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Philip Eglin, Slipping the Trail & Responding to the Buckley Pottery in the Aberystwyth Collection - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Ellen Bell

NWR Issue 108

Philip Eglin, Slipping the Trail & Responding to the Buckley Pottery in the Aberystwyth Collection

Saturday morning and the Aberystwyth Arts Centre is teeming with little girls. Hundreds of them, their tiny squirming pigeon-breasted forms made all the more slippery in pink, turquoise and mauve Lycra, skipping, running and squealing. The noise, ricocheting off the walls, is deafening. Downstairs the glass doors of the Ceramics Gallery have been opened wide in readiness for visitors to Philip Eglin’s new show. The noise follows me in.

Chocolate. On seeing Swansea-based artist Eglin’s large pitchers my first thoughts are of chocolate. Melted milk chocolate marbled through with white. They are monumental. Great hulking things with names like ‘Loop di Loop’ and ‘Swirl’. Just like chocolate the clay appears solid yet fragile, seemingly too unwieldy to hold their form for long. Threatening to droop. What are they for?

A barefooted five-year old girl scurries past me heading straight for the Gallery’s interactive screen. She taps it, gets no response and scurries out again.

My eyes move on to the plates. A series of eight fill one of the cabinets. All a deep, dark brown. All scrawled upon – a flowing script, glorious in its spontaneity. Chocolate again. This time Easter eggs. Simple, unpackaged and decorated with curly lines of white royal icing. The titles are on the plates – ‘Burger and Chips’, ‘God in Batter Sauce’, ‘Pysgod a Sglodion’, ‘Spotted Dick’ and ‘Jam Roly Poly’. Comfort food. Evocative food. Memory food.

What do you want to show me? A young boy is dragging his father into the Gallery, pulling him into the back room that houses the main collection. Another little boy runs in, meeting them on their way out. What were you looking at? he asks.
Something weird, replies his brother.

The curation of the show is a feat of elegant restraint. Pieces of Buckley ware from the nineteenth century have been dotted between Eglin’s work. There is a Harvest jug, a Puzzle jug with small diamond shapes cut from its neck, a delightful bird and whistle, a large platter emblazoned with the name ‘Mary’ and an oven dish adorned with the word ‘Beef’. And so Eglin’s reference points are made clear. There is a marvellous lack of ego to this domestic ware. The maker remains nameless. There are no signatures, no hierarchy and no oppressive artistic history to kowtow to. Their function is implicit and ownership is for all.

A party of four adults saunter in, two of them clearly too deep in conversation to pay any real attention to the exhibits. The other two trundle from cabinet to cabinet. I used to buy a pot whenever we went on holiday, the man is saying to his companion, a large lady in aquamarine trainers, but it’s not allowed anymore. I can’t imagine giving these, he continues, staring at a dish inscribed with the words, ‘Bullfighters, Bullshitters and Kurt Schwitters’. No, she replies, these are artistic pots, not…. And they traipse off into the back room where he sits down heavily into a chair.

The dance studio directly across from the gallery disgorges another load of leotarded girls, two of whom run in, tutu-skirted Sindy dolls in their hands. They also head for the interactive monitor only to shrug their shoulders and trip off again, carrying their dolls like planes.

In his later years, Picasso stated his intention to return to the art of the child. And Eglin, in a blown-up version of his wonderfully eclectic sketchbook to-look-at, lists children’s drawings and writings along with artists Cy Twombly and Roger Hilton, handwriting and rubber buckets.

I watch as a bespectacled boy is momentarily entranced by two of Eglin’s ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Indian’ plate series in the window of the Gallery before slinking off to sit, knees drawn up, tap-tapping on his iPad. Come in, I want to say, this is for you. Come in and see what hands can really make.

This exhibition at the Ceramics Gallery, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, opened on Saturday and runs until Sunday 9 August It incorporates slipware that was produced in a workshop in March run by Eglin with children from Penparcau’s Ysgol Llwyn yr eos school in Aberystwyth. The International Ceramics Festival runs from 3 until 5 July at the Arts Centre.

Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in Aberystwyth.


previous blog: Dark Movements, exhibition by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Aberystwyth Arts Centre
next blog: 150, Patagonia


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