The gallery pages below contain a small selection of our work There are also biographies and information about some of the themes within our ceramic work.
Gallery: Mike Cain
This is a small selection of Mike's ceramic art work from 2017.
Mike Cain - Themes and inspiration
"My greatest desire as a child was desperately wanting to be a ‘Native American Indian’ dashing around on a pony, covered in paint and feathers and getting up to mischief. It seemed at the time a far better option than anything else on offer. But my first memory of proper art was seeing a television programme about the sculptor Henry Moore"
Mike was about eleven or twelve years old at the time and two sculptures in particular caught his eye. The Three Graces and another called the Glenkiln Cross.
"I didn't understand them and I knew nothing of the artist, but these totemic sculptures remained in my consciousness. It was only when I became an art student that I realised what I'd seen years earlier and so began a lifelong interest in the 'upright form'. This has emerged in my work numerous times over the years, from sculptures I made while doing my degree to my latest pieces of ceramic art which I have called Icarus."
One of the key themes or motifs in Mike's ceramic work is what at first looks like an angel, but is in fact a winged figure which he has titled Icarus.
Icarus was the son of Daedalus who according to Greek myth flew too close to the Sun, which melted the wax that held his wings together and caused him to fall into the sea and drown. Ultimately it was his ego which cost him his life. But Mike sees Icarus in a different light – that of an heroic figure who strived for freedom.
"My Icarus pieces are part of my fascination with the totemic or upright form. In each case the winged figure is a starting point, with some being more stylised than others. I like to use found objects – pieces of rusty cast iron or discarded packaging – to help construct the figures body and wings. At various stages during the firing process some of the flat pieces were broken. But just because they have been damaged, that doesn't mean they have failed, far from it. I think that sometimes works can be enhanced by the quality of their imperfections."
Two obvious pieces of sculpture which are no longer complete, but which still retain all their artistic presence are the Belvedere Torso and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Both have been severely damaged and are missing large parts of their original structure and yet these losses have in some way strengthened or added to what they are, as works of art. In terms of modern art there is the Glenkiln Cross by Henry Moore which looks incomplete but while not actually broken, it looks like it has been eroded by time and the elements.
"Icarus can also be viewed as a damaged or broken figure, but I see his ego as ambition and an attempt to achieve freedom. With my winged figure pieces I decided to accept their faults and damage. For me being broken or incomplete does not diminish the power of the image."
Dave Harper: Biography
“My first love as an artist has and perhaps always will be, abstraction. It has the power to make you feel so much often with so little. Perhaps the biggest direct influence on my work was the series of white relief sculptures made by Ben Nicholson. I loved their simplicity and the way the shapes controlled space.”
Dave Harper was born in Liverpool in 1963, but grew-up in South Wales and then in a small village on the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border. His father worked in engineering near Uttoxeter.
In the early 1970’s a number of things came together which sparked Dave’s interest in art. Firstly a magazine article about the artist Barbara Hepworth, then a book about interior design by Terrence Conran, and lastly the ‘Jack Frost’ statue (man on Fire by David Wynne) in Hanley.
“I lived in a small terraced house in the early 1970’s and so looking through ’The House Book’ by Terrence Conran was like a window into a strange land where design and art allowed people to live very different lives to mine. The Jack Frost statue on the side of Lewis’s department store, all lit up during a Christmas shopping trip also had a profound impact on me. I found myself wanting and perhaps even needing, to be part of this world.”
These events took place around the same time as starting at secondary school, where his art teacher Bill Winspear spotted that Dave had some raw ability which he encouraged. Later his second art teacher, Mike Cain, helped develop this still further and with his support Dave achieved a place at Art school.
“Both my art teachers were brilliant but I think Mike’s special gift was to give me the confidence to believe in my artistic ability. It was with their help I was able to go to art school, for which I will always be grateful.”
“I studied Art and Design firstly in Derby and then at North Staffordshire Polytechnic in Stoke-on-Trent. Much of my early work wasbased around geometric relief sculpture, but I also got into photography and writing and I switched from doing a degree in Fine Art to film making.”
Although Dave made a successful career in the communications sector he continued to make sculpture and to paint, and in 2016 through his friendship with Mike Cain he stated making ceramics. In 2017 this collaboration lead the two men to form The Penkhull Artist Potters Association.
“I love working with found objects. Sometimes they inspire or inform, sometimes I use them directly in my work to create shapes or texture. I am still drawn to geometric abstraction, but my influences are now wide ranging from David Smith and Mark Rothko to Neolithic hill forts and Bronze Age stone carving.”
Dave Harper - Themes and inspiration
Much of my ceramic art work has been inspired by or related to man's ancient attempts to dominate the landscape. Stone circles, our patchwork of fields with their stone walls and hedges, and most notably Hill forts.
I've been fascinated by the mystery that surrounds these ancient structures for decades. The first time I visited one I was shocked to find how little of it could be seen on the ground, mostly because it was so overgrown with large areas covered by trees. But from the air they look amazing. Such vast structures which may have taken generations to complete.
Over the years I visited quite a few in England and Wales, but the nearest to where I live is Castle Ring on Cannock Chase. It probably dates to the Bronze or Iron Age, but was significantly changed in the 18th century. Despite its many alterations it still retains a sense of its original status and power, which is even more obvious in the bigger examples..
I originally started making drawings and painting of these structures based on Ariel photographs. My approach was semi-realistic. I liked the shapes, the interlocking ditches and walls, and the way the light altered their appearance at different times of the year. I began to experiment with a more stylised approach, which used a type of cubist approach. I was trying to capture the essence of these structures- their size, power and complexity - in a single composition.
I think part of the fascination is related to fact that these structures were imposed on the landscape by people. They were built to make a statement, for defence, to project power. Mankind's ability to control and dominate the landscape has been something that has fascinated me since my art school days.
From my Hill Fort paintings to the use of this motif in my ceramic work, these dramatic structures have become a recurring theme in my work. Sometimes the shapes have realistic elements - like the gateways, but increasingly the ditches, walls, banks and openings have become highly styalised.
Like many artists, working in the modernist discipline, much of my work uses motifs and themes as starting points. In the case of my Hill Fort images I found that they took on a life of their own. Often 'happy accidents' take us in new and in-planned directions. This is what happened when one of my Hill Fort images which ended up looking like a swirling mass of matchsticks. Although various things were unresolved I could see the potential of developing this as a separate theme.
So sometimes the starting point is completely lost, but usually the most successful pieces retain something of the original inspiration. In the case of my 'Vortex' pieces some of the monumentality of the original inspiration remains, but it has been joined by energy and a sense of movement.