CHARLIE MANTHORP |  BA Hons Three Dimensional Design (1st Class Honours)

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Tell us about yourself, your work, and your career path so far.

My name is Charlie Manthorp and I am a socially engaged ceramicist. In 2013 I began my Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Leeds College of Art where I developed an interest in narrative through my small-scale wearables addressing loss and grief. As I began my degree at Manchester School of Art, I quickly fell back in love with clay encouraged by the school’s emphasis on material play. A turning point in my journey was marked by the repeated occupation and eviction ARK homeless camp, Oxford Road by Manchester Metropolitan University security staff. The ARK was a self-built shelter providing a home for the homeless as individuals escaped their traditional societal context as nomadic loaners. In disassociating myself with my universities actions I created degraded vessels which challenged the alienation of homeless individuals by MMU and society more generally. Next I moved to integrate engagement within my practice as I undertook a residency at Emmaus Mossley, pushing the companions (ex-homeless individuals) to express their personal narratives and feelings. The importance of this authenticity in my personal and emotive work became clear in my dissertation which also began a discourse on object relation theory. I came to understand sentimental possessions as vessels within which people’s identities and stories become encapsulated. With guidance every step of the way from my amazing tutor Sharon Blakey, I developed ceramics which communicated these object relationships. My collection, Michael’s Boots, investigates the story of Michael O’Connor, a companion at Emmaus Mossley, through exploration of his old black leather boots. These boots protected Michael through years of degradation on the streets and have now become incredibly important symbols of his life story. Each vessel pair represents an element of the intimate conversations which I shared with Michael.

Describe your first encounter with clay?

I was born in West Yorkshire where from a young age I was creative; drawing almost constantly and making whenever I had the chance. My first experience of clay lies beyond my own memory but involved digging thick, groggy clay from my garden before shaping it in to a rudimentary hooded man. My first memorable experience using clay though was under the tuition of James Oughtibridge at primary school creating slab built vessels and sculptural human forms. At this time my understanding of and interest in the intimacy and diversity of clay was founded.   

Why did you choose ceramics? 

Creativity has always been integral to my ability to express myself and communicate. Clay itself is versatile. Its endless production methods have allowed me to build a practice without the strict boundaries of a need for an established workshop space. Moreover, being a natural material, clay is simple. With a basic knowledge of the ceramic process it allows anyone to innovate and experiment. Personally, I think it’s incredible how the slightest change in firing temperature or glaze recipe can create a beautiful variation. Finally, and most importantly, I chose ceramics because I love it. Whether sat behind a wheel, mixing glaze experiments or opening a freshly fired kiln - I love every part of the process.

Where do you find inspiration? Places, people, objects, music... 

I believe strongly in the constant cross pollination of ideas and am therefore endlessly searching in all areas for inspiration. Practicing within collaborative environments and groups like PLANT NOMA and the Makers Dozen allows me to share ideas and inspiration and provides a creative community which I can bounce ideas off. I am interested in politics which deeply inspires me, though my work is strictly non-political. It is, fundamentally, personal. By far my greatest inspiration therefore is people. I am deeply inspired by people’s stories and possessions as archives of intimately personal social history. I discover my inspiration in charities like Emmaus Mossley and Barnabus Beacon where I engage with and get to know homeless individuals. This engagement is hugely important in my practice as I strive to create work authentic to those which inspire it.  

What are the tools of your trade that you can't do without? 

The main tool I use on a day to day basis and one which I would struggle to practice without is my throwing wheel. All my pieces are hand thrown and turned so the wheel is vital. I throw mainly on electric wheels with which more detailed and precise forms can be achieved, though I also enjoy throwing loosely on kick-wheels. Turning tools, kidneys, and a kiln are also vital parts of my process through I enjoy experimenting with these elements. I recently ran a workshop making turning tools with the public. Making their tools before the participants had any experience of turning clay pushed the production of unrealistic, dysfunctional, yet exciting tools. 

What is a typical day in the studio like? 

Since the Manchester School of Art degree show, typical studio days have been sparse with workshops and research taking up most of my time. An average studio day though generally begins around 9:00 unloading a kiln which can be the best or worst part of the day! Next I soak dry clay in water where it’s left to break down for around a week before spreading a previous batch onto plaster bats where it dries out and can be used again. After wedging and weighing out 500g-3kg balls of white stoneware clay I begin throwing. Whilst throwing I’m generally turned off to the outside world in a zone as I try to perfect my forms. After throwing 3-6 vessels or around 1:00 it’s time for a break and some lunch whilst my pieces dry out. On a Tuesday at this point I take the short walk to Barnabus Beacon where I deliver a weekly arts and crafts workshop and develop my research. The informal workshops are based around expression by any means whether through interesting chats, drawings or ceramics. Always in a better mood, I head back to the studio to turn my pots which on a summers day should be dry enough. Finally, before I head home I apply slip to leather hard vessels and glaze any bisque pairs that need to go into the kiln the next day. These final processes are quicker as I integrate and consider them throughout the process. 

What do the next 12 months have in store for you? 

The next year looks very exciting! Currently, I am practicing at PLANT Noma where I volunteer one day a week. Through OH OK ltd who run PLANT, I have also been delivering a variety of ceramics workshops and there are more to come - which have pushed me to develop my personal skills and make some great contacts. There are also prospects for my involvement in a future Oh Ok ltd project in Sheffield. I have also had some exciting offers to be involved in delivering workshops at Manchester School of Art and Marketplace Studios which I can’t wait to get started on. Barnabus Beacon has some exciting changes planned which will hopefully transform the way art and crafts is used in the charity with me in a leading role which could provide amazing research opportunities. My practice will also continue to develop as I explore more stories and object relationships. I am very proud to say that I have been invited to exhibit my work at an upcoming Mental Health and Wellbeing Exhibition at the Bluecoat Display Centre. My work will also soon be stocked by PLANT and Marketplace studios. As I look ahead I see myself undertaking residencies and taking part in more exhibitions as I push people and challenge preconceptions.

What advice do you have for those currently studying ceramics in further education? 

My advice is a reflection on my experience of what I did and didn’t do well at university. To any current students interested in ceramics I would say always push the boundaries. Technicians and tutors are there to facilitate your progression but it is up to you to challenge the norm. Don’t be too hung up on who you think you are. Through the further and higher education systems you are pushed in lots of different directions and this is your time to explore that. You never know how much you might enjoy something until you have tried it. You get out what you put in. If you spend every day in the workshop you will get better at making and if you spent every day researching or teaching, then you will get better at that. Plan your time and use it well it goes quick. Finally, I would say enjoy it. Even at the most stressful points use making and creativity as an escape and form of expression. Remember that you are there because you want to be and moreover you are paying for it so squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of it that you can.

Image credit: James Maddox