The gallery pages below contain a small selection of our recent ceramic work There are also biographies and pages about our themes and inspiration.
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. For me it has the power to make you feel so much, often with seemingly so little. Good examples of this would be the work of people like Mark Rothko or Sean Scully. Perhaps the biggest direct influence on my work especially in the early years was a series of white relief sculptures made by Ben Nicholson. I loved their simplicity and the way the shapes controlled space. Even now those pieces are an inspiration to me.”
Dave Harper was born in Liverpool in 1963. He spent his early childhood living close to the sea in South Wales before moving to a small village on the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border in 1970. His father who originally came from Uttoxeter worked in engineering.
During the early 1970’s a number of things came together that sparked Dave’s interest in art, which he would later see as the catalyst that set him on the road to becoming an artist. Firstly there was a magazine article about the artist Barbara Hepworth, then a book about interior design by Terrence Conran, and thirdly the ‘Jack Frost’ statue (man on Fire by David Wynne) on the outside of a Hanley department store.
“I lived in a small terraced house so when I looked through ’The House Book’ by Terrence Conran it was like a window into a strange land where design and art allowed people to live very different lives to mine. Like most lads of my age I was interested in cars and motorbike’s but this book really opened my eyes in terms of the creative world. The ‘Jack Frost’ statue on the side of what was then the Lewis’s store, all lit up during a Christmas shopping trip, also had a profound impact. I found myself wanting and perhaps even needing, to be part of this world of art.”
These events took place around the same time as starting at secondary school, It was here in 1974 that Dave met his first art teacher, Bill Winspear. He saw that Dave had some raw ability which he encouraged. In 1979 the school took on a second Art teacher, Mike Cain who’s job it was to teach ceramics. It was with Mike’s support and encouragement that Dave gained enough confidence to apply to go to Art school.
“Both my art teachers were brilliant but I think Mike’s special gift was to give me the kind of self belief I needed do something with my artistic ability. It was with their help I was able to go to art school, for which I will always be grateful.”
Dave first studied in Derby where he completed his Art and Design Foundation Course before going on to do his degree at what was then the North Staffordshire Polytechnic in Stoke-on-Trent.
“Much of my early work wasbased around geometric art and in particular relief sculpture. A major influence was Ben Nicholson, but I was also captivated by the whole modernist movement. It was while I was in Derby that I got into photography and writing and at the last moment I switched from doing Fine Art to film making.”
Although Dave made a successful career in the communications sector he has continued to make relief sculpture and paintings. In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s Dave showed his work in a number of small exhibitions but his media career always came first. Then In 2016 he began doing some ceramic work with Mike Cain, and the following year they formed 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 the work of David Smith and Mark Rothko to Neolithic hill forts and Bronze Age stone carving.”
Dave Harper 2019. Photo: Phil Shallcross
Quindecillion No. 3 - Dave Harper 2019
Geometric Abstract relief sculpture. 800 mm x 800 mm x 50 mm. Wood and ceramics.
STRATA series large plate - Dave Harper 2018
This is one of a series of pieces made using found objects, such as tree bark, packaging, or metal wire. These objects are used to create textures and images within the work.
Dave Harper - Spode Museum exhibition 2017
Dave Harper - Themes and inspiration
I am largely an abstract artist who often uses motifs or ‘starting points’ in much of my work. These themes have recurred numerous times over the last forty years but it is interesting to see how I have responded differently to them, at different times.
CIRCLES & SQUARES
At art school my first love was geometric abstraction, and throughout the 1980s I made relief sculpture based on the tension and interaction between circles and squares. I think I had a fascination with the idea of ‘round pegs in square holes’ however these pieces rarely had a narrative. Instead my work was about control of the elements and creating balance and aesthetic harmony.
CUP & RING MARKINGS
Like my interest in the circular shapes of barrows or bronze age round houses, I have also taken inspiration from neolithic rock carving. In 2019 I was looking through some old sketchbooks and came across some ideas for paintings based on Cup and Ring carvings. These ideas have been re-worked and currently form the basis of a series of ceramic art pieces I’m working on. I’m not trying to recreate the original markings or designs, instead I use them as a starting point to explore shape, texture, line and balance.
HILL FORTS & LINES IN THE LANDSCAPE
Growing up in a small village on the Staffordshire - Derbyshire border I found myself fascinated by dry stone walls. I remember a cycle ride to Ashbourne where I came across a man repairing a dry stone wall. I watched him for ages as he carefully selected particular stones to complete the particular section he was working on. That memory has made me very aware that he was searching for shapes that would provide strength and balance, which is something I am constantly searching for in my work. I also like the textures, and the interplay between the shapes.
Stone walls, track-ways, stone circles and hill forts have all influenced my work. I like the idea that for countless centuries we have attempted to control or even tame the natural world. The urban landscape holds a similar interest for me. Whether it’s a castle or a Victorian factory I love the utility, the tension between form and function and above all the sense of purpose these structures have. Integrity is a very powerful quality.
Like many artists working within the modernist discipline, I find that my use of a particular motif often leads to a series of related works. I am driven to explore particular themes, such as my interest in geological strata. While I’m personally fascinated by history and prehistory it is not the narrative that is central to my work, but the aesthetic and the juxtaposition of shapes, colours, lines and textures.