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Behind the Scenes | Part 1 - Claudia Rankin

Behind the Scenes | Part 1 - Claudia Rankin

At The Shop Floor Project we have been lucky enough to meet some very interesting people over the years, and we thought it would be fun to introduce them to you. In this new series we are going behind the scenes, exploring the homes and studios of some of TSFP's makers, collectors and collaborators. In part one, the ceramicist Claudia Rankin welcomes us into her world...

TSFP: Hi Claudia, thanks for opening your doors to us, shall we begin with your beautiful home?

(above) Claudia Rankin home - copyright Claudia Rankin 2018

CR: Our house is a very tall and rickety Georgian building in a small market town in Northumbria. We’re attached on one side to neighbours whose house is the exact mirror of ours. It was built around 1790 by a man who apparently kept his family on one side and his mistress on the other. Any connecting doors have now been filled in! I’ve recently been adding to a wall of pictures and objects in the sitting room (above) that is giving me a lot of pleasure. The little ceramic figure is I think originally from Cameroon though I bought him on a trip to Australia. His head had to be glued back on after a tumble but it was amazing to look inside at how he’d been made. The clay was so rough and full of little stones, like it was just a handful from a riverbank.

TSFP: You're always busy in the studio, can you remember your first memory of making something?

CR: When I was a kid there was a bit of a thing for craft kits involving really noxious materials. One of my favourites was Plasticraft which involved casting objects in resin. I think you were supposed to charm your family with shell filled paperweights but I cast my mother’s front door key into a solid lump of resin, which was not the popular gift I’d imagined. I also blocked up the plumbing at home pouring plaster of Paris down the sink whilst casting an Alsatian ornament using a similar kit called Plastercraft. I don’t remember being given any more kits for Christmas after that.

TSFP: Well, we're very pleased it hasn't stopped you making and experimenting!  Could you describe your studio to us?

(above) Claudia Rankin studio - copyright Claudia Rankin 2018

CR: My studio is a little stone building in our yard at home. It’s a lovely light space with windows onto the street and into the garden. I’ve got most of the kit I need for making and decorating work there including a small kiln. A day a week though, I work at a pottery studio in Newcastle where I keep my moulds, do my glazing and take larger work for firings. Thursdays there are also a sociable working day with a roomful of other artists working and technical support if I want to try anything new.

TSFP: As you know we love books here at The Shop Floor Project, what are you reading at the moment...

above) Claudia Rankin workbench - copyright Claudia Rankin 2018

CR: I’ve had a book by a French artist called Guidette Carbonelle out on my workbench recently. I hadn’t heard of her until I found this book in a museum shop in Paris - I’d love to see her work in real life. There’s something about the loose way she handles her modelling & colours that I love and a real wit to her imagery. Her tiles and tapestries are incredible too (see below)...

(above) Owl Tapestries by Guidette Carbonelle

TSFP: You have really interesting ways of making ceramics, could you describe your process...

CR: I use a combination of casting & hand building. The plates are cast by laying white terracotta slabs onto plaster moulds I’ve taken from old plates. The caddies are cast using liquid clay slip into moulds which gives you a nice thin layer of ceramic. My sculptures are made using both casting and hand building techniques. Everything is then decorated using coloured slips before their first firing. After that they are sprayed with clear glaze I fired again. This seals the whole surface and makes the colours pop up.

(above) Claudia Rankin workbench - copyright Claudia Rankin 2018

CR: My tools are a motley mixture of wooden modelling tools and rolling pins, metal knives and dental instruments and customised bits of ephemera e.g. old bank cards which do the job of trimming around the tops of moulds perfectly.

TSFP: We know you love to travel, is this where you get your inspiration?

copyright Claudia Rankin 2018

CR: Inspiration comes from a huge variety of sources. I’m constantly distracting myself with books, magazines and the whole world on my laptop via Pinterest & Instagram. Museums and galleries are also rich seams of inspiration and I need regular doses of city culture to balance the peace and solitude of my studio. My eldest son has moved to Paris for a couple of years and we’ve been loving the excuse to visit regularly and explore the city’s art collections and markets. The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (above) is a particular favourite.

FRANCE. Nice. August 1949. Henri MATISSE in his studio. Robert Capa.

CR: I also take great inspiration from artists who express themselves through a whole variety of activities and who’s creativity spills out into all aspects of their life. An exhibition at the Royal Academy last year,  Matisse in the Studio (above) showed many of the actual objects and textiles he incorporated into his still lives. The photographs of his studio showing his models in their composed environment were so inspiring, as was his unerring eye for colour, form and pattern reflected in his collections and interiors. 

TSFP: That reminds me of your collages and the way you incorporate found fragments, textiles, antique embroidery and screen prints. They somehow remind me of stage-sets and the curtains have just opened, revealing surreal dream-like compositions.

copyright Claudia Rankin 2018 

TSFP: It's always hard for us to resist keeping all of your pieces for our own homes. Do you hold any pieces back for yourself?

(above) Claudia Rankin home - copyright Claudia Rankin 2018

CR: Well I have a set of tiles around our fireplace, which I’m ashamed to say still haven’t been grouted, a couple of years down the line. I also like mixing my work into an arrangement of objects with flowers and other pieces on the mantlepiece or kitchen shelves. (Eagle-eye readers will notice two Beaded Beasts in Claudia's living room which she hand-selected on a trip to Cape Town a few years ago - you can see our current collection here).

TSFP: Thanks Claudia for letting us take a little peek inside your world. Have you got any new projects coming up?

copyright The Shop Floor Project/Claudia Rankin 2018

CR: It's been a pleasure! It’s so great working with you at The Shop Floor Project and I feel very lucky to be part of your community of artists and makers. I think the fact that you're both artists in your own right means that we have a sort of shorthand in how we communicate, you challenge & inspire me to take my work in new directions. For example, you saw that the mask like faces in my ceramics could be developed as a collection of cushions, and it's been fun working together on perfecting the ‘characters’ from my watercolour paintings (see below). Plus deliveries of work to TSFP HQ in Ulverston is always a treat & usually includes a great cafe & a trawl around the local junk shops

copyright Claudia Rankin 2018

TSFP: What lovely things to say, it's always an exciting time when you bring over your boxes of treasures! As you know we share a love for museums, from the quirky to the grand, could you finish we sharing your own top five museums to visit?

The Paula Rego Museum, Portugal. Claudia visited this museum last year and was very impressed. It's now on our 'must-see' list!

Musée de la Chasse, Paris. An extraordinary museum of hunting and nature located in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris. A real find!

The Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Claudia's many snaps of objects from the Victoria & Albert Museum, which she has visited hundreds of times, as it was just around the corner from her childhood home.

The Bowes Museum, County Durham. The Silver Swan clockwork automation is a favourite with both Claudia and The Shop Floor Project. The iconic piece migrated to the Science Museum in London last year as a star attraction at the 'Robots' exhibition.

The British Museum, London. Claudia often pops in for a whistle-stop tour of this classic Museum en route to Kings Cross to get the East Coast train home. Favourite rooms include: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, China, Japan and India - well the whole place really!

CLAUDIA RANKIN'S current collection for The Shop Floor Project: Tiles, Plates, Platters, Caddies & Collages can be found here...

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