I recently caught up with ceramic artist Clive Tucker during the opening of the ceramic exhibit Evocativa Curiosa at the BC Gallery of Ceramics in Vancouver, BC.
Fortunately for me, he was gracious enough to ease my curiosity about how his journey from graduating with a physics degree developed into his current practice as a ceramic artist.
Clive, can you tell us where you’re from and your experiences growing up.
I grew up in Chislehurst, which is a suburb of South London and inside the motorway ringroad of London, the M25.
We used to ride our bikes and hang out in the woods. There is a lot of green space in the suburbs of London and we spent a lot of time outdoors.
We rode our motor bikes, took them apart and put them back together again. I cycled to school from about 14 to 17 then I got a motor bike. I was always pretty independent.
My mom took us to a lot of museums like the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Geological Museum, the War Museum and the Greenwich Museum, but we didn’t particularly go to any art museums, though we did go to the Tate once or twice. When I was 14 or maybe 15, I remember Turner paintings really making an impression on me.
What was your family background like?
We grew up in a semi-detached 6 bedroom Victorian house with a huge garage and a 150 foot long garden with seven sheds. My father collected things like lawn mowers. People would just give them to him and he would keep them and would use them.
We used to go away on holidays to our house in France for about six weeks during the year. While there we went swimming and had a typical holiday. Sometimes we drew pictures, but mostly we were outdoors.
At school, art was not particularly encouraged. I took art up to O level, which is like grade 10 and then after that I specialized in math and physics.
In England you studied about 10 subjects up to grade 10 and then you specialized in three subjects for the remaining two years; either three arts subjects or three sciences, but never some of each.
I chose math, applied math, pure math and physics. I failed pure maths quite badly, but I did quite well in physics and so I studied for a degree in physics and then eventually a master’s in energy conservation.
At what point in your life did you find an artistic outlet?
I eventually found my way to a local community college and joined a sculpture class. I liked sculpture because it allowed me to work with my hands, but I ended up exploring pottery on the wheel because it was kind of an attractive thing to do. It was a challenge and you could create things fairly quickly. It provided for more immediate feedback.
At what point did you decide to focus on a creative path?
I had a pretty exciting moment when I discovered I could book a cabinet at a community college and display my pottery. This meant I could show my work and that was interesting for me.
Another turning point came when I went to the British Production Inventory Control Society’s Annual Conference. There were people talking about inventory control with passion and vigour, I couldn’t understand how they could be so passionate about inventory. I was completely bemused by the whole event.
Where are you today, with your ceramic practice?
Currently, I have a 500 sq foot studio, with a big oval kiln, a small kiln and two wheels. I throw pots; teapots, bowls and mugs. I also make sculptures by hand; building, press-molding and slip casting. I make my own glazes for functional ware and glazes for non-functional ware. I also teach wheel throwing at two local community centres in Coquitlam, BC; Place des Arts and the Port Moody Arts Centre. Plus, I do kiln repair for the school board in the lower mainland.
What would you like to do in the future?
I would like to make sculptures and put them in public spaces. I want them to be big and hopefully beautiful. I think it’s important to stir things up with art and get discussions going, I find that really interesting, but I also like to create work that transforms a space and makes it feel better. The series of work I did on Bees is one example of how I like to transform space through ceramic sculpture.
Do you think your work has to inspire you?
Yes, you have to believe in your own work. It’s one of the hardest things to do. You can look for that belief in yourself or you can look for it from other people, but you really have to have it in yourself. Commitment and belief in the project is huge. There will always be critics. Someone who will take a different point of view and that’s OK but you can’t embrace that while you are making. You have to embrace your own point of view.
Fear of failure and success is a big part of being an artist. Fear of success is still a fear, because you might be overwhelmed with the thought of people wanting your work. People may want the same stuff over and over and you may not be prepared to do that.
I could have made a name for myself making fancy teapots on a stand, and carried on making teapots after I left art school. I would have been known as the guy that makes teapots on stands, but it wouldn’t have been very exciting for me, because I have lots of other ideas.
Tell us about your latest project and exhibit.
Cherub imagery is something I have worked with for a while. In the beginning the cherub sculptures were fragile and limited by the connections between each cherub. Eventually, the idea evolved into encapsulating the cherubs in a jar filled with water-clear resin that would hold them in suspension. It worked well because they didn’t have to tenuously interact and could be placed in animated positions independent of one another.
Then, about four months ago a friend asked me if I wanted to put my cherubs in an exhibit at the Gallery of BC Ceramics. I thought it was a fantastic idea.
Are you happy with the way your work turned out in the exhibit?
I’m really happy with the way it turned out initially, but complications arose during the exhibit. The resin started pulling away from the cherubs. They were still interesting to look at but it wasn’t what I wanted, so now I’m working on solving that problem and looking at further explorations and possibilities for my imagery.
Clive Tucker is a ceramic artist living in the lower mainland of BC, where he makes magic creating usual and unusual objects in Straight-Up Studio. In addition to his ceramic practice, his background in science allows him to serve potters and school boards by servicing their kilns. When he’s not playing in his studio, his intuitive teaching skills help others master their creative potential in clay. Visit Clive’s website at www.clivetuckerceramics.ca