Ali Hewson is one of the five New Makers that TOAST will be supporting and nurturing throughout the year. Her hand built ceramics are decorated with graphic, gestural marks, recalling her training as an illustrator. Andie Cusick met with Ali, discussing the influences behind her work and the processes involved.
There are some objects that you can't help but touch. The magnetism of a rippling, textured surface can be too alluring to resist running your hand across. We're often drawn to the gleam of a circular, soft-edged form more than, say, the sharpness of a hard-edged, angular shape. For ceramicist Alexandra Hewson, tactile sensation plays an important role in her clay-based work. Her large-scale pieces are not only circular and often finished with a glossy, Tenmoku glaze, they're also textured featuring a raised motif gliding across the fired clay.
Alexandra studied illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, graduating in 2013. Based in Norwich, she works as an artist educator at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art, teaching adults and children alike through drawing workshops. Her work in clay is informed by this illustrative background with many of her functional pieces featuring repeat patterns drawn onto the clay using freeform slip trailing. For me, it does tie in naturally with drawing. It's not that drawing has gone away it's just in a new form in clay, she says. Her designs reference traditional handwriting studies with shapes inspired by 17th century English domestic objects. Finished using natural metal oxides each of Alexandra's bowls and plates develop a depth of colour from the iron crystals within the glaze.
A big part of my work is research-led and I tend to explore it through making. Much of my work is sort of odd tests and trying to use the elements that I like. So it might be thumbed edging round an old Essex jug or embossing on a tankard, she explains. I think it was David Hockney who said that style is something you can use, and you can be like a magpie, just taking what you want.'
Part of her magpie approach also involves repurposing materials, an area she's been exploring after buying the contents of a former pottery studio. The archive she has acquired is over 40 years old, providing a wealth of experimentation with glazes, some with speckles and changes to the original compound colours. But it's not just for stylistic or for novelty reasons: Alexandra is passionate about sustainability and she'd much sooner repurpose things where possible. Given the chance, she would also dig her own wild' clay (it takes time to know what you're working with and can be temperamental) but sees this as a longer-term goal.
Alexandra's current work utilises krank clay, which is reinforced with grog (clay that has been fired and then ground up). I really enjoy handbuilding bigger pieces so the grog is perfect for that, she explains. It's the grog in her pieces that adds a gritty texture and in turn another element to her tactile forms. Through all of her pieces the red thread remains drawing; making her mark with freehand lines in the raw clay. Whether it's Delftware or old Japanese slipware a hand has transferred gesture into clay and you can either do that well or you can't. I'm chasing that, I suppose, and striving to do it well.
Words by Andie Cusick. Photography by Kendal Noctor.