Rebecca Appleby is more than a ceramicist. She is an all-round artist who uses ceramics as her canvas. Her abstract pieces are sculptures informed by art, architecture and industrial archaeology. Her work over the past two decades has centred on an exploration of the contemporary urban landscape and its relationship with nature. Now she has a mostly new body of work, Inner Order, just opened at London’s Contemporary Ceramics Centre.
The inspiration for her work begins from exploring the city centre or the local environs of her native Leeds. She sees the artistic potential of the shape of a bridge or underpass. Brutalist architecture has been one of her reference points.
“I like the abstract nature of urban structures,” she tells me. “But also of objects that have been left, discarded, abandoned. I like the idea that they had a former use and now that function has changed over the passage of time.”
Curved Frangere II was inspired by the discovery of a rusting old car part – a wheel arch in fact – that she found abandoned by a road. She was attracted by its sweeping curves and sculptural form. She built on the idea, literally, with slabs of the white earthstone Ashraf Hanna clay, strong and very forgiving with minimal warpage and shrinkage. A whole series was born from that chance discovery.
The title of her exhibition Inner Order, is not only informed by her research into different art forms but is also a reference to the formation of crystals. This process encapsulates the balance between the organic and the mathematical, that, in a way, is central to her oeuvre.
The triangulations and incised lines provided by this natural process find expression in many of her pieces. Others reflect similar but man-made interventions such as quarried stone which has been cut for use in industry.
“It’s that moment just before they’re completely shaped and formed into industrial use. I really love that moment just as in their raw state they might have a number marked on them or an incised line where you see a machine cutting. That, to me, is absolute beauty.”
A signature aspect of Rebecca Appleby’s work are the marks and surface contusions that she places on her works which echo the manufacturing process of industry as well as the random acts of man and nature. For example, she’ll be walking along the Leeds – Liverpool canal and notice a line on a wall created by the reaction of water on the brickwork creating “an amazing surface”. Or it might be the colour of lichen on a tree bark or the way nature has taken over an abandoned piece of industrial detritus. The patina created by natural weathering or erosion sparks her imagination. Then there is the man-made marks of ever-present graffiti. All find expression in her pieces and give them a very contemporary feel.
The pattern she marked on the eponymous Inner Order, above, reminded me of an Abstract Expressionist work. It was an observation that chimed with her since she regards that movement has highly influential in her work. She sees an energy and a strength in Abstract Expressionism and the mark-making appeals in particular. “There’s something in the mark-making that speaks to me. The line, if you break it right down, the simple line can speak so much.”
She paints herself and alongside her ceramic sculptures, are examples of her artwork. There’s a flatness of perspective reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism here but with a dramatic centre set against a calm, mathematical background – nature and the man-made clashing but cohabiting perhaps. She sees her paintings as part of the same practice and has never separated the two and is thrilled to see both art forms exhibited together.
Rebecca Appleby is an artist who has carved out her own niche over the years and produces strong and thought-provoking pieces in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. They reflect a vision that sees beauty in the everyday and records the aesthetic journey of natural elements like stone, metal, minerals and so on, to their use by man.
Inner Order is showing at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre, 63 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3BF until 30 March 2019
All images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.