Simon Olding - Ceramic Review

There is a strand of work in contemporary craft (as well as in animation) in England that accentuates the eccentric through the use of figures: not quite satiric and not quite cartoon. The metal and found object sculptures of Mike Abbott and Ken Ellwood come to mind; as do the ceramics of Jane Muir and to some degree the symbolic work of John Maltby. Jenny Southam's ceramic sculptures occupy this same territory, and her figures are poised between a gentle reflective gravity and an approachable, quirky humour. They are figures with more than a smile on their faces.

Southam's approach to her work is disarmingly honest. She sees herself as a maker using her studios in Exeter as the 'equivalent of a woman in a shed'. Indeed, the abundance of garden imagery in her work suggests that the shed is a place of prolific endeavour rather than idle repose. There is creative rumination at work here, the sharpening of the garden shears that figure in a number of her works. The theme of the garden as a place of tended, organic growth, of careful nurturing, is an essential underpinning to her creativity. Southam feels that 'gardening and growing is in my blood' and through this force of life and nature, she finds the recourse to study 'the animus of people and things'. This serious-minded approach is not allowed to weigh heavily on the ceramic output: collectors of her work respond immediately to the gentle humour and occasional eccentricities of her figure and animal groupings: the nude man cutting a garden hedge; the woman on a step ladder clipping a poodle; the moon-bather painting her toenails; the poodles waiting for a close cropped shearing; the aptly-titled Man leaning against a pillar enjoying a nice cup of tea'. Southam has a lively interest in the eccentricities of topiary, and it features in many of her pieces.

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