Hound – ceramic wall piece by Catrin Howell
I am a great admirer of Welsh ceramist Catrin Howell’s beautifully modelled ceramic beasts. Part real, part mythical, part imaginary, these creatures inhabit a hinterland between the rural landscape of the Gower Peninsula – where Catrin grew up and where her farming family still live – and the mythical world of Mabinogion.
I first met Catrin at an Open Studio event some years ago when she shared a studio with Robert Cooper and Annie Turner at Vanguard Court, South London. I had the very great pleasure of talking to her at some length about her inspirations, material, construction processes and of course enjoyed seeing some of her wonderful work displayed on the studio wall. We have remained in contact since and it is always a pleasure to catch up with her and discuss art and life.
Made with great care and precision, from smooth or finely grogged earthenware clays, Catrin’s wondrous creatures are pinched into life. This is painstaking work and Catrin is nothing if not a perfectionist. Many of her creations are returned to the earth from which they came during the initial making phase and never reach the kiln. Others do not survive the initial firing or, if they do, fail to meet Catrin’s exacting standards. If you own a piece of work by Catrin you know you have a treasure as she will not part with anything she is less than 100% satisfied with and the bench mark is high.
Hounds, hares – with ears or antlers – deer, ravens which metamorphose into ‘something other’, are all carefully modelled. Some are left undecorated. Others have subtle layers of slip or crawl-glazes applied to their surfaces. Many are designed to be wall-mounted – standing proud of the surface, suspended on metal pegs, so that carefully angled lighting will create another dimension – mysterious shadows – adding to these creatures’ already supernatural presence.
Catrin’s latest pieces, exhibited by Ruthin Craft Centre on their stand at this year’s Collect, are rooted to the spot – noble beasts standing proud and tall on a plinth or within a minimalist landscape emboldened by touches of colour – copper rusts and green – with just a hint of the heraldic. They resemble the type of creatures depicted in medieval wall-hangings or illuminated manuscripts, frozen in time and captured in a shaft of sunlight on the forest floor.
All Catrin’s animals are beautiful, poetic, hard to come by and impossible to forget once seen. Their sinuous forms, fine lines, delicate ears, hollow eyes, pin-like teeth and claws are mesmerising. They stay in the memory like a favourite story from childhood and resonate there, stimulating and satisfying the imagination in equal parts, while you wait patiently to hear the next chapter.