As the third recipient of the Freelands Lomax Ceramics Fellowship, Phoebe Collings-James (b. 1987, London, UK) has spent the last six months in the facilities at Camden Art Centre developing work for her upcoming exhibition in Gallery 2, opening this September.
Collings-James’ practice encompasses sculpture, video, sound and performance and the new work created for this solo exhibition – her first in a UK institution – includes a new group of sculptures held in a sensual environment with bodies of water enveloped by an audio work composed and recorded by the artist with sounds of horns and the recital of texts. The sculptures continue the artist’s study of ceramic form through an engagement with tenderness, eroticism and the haptic qualities of clay, working with the malleability of the medium as it transforms, receives impressions, yields to wheel-thrown and hand-built techniques and layers of slips and oxides. The many vessels that appear speak to the artist’s interest in the potential of these forms to relate to the body, as containers that hold precarious states of being. Collings-James is also developing her work in sgraffito on ceramic paintings, which are inscribed with images, words and phrases, many of them recurring motifs within her practice across ceramic works and works on paper, emerging from the artist’s interest in non-linear storytelling and symbolic language and including imagery from mythological and religious traditions, such as the form of the spider which appears in Ashanti folktale as the trickster Anansi, the god of stories.
The title of the exhibition is borrowed from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which Romeo’s loyal friend Mercutio is slain with Tybalt’s sword, and more specifically from Harold Perrinau’s dexterous portrayal of Mercutio in Baz Lurhman’s 1996 film adaptation of the play. Infused with the lust and machismo of friendship, the visceral phrasing in this scene is flooded with metaphor as Mercutio is caught in the crossfire of a conflict without resolution, alienation and the chaos of love. The abundant metaphors in A Scratch! A Scratch! move through both the tenderness and tenderising of the body, in poetry, language, and ceramic sculptures. The works explore an empowering relationship to the erotic, one that mines the inner resource of deep feeling as a fountain of meaning, knowledge and creative energy. Moving through sensual, emotional and psychic registers, the exhibition is a litany for the broken hearted, the bodies known, and slain, the pierced, the spared, the loved, the lovers and always, the fools.
Collings-James has been developing two public programme events through her residency – the first, now published on our website, is a conversation on poetry and symbolism with artist, poet and dancer Serafine1369; poet, artist and tarot practitioner Daniella Valz Gen; and musician and artist Kelman Duran. Forthcoming is a discussion around studio pottery with ceramicist Grace McCarthy, looking at the specific legacy and labour history of studio potteries in Stoke-on-Trent.
The Freelands Lomax Ceramics Fellowship supports emerging artists working with clay. Between 2017-21, the Fellowship offers artists part-time six-month residencies at Camden Art Centre with an exhibition in the following year and also supports artists in spending a short period of her residency off-site, to develop aspects of her practices in a different context. In 2021 Camden Art Centre partnered with the Leach Pottery in St Ives, where Collings-James spent time working with ceramicists and gaining knowledge from the unique expertise offered at the historic home of Bernard Leach.