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
Dave was born in 1963 in Liverpool, but grew-up in a small village on the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border. His father worked in engineering.
Dave became interested in art in the early 1970s’ but it was his art teachers at secondary school - Bill Winspear and Mike Cain - who saw and encouraged his creative talents.
“Both my art teachers at Hatton school were brilliant. Mr Winspear saw I had some raw talent and helped me develop technically. Then in 1979 Mr Cain came to Hatton and I think his 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.” said Dave
Dave studied Art and Design first in Derby at Derby College of Higher Education and then at North Staffordshire Polytechnic in Stoke-on-Trent.
“While I was studying in Derby I became especially interested in Sculpture and in particular geo-metric relief sculpture. I also got into photography. I had planned to do my degree in Fine Art but at the last moment switched to film making.“
After leaving college Dave worked in the communication sector but continued to paint and produce art.
“Although I’d been painting and making art consistently since the 1980s’ it was largely for myself. Like most artists I just felt compelled to do it. However in 2016 my friendship with Mike Cain took me in a new direction. I think the turning point was when I helped him prepare for a solo ceramic exhibition he had in Stoke. I made some ceramic pieces and soon we were talking about a joint exhibition.”
“Mike had originally taught me ceramics at Hatton School in the 1970s so it was weird that almost forty years later he got me back into working with clay. There was also something else. Like so many artists, rejection particularly by galleries can be extremely negative. It had got so bad in my case that in recent years I’d stopped trying to show my work. Mike helped me rebuild my confidence and in turn I entered a new creative phase.”
The Penkhull Artist Potters Association.
I had lived in Penkhull when I was a student in the mid 1980s’ but it was Mike who moved there permanently after many years spent in Porthill in Newcastle under Lyme. His studio at the bottom of his garden became a meeting and working place for not only me but for another artist - Tony Wild. Tony had been a Fine Art lecturer at North Staffs. I first met him along with the painter Arthur Berry in 1980 at a group exhibition they held at the Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley. After a few months of informally working together Mike suggested that we formalise things and so the Penkhull Artist Potters Association was formed.”
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.