Young Masters: Focus on Ceramics|Christabel Birbeck

Christabel Birbeck, You will marry the first person who tells you your eyes are like scrambled eggs, 2011, clay and wood, 117x40x40cm

Christabel Birbeck, You will marry the first person who tells you your eyes are like scrambled eggs, 2011, clay and wood, 117x40x40cm

The inspiration for Christabel Birbeck’s ceramic work comes from abstract expressionist painting,  particularly Motherwell, De Kooning, and Diebenkorn. Her work is an interpretation of large-scale  canvases, a way of expressing abstract painting in a three-dimensional form, using slabs of  clay, painted with coloured slips, collaged together into box-shaped sculptures. She presents her work supported on redesigned combinations of old furniture. The ceramic part and the wooden component are united together and have equal status, and are presented as one sculpture. The titles of the work are taken from the poetry of Frank O’ Hara who wrote poems alongside  the 1950s Abstract Expressionists in New York. The titles give no indication of anything more than playfulness.
Birbeck received her BA in Ceramics from Camberwell College of Arts in 2011. She has recently shown at Affordabel Art Fair and ‘Collect’ at the Saatchi Gallery.


What is it about the Young Masters Maylis Grand Ceramics Prize that you are most interested in? 

The excitement of entering in a competition that values the art of working in clay.

I feel that clay is a wonderfully versatile medium, and the ancient skills of handling and working the material are still strongly relevant in the practice of contemporary making.


Can you explain to us what your work is about? 

My work references buildings which have their interiors exposed. The structures are architectural boxes with openings that show the old markings of decoration: patches of wallpaper and layers of paint. I am always happy if people think the work is wood or paper. The surfaces and walls are my canvases for abstract painting and enjoyment of colour.


Which artist/s are you most inspired by? 

The Abstract Expressionist artists working in New York in the 1950s, namely Motherwell, De Kooning and Diebenkorn. I love the huge scale and dimensions of their work. I also admire Robert Rauschenberg’s collaged sculptures and artwork where he combines different materials and objects.


Can you tell us something about your background? 

I came to ceramics late. First a primary school teacher, then a mother, years later, finally going off to art school to live the dream.


What inspired you to become an artist? 

Birbeck is a Staffordshire Pottery’s name. A dynasty of Birbecks worked as painters of  ceramics at the Coalport factory from the 1800s. The Birbeck Rose is an example of their work.


My maternal grandmother was Kitty MacBride who made ceramic mice. Beswick reproduced a series of these called ‘Kitty MacBride’s Happy Mice’.


With this strange melee of ceramic background there must be a thin seam of clay in my heart!


If you weren’t an artist what would you be?

I would write film scripts. I have some already written in my mind waiting to be realised.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date? 

Showing at The Saatchi ‘Collect’ 2014 and seeing my name up on the wall above my work.

What are your plans for the future?  

Continue making work in my studio and enjoying myself.

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