Nature is all around us. Cultivated, tamed. But left to its own devices it would gradually creep and cover the ground and walls it calls home. It is here at Blackwell, once almost lost to the elements of nature, where artist Katie Spragg has re-interpreted forms of nature into a modern cultivation of ceramics. Blending both the fragility and earthliness of nature into ethereal porcelain work.
From the blades of grass we walk upon, the wisps of wheat we brush past in a field to the craggy moss sandwiched between cracks in a drystone wall. Katie Spragg takes note of these small significant forms and their determination to grow.
It is this connection to the landscape, which can be seen in ‘Poppy and Fern Stone’ and ‘Boundary Wall Stone’ (2018), that Spragg has been inspired by the eclectic range of fauna growing in the Lake District. She has used the clay material of porcelain to transform signifiers of nature into refined, exquisite replicas of the original entity. She has made the appearance of nature permanent.
Looking at the handmade exterior of the wooden box ‘Treehouse’ and you can see how Spragg compliments its interior with the beauty of re-creating a small meadow-scape so real she has captured a piece of the Cumbrian landscape. Yet this one will last for an infinity since its made completely out of porcelain.
These miniature versions of the landscape, seen again in ‘Meadow’ and ‘Forest’ (2017), are housed in oak boxes made by Geoffrey Hagger. In each box you can immerse yourself in a different natural landscape – a hedgerow, forest and meadow. Each piece is individually lit to give its own atmosphere, suggesting late evening, early morning or dappled sun coming through the trees.
Following her residency at Blackwell last November Spragg said, “In the mornings Blackwell feels very serene. The nooks and corners of the house lend themselves to daydreaming, particularly at this time of day. I became interested in how the landscape is framed through the windows of the house and also how nature is brought inside.”
This response to the surroundings – both outside and indoors, can be identified in her work. Gaining inspiration from the interior of Blackwell which is rich in references to nature and the landscape. Taking features such as the bedroom wall light by M.H. Baillie Scott (1894) is significant as it shows how Art & Crafts architect Baillie Scott and designer William de Morgan undertook the approach of creating a place for contemplation, beauty and craftsmanship in alignment with nature.
It’s this approach to materials and craftsmanship that makes Spragg the ideal artist to display her work at Blackwell. Putting concrete and porcelain together shouldn’t work on paper but does in reality. Even with these significantly different materials they compliment each other. Representing to me different worlds, the urban and natural coming together and the beauty of nature living alongside mankind.
Introducing technology to the exhibition at Abbot Hall, Spragg’s stop-motion animation transforms her fixed meadow-scapes into moving scenes of gentle wind-swept porcelain field-scapes where you can lie back in her chair installation and watch the sun-ridden view before you. She is once again showing how nature and mankind can come together using a variety of materials and mediums to transform our perspective of the landscape.
Gazing at the sketches, tests, objects and modelling equipment from Spragg’s studio you can see into her artistic processes beginning with researching, photographing and sketching. Utilising her time on residency at Blackwell she created muted ink sketches and maquettes in cardboard paper and clay. On display are some of the tools she uses, though she works mostly by hand and creates texture with real leaves or her fingers. By creating these small tests in clay Spragg experiments with colour, scale and modelling techniques. Many of the sketches here are for ‘Treehouse’ which was specially created for Blackwell.
Lastly, the White Drawing Room lovingly houses ‘The Glasshouse’ (2017) a captivating display of porcelain forms which once again explores the way we cultivate and curate nature and how nature has become resilient against this. Like ivy creeping up the interior of the cabinet, tree branches and flowers spring up against the glass, whilst grass and other leafy-forms escape though the cracks of the concrete base. No matter how we might try and cage nature, Spragg is showing how its diverse and tenacious essence can’t be contained.
Blackwell, The Art & Craft House
Bowness-on-Windermere, LA23 3JT
Abbott Hall Art Gallery
Kendal, LA9 5AL