artist research: Chloe Burke of Whinblossom

Recently, I have been thinking about more ways in which I can explore the genre of sculpture. In a tutorial, Virginia suggested I could make resin casts of the stones that I pick up and collect on my field-work trips to the coastline. However, I feel that such a process does not sit well with my practice, in which I strive to embrace natural materials and methodologies where possible.

Thus, I have become enamoured with the idea of returning to the ceramic process. I did some ceramics during A Level as part of larger sculpture works, but it seems more appropriate now than ever to return to that process. Alongside my other choices of media, ceramics will act as another method in a bid to answer my questions about the topography of this raw, wild and remarkable Cornish landscape. 

Chloe Burke / Whinblossom

Photography by Maria Bell and Grace Elizabeth

I have followed Chloe Burke's Instagram feed for some time now. She is in her final year of BA Contemporary Crafts at Plymouth College of Art, making beautiful ceramic vessels with minerals that she collects when at her family home on the bays of the Isle of Wight, St Lawrence.

She says that 'Whinblossom' is indicative of her journey from the cliffs to her studio in Plymouth and that the vessels 'capture' the landscape she calls home.

Chloe collects minerals from the cliffs, dries them in front of her wood burning stove, grinds them down and takes them back to university to use in her studio work. She hand whittles most of her works - the faceted exterior making visual and tactile links to the process of the ocean shaping the line of the shore and the ever-changing cliff face. 

She only uses one glaze on the earthy and raw vessels, meaning that the minerals are the focus of the work: "I wanted to take my audience back to the cliffs as they looked at my work", she states. 

Every collection is named after the place it came from, pointing people back to the location of origin. This is similar to the naming of my own collections of works, under names of places or specific co-ordinates, I refer back to the 'source' of the work.

Chloe spends a lot of her time sitting at the bay, writing poetry, describing the landscape and looking at how the elements interact. Going out into the landscape gives her drive, much like how my field-work trips form the basis of my own making.

Working with natural minerals means that outcomes are often unpredictable. I find this with my own practice; as I use natural dye methods and process-led drawing, the outcome is driven by the process of the making and the landscape I am making in. However, even when the outcome is not to plan, Chloe writes that in all of her work, she sees "a glimpse of the cliffs at home". She is working with and alongside the elements, achieving a sense of place in her stunning vessels, objects that travel far from the island but nevertheless elicit a feeling of being immersed in the raw coastline they derive from.

A frequent process Burke adopts is to look at her work through a loupe lens. In this way, she can observe the details, "look past the vessel itself and into the minerals on the cliff". The work tells a messgae of the underlying importance in awakening our senses within landscape, rather than just 'seeing' it.

Chloe certainly achieves this with a great elegancy - even without my being able to appreciate the tactility of the vessels, the photographs of textures and forms she creates are sufficient enough. This is the sense of 'being' in landscape that I strive to translate to viewers of my own work. 

After spending today doing a little more in-depth research into Chloe's background and her current practice, I haven't been able to stop thinking about potential ceramic avenues to explore. I wouldn't wish to make functional pieces like Chloe does with bowls, pinch pots and plates - instead my vessels would exist as sculptural works - to be held in the palm of a hand, to be felt, touched and understood. Existing purely as 'forms'. 

Just like with my present process of frottage; taking a sheet of linen out into the field or to the coast, I would take clay in my backpack. Like I take a trace of the topographies of the rock formations with graphite and linen, I could do the same with clay... taking an impression of the tactility around me. Pressing the clay into rock crevices and collecting the textural run off of the Cornish coast.

I am so taken by Chloe's use of natural minerals to imbue her clay with.  I am thinking about collecting sea glass, grains of sand, stones and pebbles. How can I take these elements and bring them forwards in the process of my making?

Similar to how I facilitate the process of natural dyeing to make a link to the landscape from which the work originated from, harnessing the colour itself with layers of history and conceptual energy, the elements of the coast forever encased in clay may perhaps echo the elements of the coast I traverse. The sculptural form, the pebble-like vessel, tells stories of the coast however far from it's 'origin'.

I think back to a word I discovered when reading Robert MacFarlane's 'Land Marks': dòirneag. The translation of the Scottish Gaelic word is "a round stone that fills that palm of the hand when held".

I would love to make a series of 'dòirneag' ceramics. Stone-like shapes, made out of clay, with elements of the Cornish coast preserved in them. A nod to the coastal stones that are picked up and pored over on beaches by children and adults alike, some kept and treasured in a box or on a windowsill, some put back in place or thrown into the sea. The ceramic process would allow for a mapping of these special stones, making work that charts their ornate, distinctive surfaces.