still into girls' shoes.

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

A fashion designer.

Are your paintings celebrating or mocking our hedonistic culture?

I'm not mocking anything. These are not ironic paintings. They are sincere. Although there may be the odd wry glance in there.

Steven Gontarski

What are you painting?

I'm a sculptor so I normally only make sketches in preparation for my work. But I also do some figurative line drawings. This is somewhere in between.

What would be the most appropriate meal to eat off your plate?

A few scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Describe your (non-plate) work in five words.

Shiny, life-size, bulbous, elegant.

Who (or what) are your inspirations?

Renaissance art, music videos, product design, pornography, Modernist art and architecture.

What response would you like people to have when confronted with your work?

I want people to feel the same way they do when they suddenly realise they love a song or singer they previously thought they hated.

What are your artistic frustrations?

Tedium. Plus, unlike the highs you experience, which always seem to be short-lived, the lows seem to go on, and I end up just trudging through them.

What is the earliest art experience you can remember from your childhood?

Drawing pictures of Wonder Woman in my school notebook.

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

Something worthwhile.

Why do you think that art has always got away with things that pornography can not?

Because pornography has more limited aims and usages than art.

Jun Hasegawa

What are you painting?

I have lots of ideas floating in my mind and this girl with long hair was one of them. I thought she would work well on a round plate.

What would be the most appropriate meal to eat off your plate?

Mozzarella and tomato salad.

Describe your (non-plate) work in five words.

Big, elegant, daily life, beauty.

Who (or what) are your inspirations?

American and French films, fashion magazines, Matisse, Alex Katz.

What response would you like people to have when confronted with your work?

To experience feelings and emotions and to think that my work reflects their life.

What are your artistic frustrations?

Being alone in the studio.

What is the earliest art experience you can remember from childhood?

A Van Gogh book. There was not a lot of opportunity to see his work in Japan.

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

An air hostess but I am too short.

Art critics often liken your paintings to Manga comics. Do these inspire you?

I don't understand why people say that. Maybe it's because I'm Japanese.

Simon Bill

What are you painting?

A duck/rabbit. It crops up in Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

What would be the most appropriate meal to eat off your plate?

Confit of duck and rabbit.

Describe your (non-plate) work in five words.

Sometimes disgusting. But not really.

Who (or what) are your inspirations?

Builders' merchants - for raw materials.

What response would you like people to have when confronted with your work?

A few years ago I'd have said vomit spontaneously. Now, puzzled and intrigued.

What are your artistic frustrations?

Being skint. The work itself is great.

What is the earliest art experience you can remember from childhood?

Reading my dad's Mad magazines.

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

Some kind of writer.

Your work is said to fluctuate between damnation and enlightenment. Which do you feel you are working towards?

Right now, enlightenment.

David Harrison

What are you painting?

It's called Tadpoles in Paradise. I had this idea of tadpoles swimming to heaven as tadsouls.

What would be the most appropriate meal to eat off your plate?

Certainly not frogs' legs.

Describe your (non-plate) work in five words.

Seeing beauty in everything available.

Who (or what) are your inspirations?

Jayne Mansfield, Prokoviev, Bulgakov, Goya.

What response would you like people to have when confronted with your work?

To faint.

What are your artistic frustrations?

Feeling inadequate. I recently had my flat broken into and not one of my paintings was stolen.

What is the earliest art experience you can remember from your childhood?

My dad's DIY. I think he was a Dada-ist.

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

An architect.

You were the lead singer of the Sex Pistols before Johnny Rotten, and now you are an artist. Which is more fun?

This, definitely. I wanted to use music to enter the world of glamour. Suburban angst is what I was trying to escape from. n

Comments