Royal College of Art 1
Medium: Orange-buff clay, with ‘white and brown grits and mica’
31cm x 23.5cm

[Greek Pyxis from 760-740 BCE, The trustees The British Museum — Thrown on the potter’s wheel and decorated by a male unnamed potter in the Attica region in the Late Geometric period, ( around 760-740 BCE) in Attica/Athens for high society women to use during their lives and, significantly, buried with them at their death. The four, hand-modelled, stylised horses (Quadriga) on the lid represent nobility, wealth, and chariot racing. The surface is covered with dense, meticulously painted pattern.

I imagined the daily act of dressing, of holding this pot, of exploring the collection of its beautiful inner vessels containing oils, perfumes and make-up; a place of solace to recentre oneself. It is an opportunity to put yourself together, to look at the things that really matter, the mementos of family & relationships, and then to reset your compass for your next voyage or adventure considering the next step forward.

Paradoxically for me, after the initial attraction of the decorative appearance of this Pyxis, it was the issues raised by it, that drew me in; the feminist argument around the pressure for women to be decorative; the clash between promoting adventurous sport which women are then prohibited from taking part in; and the traditions and experience of death.

I am particularly interested in the tension created by the ceremony of preparing your ‘best self’ to present to the world whilst imagining your best adventure to escape from it. I also want to explore who women wear makeup for, and how this is affected by their age and societal pressure.    

Having spent months under Covid restrictions, the idea of having the opportunity even to dream about chariot racing and galloping around on horses was irresistible. It gave me the idea that even in the afterlife these women might be imagining a more exciting future and provided me with my initial title – What I’m going to do when I’m Dead!

The connection with death is also a subject I’ve been researching personally, trying to understand how we display grief through our behaviour and creativity as part of this, and how we live with the knowledge of our own mortality. (My dissertation will look at how grief has inspired creativity, and how acceptance of death in society may help change our actions in our care for the environment.) 

Heat distortion

Through this exploration I discovered that the heated plastic could be returned to a malleable state and the distortions could be exaggerated and manipulated.

An aspiration for my time at the RCA was to explore glaze technology but in the absence of glaze, the wax offered an opportunity to work with the contrasting elements of opacity, translucency and transparency.

As I explored these cut and waxed sections, I began to interrogate the narrative of the internal and external spaces of the waxed plastic as they in turn began to inform and influence my clay work. I questioned and explored these unknown, imagined internal spaces of the Greek Pyxis, a pot that stays with its female owner until it is placed in her grave at her death.

What I'm going to do now I'm ALIVE

‘Reclining into self’ — Now I’m finally here, I slide in awkwardly under the angular edge to conceal a version of my thinner, changed self. I feel the valley enclose its protection around me. This jade green petal-fragile skin supports me as I recline into the hidden void from which I observe, silently. As a child I day-dreamed of elaborately made dens in my bedroom, borrowing a particular book on interior design. My vessel a metaphor for a contented self, looking through at a more distanced, less painful view of life.

‘Growing Into The Space’ — Responding to shape and story, exploring elements of the heat distorted plastics through clay and exploring the unknown interior of the Pyxis.

‘A Precarious Act of Balance’ — Opposing qualities of Translucency, Opacity and Transparency. Exploring references to the hidden inner-self. The act of concealment contrasting with the choices of what we reveal.