Kay Aplin is an architectural ceramist with a background in site-specific work for the public realm. Born in 1971 and brought up in Scotland, Kay moved to London to study art foundation at Central Saint Martins College of Art in 1989, followed by BA (Hons) in Public Art and Design Chelsea College of Art in 1995, specialising in ceramics and glass. Since then, she has undertaken numerous commissions around the UK and internationally, producing a distinct range of art works that have stood the tests of weather and time. Since 2008 she has been based in Brighton.
Kay has pursued the career she was trained to do, working predominantly in creating artworks for the public realm for over 25 years. She creates permanent installations in stoneware ceramic which provides the durability necessary for external locations, employing other materials such as mosaic, brick, concrete, stone and metal in the creation of sculptures, wall reliefs, floorscapes, water features, sculptural seating and architectural features. Her designs are situated in a variety of urban and rural locations such as parks, playgrounds, hospitals, schools, housing estates and town centres. Projects are produced in collaboration with local authorities, project managers, architects, engineers, contractors, landscape architects and community representatives. Clients include: Historic Royal Palaces, NHS Trusts, Groundwork, local authorities e.g. Caerphilly County Borough Council, Shetland Islands Council, regeneration projects and housing contractors. View Public Art Portfolio >
Kay undertakes commissions for corporate and private clients, producing bespoke pieces for interiors and gardens. Commissions are hand-made and usually comprise of wall features, and domestic locations include tiled kitchens and bathrooms, fireplaces, tiled seating and flooring. She is currently developing ranges of tiles employing her trademark relief signature style 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. See examples of previous commissions here.
In recent years, Kay has been developing large-scale wall-based ceramic installations for exhibition and by commission. Undertaking residencies in centres such as Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Centre, Denmark, has given her the opportunity to experiment, resulting in the creation of new bodies of work. Residencies there in 2013/2014 enabled her to explore techniques of slip casting porcelain and soda wood firing, which resulted in the creation of Botanical Structures. 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 various configurations in the UK (Sladmore Contemporary, Regency Townhouse), and as part of European Ceramic Context 2014 in Denmark as well as commissioned privately.
Shetland Flora, was created for her 2016 ceramic and sound exhibition In A Shetland Landscape with Joseph Young at Shetland Museum and Archives following a residency at Scalloway Booth and was subsequently exhibited in different formats at In Camera Gallery and Guildhall, Rochester. A woodfired version of Shetland Flora was created at Kohila Woodfiring Symposium in 2018 where she was an invited artist and will be exhibited for the first time at Kaolin, Stockholm in autumn 2022.
Fire and Water was created for Collect Open in 2019 in residence at Tolne Gæstgivergård, a wood fired installation responding to micro flora growing around the Victoria Spring in Borines, Asturias. The resulting installation included a two-channel sound piece by Joseph Young featuring the sounds of the spring and the anagama firing in which the ceramics were fired.
Kay was guest artist at Guldagergaard in 2019 for their annual Woodfiring Symposium where she created Ceramic Wallpaper: Peonies, the first in an ongoing series of repeating patterns rendered in woodfired relief porcelain and exhibited at the Apple House Gallery, In Camera Gallery, and in Silk Roads and Floral Routes, part of her Interbeing project in the book Perfection of Understanding.
Upcoming residencies relating to the new 2022-24 Ceramic House project EDGES include Watts Gallery (UK), Interface and Cowhouse (both Ireland) and Olustvere (Estonia), all scheduled to take place in 2023.
Exhibitions include Seoul Artspace Mullae (Korea), European Ceramic Context (Denmark), Collect (Saatchi Gallery), Shetland Museum & Archives, Guldagergaard (Denmark), Sladmore Contemporary (London) and British Ceramics Biennial. Kay has been selected for prizes including Kogei Triennial Kanazawa (Japan), Young Masters Art Prize (Cynthia Corbett Gallery) and Elit-Tile Triennial (Dominican Republic).
The Ceramic House
In 2011, Kay initiated the award-winning project The Ceramic House, a pop-up gallery space, her home and living showcase of her work. Through this avenue, she has built a reputation as a curator of contemporary ceramics, with increasingly ambitious projects that match the unstoppable spread of tiles throughout the house.
Kay’s work responds to place, the legacy of a background in public art. Concepts evolve from the surrounding environment and recurring themes are found through observing detail and pattern within nature, particularly flora, and architecture.
Her process involves using a digital microscope to uncover hidden details in flora which are magnified to reveal highly textured designs that become the basis for porcelain tile-based compositions. Kay’s recent explorations into slip-casting porcelain and soda glazed wood firing have had a profound impact upon her practice. Moving into porcelain has been a revelation, both in the refined surface quality of the material and its capacity for colour through the wood firing glaze process, which produces unique and inimitable results in a palette entirely appropriate for botanically-themed work.
Kay says about her work, “I am inspired by the spectacular. I strive to achieve a sense of exuberance through colour, texture and scale. 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.”