Interview with Merete Rasmussen: Sunny side up
15:20 09 November 2010
Shannon Denny meets ceramicist Merete Rasmussen in a Camberwell hothouse of curvy creativity
According to stereotype, artists can often be found shivering in icy studios with frozen fingers crossed in the hope their work will sell. Happily, this doesnt hold true for ceramicist Merete Rasmussen. Her Vanguard Court studio is warm and balmy, thanks to a shiny kiln thats cooling down from this mornings high of 900 degrees, while the smiling artist herself is in the happy position of being almost unable to keep up with the demand for her work.
Born in Denmark and raised in Sweden, Merete studied nursing before switching to ceramics. She moved to London in 2005 following her MA, and with a grant from the Crafts Council set up in this quiet artistic corner off Peckham Road. The site of a former suitcase factory, big windows create a bright ambiance year round. The walls hint at her inspirations, displaying sketches, printouts of colourful 3D models of mathematical equations, a photograph of a clock face and another of a stadium.
Im really interested in ideas of form, continuous surface and the shape of a negative space. Im working with curves, quite often like a ribbon shape and then twisting it, she grins. While traditional ceramicists create functional objects,
Meretes work is strictly sculptural. Rather than producing containers or vessels, she creates forms that defy the function of containment. There is fluidity in her work, from inside to outside and from positive space to negative. Each work can sit on any side there is no correct up, and no inherent down.
The pieces take up to six week to complete, and the process begins with the production of small maquettes these rough palm-sized versions reveal if the form will work. From here, large-scale versions slowly take shape. Im building in coiling technique, so its quite rough, adding coil after coil over a few days little by little. Foam rubber supports are strategically placed to keep the undulations from collapsing under their own weight. Once a shape has been built, Merete shaves down the surface to make it perfectly smooth.
She finishes the sculptures by spraying them with a very dry glaze. Once fired, they resemble felt, velvet or suede. The surfaces absorb light, and theres incredible subtlety in the grey series shes working on now the muted tones range from elephant to mouse to steel. Other pieces in matt yellow or teal pop out from the white background of the walls.
The simplicity and strong shapes of Scandinavian art and aesthetics contribute to her work, and she cites the great Dane of design, Verner Panton, as a particular influence. Their work shares a common interest in the exploration of area, material and technique to create sculptural effects. It has something to do with the landscape, the light and space I suppose.
Merete has no regrets about making the move to London though, and has always maintained south-of-the-river addresses, including Brixton, Tulse Hill and Wandsworth. The opportunities for a ceramicist are better here she says, and shes made the most of these. This year, Merete was the star of a solo show at The Scottish Gallery and her work featured in Collect at The Saatchi Gallery. Her pieces were also selected by Contemporary Applied Arts to appear at SOFA New York, and by the UK Crafts Council to appear in their CraftCubes, a new immersive initiative that marries film footage of an artist in their studio alongside pieces of their work. Future exhibitions in Brussels, Holland and Paris are on the cards, too.
With so much lined up and so much demand for her creations, it seems unlikely that Merete will fall into another stereotype, that of the starving artist although its true that the pace sometimes keeps her almost too busy to eat. Fortunately shes a fan of the eclectic dining options nearby in Camberwell: FM Mangal for Turkish food and Silk Road for handmade Chinese noodles get her special vote.
Her work is never far from her thoughts though. Its always there. And if Im busy like I am now its in my mind I can dream about scraping. If Ive been doing it all day I continue doing it in my sleep! She tries to a take break at weekends because working seven days straight with clay is physically gruelling. I do work long hours, she admits. How long is long? It can be all my awake hours and then some! And from her laughter its clear shed have it no other way.
The Crafts Councils CraftCube programme offers a new way to see and learn about contemporary craft by offering visitors a virtual experience of makers studios and the chance to interact with craft objects. CraftCubes move away from the traditional exhibition format and offer a walk-in, immersive experience. To find out the current locations of the three CraftCubes see www.craftscouncil.org.uk