2016 marks the 21st anniversary of Kay Aplin’s career in architectural ceramics. During this time she has had many commissions around the UK and internationally, producing a distinct range of public realm art works that have stood the tests of weather and time.
“Kay Aplin is rapidly establishing herself as one of the most energetic and active ceramic artists in the UK. She is becoming more and more known for her innovative Ceramic House, and her current work is expanding into areas of curation and initiation of new ceramic events and exhibitions in the wider visual arts world. This is feeding into her own work which has always been dynamic, totally original, full of colour, ambitious and delightfully idiosyncratic.”
Born in 1971 and brought up in Scotland, J Kay Aplin moved to London to study art foundation at Central Saint Martins College of Art in 1989. Following a year living in Italy implementing arts projects at an institute for deaf blind people, she returned to the UK to specialise in ceramics and glass on the BA (Hons) public art and design course at Chelsea College of Art and Design, graduating in 1995. Since then, Kay has forged a successful career as an architectural ceramist, predominantly creating site-specific commissions for the public realm. Since 2008 she has been based in Brighton, UK, and she continues to travel and has lived in many countries, gathering languages as she goes. Kay is currently transitioning to establish a base in Berlin, Germany for part of each year.
Kay’s work usually involves creating permanent installations in stoneware ceramic, which provides the durability necessary for external installations, however she employs other materials such as mosaic, glass, concrete, and stone. Previous projects include sculptures, wall reliefs, floorscapes, water features, decorative seating and architectural features for new builds. Her designs are situated in a variety of urban and rural locations such as parks, gardens, playgrounds, hospitals, schools, housing estates and town centres. These projects are invariably produced in collaboration with community representatives, local authorities, project managers, architects, engineers, contractors and landscape architects. To date, clients have included 9 local authorities, 3 NHS Trusts, 10 foundations, 15 festivals and approximately 40 schools.
In recent years, Kay has started to undertake private commissions for interiors and gardens, including features such as bespoke tiled kitchens and bathrooms, fireplaces, wall features, tiled seating and flooring and stained glass panels. She is currently developing ranges of tiles to be manufactured using industrial processes, a new and ambitious departure after years of working with assistants and volunteers creating everything by hand in the studio.
2013 marked a significant change for Kay when she undertook a residency at Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Centre in Denmark, an inspiring experience that heralded a new direction for her practice. Explorations into new techniques of slip casting porcelain and soda wood firing resulted in the creation of Botanical Structures, a body of work in response to the Danish summer landscape. Combining oxidized and soda wood fired porcelain, each piece in the series is an assemblage of multiple components filling a linear space and has been exhibited in the UK and as part of European Ceramic Context 2014 in Denmark as well as commissioned privately.
The Ceramic House
Since 2011 Kay has been developing her project The Ceramic House – her home and a living showcase of her work. Each year she curates exhibitions of international contemporary ceramics in May during the Brighton Festival. In 2013 it was voted Best Open House and its reputation as a gallery for ceramic art of the highest quality in a unique domestic context is growing year on year. www.theceramichouse.co.uk
Join the Ceramic Clan! Sign up on The Ceramic House website to receive updates about exhibitions, events and to see the latest additions of permanent installations. The Ceramic House also offers luxury, unique accommodation in one of the most interesting houses in Brighton for short term visits from one night to several months. We welcome visitors from all around the world and now have four rooms to choose from, two en suite (with the most fabulous bathrooms!)
Since 2008, J Kay Aplin has been a member of Phoenix Brighton (http://www.phoenixbrighton.org), Brighton’s longest running studio and home to over 100 artists of all disciplines. Kay has established a well-equipped ceramics facility there and is in the process of setting up an international residency programme in collaboration with Phoenix Brighton and The Ceramic House. The first artists in residence will be welcomed in 2016. Kay has an ongoing programme offering work placements to students and volunteers. Contact Kay for further information about applying.
Themes and Characteristics
My work responds to place, the legacy of a background in public art. The concept or narrative is evolved from the surrounding environment and recurring themes are found through observing detail and pattern within nature and architecture.
I am inspired by the spectacular. Within my work, I strive to achieve a sense of exuberance through colour, texture and ambitious scale. The overall impact of the finished piece is paramount, as is craftsmanship and attention to detail. I endow the tactile properties with equal importance to the visual, hence my penchant for relief. I encourage the viewer to touch, as well as look, giving an interactive quality to a visually stimulating piece. The play between light and shadow, how light affects colour and the reflective qualities of the surface interest me. My aim is to evoke a sense of movement within the inert material through this interplay upon layers of clay, glaze and texture.
Processes and Media
My recent explorations into new techniques of slip casting porcelain and soda glazed firing have had a profound impact upon my practice. Slip casting, rather than my usual technique of press-moulding, allows me to produce pieces with delicate edges, hence refining the work that I am now designing. Moving into porcelain has been a revelation, both in the surface quality of the material and its capacity for colour through the glaze process. A chance encounter with soda wood firing whilst in residence in Denmark has introduced me to a new world of possibilities. The glaze effects that can be achieved through this 30-hour long firing process are unique and entirely appropriate for the subject matter of this new work: botanics and flora.
In creating public art commissions, I aim to create landmark contemporary features with high visual impact, filling public spaces with wonder and inspiration that a local community can be proud of.
Successfully integrating artworks into public spaces in order to enhance the environment means making work that is site specific and directly responds to its surroundings. My work always relates the physical characteristics, uses and geographical location of a site, as well as its historical heritage and surrounding natural, social, industrial and architectural influences, while ensuring it remains relevant and accessible to the people who inhabit it. Encouraging people to interact with the artwork is key, and I often design pieces that are combine functionality and aestheticism.
Over the years, I have honed my skills not only in the quality of the artwork, but also in two areas that are vital to the success of public art commissions: by grasping what it means to be “site-specific”, delivering a solution that truly reflects the site, and in involving the local community in the process in a variety of creative and diverse ways.
The evolution of The Ceramic House was partly inspired because I wanted to create a permanent showcase of my work. Creating artwork for public realm means that often the only way to view the work is through photographic documentation, as the locations are spread far and wide. By creating permanent installations in the various domestic spaces: kitchen, utility room, bathrooms, flooring, wall reliefs, lighting, I have designed an aesthetic pallet of design ideas within a functional, lived in environment. Visitors to The Ceramic House can view the work in context, experience the tactile qualities and gather inspiration for how to improve and create aspects of their own home and garden. I like to invite clients to the studio to choose colours and to discuss design solutions and to see the work in progress.
The Ceramic House: a definition
The Ceramic House: home, gallery, living work of art. The former; it is where I live, the latter, because I treat it like a site, as I would any of my public realm commissions, and apply permanent installations throughout the house and garden. And it is also a gallery, but no ordinary gallery space, far from it – my ambition is to show contemporary ceramic art of the highest standard within a domestic environment.
I am not setting a precedent here, there are many houses one can visit and see art in context. However, it is far more usual for the setting to be historical, a stately home or museum. I display artwork within a contemporary home. Kettles Yard in Cambridge is an example of a house with similar ambitions. Like Kettles Yard, The Ceramic House is a personal story, reflecting my taste in art and desire to be surrounded by beautiful things, and not just objects; the whole house is an artwork.
Using my home as a container for exhibitions gives me license to do things differently, to break the rules of a normal gallery. The standard of work exhibited could rival that of any well-appointed ceramics gallery in the world. Yet coming to The Ceramic House offers a different experience; it is not so much viewing art as living it, or observing it within a living environment. It also provides the opportunity to view the artworks in relation to my own collection of ceramics and ceramic installations.