While Blue Firth might not use the term artist' to describe herself, that's exactly what she is. Having trained firstly at Loughborough University where she studied painting, she then attended The Royal Academy Schools completing a Masters in FIne Art.
Her art has been exhibited across the UK and Europe including the Nottingham Contemporary, the Royal Academy of Arts Architecture Space in London and the Johann Knig Gallery in Berlin. It was, however, during her Masters that Blue craved a practice that was more process-based with sculpted objects as the outcome. I took a morning ceramics class at this lovely studio by the sea near Chichester and that was the first time I'd ever used clay and I really fell in love with it, she says. I think mainly because it was really grounding, meditative and textural.
That was seven years ago. Since that time Blue has been trying to make ceramics a bigger part of her life. Setting up her own studio was key to this progression and it's become a space not only for her own practice but also for others to come and learn during her weekly beginners class. It's meant I've been able to build up a community so I'm not just working by myself, she explains. You're constantly learning something new from other potters. I think there's something really special about us all coming together at a table and kneading some earth into something new and having this amazing object at the end of it.
Blue's ceramics draw upon vernacular styles and while the clay she uses is not as localised as she would like (I'd love to say that I can dig clay out of the ground but in Nottingham it's mainly sand!), she does source from Stoke on Trent, the home of English pottery, which for her feels genuine to go back to the source.
Blue's work is visually pared back with a natural, rawness to each piece, highlighting the materials used and letting them speak for themselves. Many of her pieces, including those for the New Makers series are unglazed, but when she does opt for a layer of sheen, it's with glazes she takes the time to make herself.
Her latest creations utilise a raku firing technique. Blue uses horsehair in this process (as a keen horse rider, she manages to take off-cuts at the stables where she rides). While the piece is still extremely hot Blue uses the horsehair like a brush, burning expressive, feathery smoke marks onto the surface of the clay. It's just so momentary, you don't have very long to work with it. That kind of instant commitment to something is really exciting. The resulting pieces are one-of-a-kind, heavy-footed bowls - striking sculptures that can also serve to function in our daily rituals.
For my own mental health, having a process like this is really fundamental."
But the technique is not without its risks. Using temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees doesn't always give the controlled results you might wish for: It's quite shocking for the hot pot to be taken out into cold air so that might shatter it, explains Blue, or it might not be hot enough for the hair to burn on the surface, so the whole thing is like a magical experiment. You can't be precious about it, you've just got to be very open-minded and deal with disappointment - really good life lessons, I think.
Having her own studio where Blue can practice and teach combined with the recent selection for TOAST's New Makers has allowed Blue to start seeing her work with clay as a promising long-term journey, rich in narrative and community. I don't think I ever saw myself as a craftsperson before because prior to working with clay my work was quite conceptual and large-scaled and never existed for very long, she explains.
For my own mental health, having a process like this is really fundamental and I think a lot of people can appreciate that. If a therapeutic, thoughtful approach can imbibe an object, then I feel that can also translate to people, which makes a really happy chain of events.
Interview by Andie Cusick. Images by Kendal Noctor.
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