Ceramic artist Kay Aplin and her Brighton home
PUBLISHED: 14:55 10 July 2017 | UPDATED: 14:55 10 July 2017
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036 01825 841157
Ceramic artist Kay Aplin has turned her Brighton home into an exhibition space. Duncan Hall is careful not to touch anything
Since 2011 ceramic artist Kay Aplin has spent May living in the middle of an exhibition. The Ceramic House, in Stanmer Villas, is part of the Fiveways trail in the annual Artists Open Houses which takes over Brighton and Hove at the same time as the Festival and Fringe.
When she throws open her doors to visitors Kay tries to add new elements to the house each year. And it clearly works – the house was voted the best open house of the year in 2013 through a public poll. In 2017 visitors will be greeted by new ceramic gate posts, inspired by a gateway seen during a trip to Asturias in Spain, a brightly tiled front path, new ceramic fireplace surrounds and a refurbished back garden, to complement the In Camera Gallery which was converted from a former garage in 2016.
Kay describes the process of preparing the house for the forthcoming exhibition as akin to moving house – with objects currently on her shelves and walls being packed into storage in favour of works by the 16 Asian artists on display in this year’s Made In Korea show.
“We are living in an exhibition,” she says. “But it is still a home. What is interesting is the fact I am curating in a domestic setting which is very different to curating in a white cube. I like the fact there is a backdrop of home behind it – it makes it a little more challenging and definitely more interesting.”
As previous exhibitions have demonstrated it will probably see Kay’s own permanent exhibition of ceramic works expand, as she purchases her own favourites from what has been on show over the previous month to accompany her own designs. On the wall of her loft bedroom are ceramic shells and sea urchins by Korean artist Myung Nam An from the Ceramic House exhibition in 2012. And alongside glass designs from her own degree studies in the living room are beautiful ceramic objects and sculptures she couldn’t bear to part with once the festival was over. “One of my mottoes is to be surrounded by beauty at all times,” says Kay – adding that another is Attention to Detail and I Specialise in Enthusiasm. Walking around the Ceramic House it is clear that the first is a motto she is happy to live by. Every bathroom and utility space is lined by beautiful and imaginative designs, which are all different in their own way. It is hard to take in all the different elements on show in her living room which mixes her own designs with beautiful sculptures in a true feast for the eyes. And the Tudor-influenced kitchen – which uses leftover tiles from a project at Hampton Court – is a nod to her full-time career working on public art commissions. Several of the tiles on display in her home and garden refer back to previous projects. On the balcony by her kitchen window are panels inspired by the designs she created for a Welsh regeneration scheme in Gorseinon in 2004. The outside wall of the In Camera Gallery facing the house features pink and yellow ceramic tile designs used on the walls of two 5m high follies in Llanbradach in South Wales she created in 2009, while rounded tiles from another project from Blackberry Hill Hospital can be spotted by the gallery entrance. The en suite bathroom in the loft bedroom – the first space in the house to undergo a ceramic transformation – uses leftover tiles from the follies’ blue spires.
Other rooms in the house reflect Kay’s interests. One bathroom is lined with Portuguese tiles collected by Kay, alongside her own handmade creations. The bathroom in the In Camera Gallery is inspired both by bamboo shoots and the 3D shapes of tiles already fitted into her utility room. “I do use it as a testing ground with domestic pieces,” says Kay, who is also available for private home and garden commissions. “After doing public work for all these years one reason I open the house is to show people so they can have inspiration for their space.”
Glasgow-born Kay, 46, moved to Brighton in 2008 after spending a year in Guatemala for an Artcore project working with local non-govermental organisations. “I have lived in Wales, Scotland, England, Denmark, Spain and Italy, and have a flat in Berlin,” she says. “I had moved to Wales from London and done a few commissions, but knew I didn’t want to stay there forever. I got the opportunity to go to Guatemala for a year, and travelled around Argentina for a few months, before I started thinking I should come back to the UK. I didn’t want to go back to Wales – it rains too much – and I had been based in London for 20 years on and off. A friend suggested Brighton. I was tempted by Barcelona, but in Spain it can be difficult to make a living as an artist especially after what they call ‘the crisis’ [the financial downturn].”
She first heard about the Artists Open Houses when a neighbour opened up his house a month after she moved in. “He asked if I was going to do one, but I had nothing to sell,” she remembers. “I had spent all those years doing public art commissions – my work goes on site and stays there forever. At the time I had never made anything I could put into an exhibition. I started thinking I would treat my home like a set and look for the blank walls to put things on. I got inspired about opening up the house instead of what I should sell.” She adds new items every time the house is opened, and can attract up to 230 visitors a day during the Open House festival. “There have been moments where I just can’t believe how many people are in the house,” she says. “It is a bit of a TARDIS in terms of the space – we used to have installations in the basement too, although that now has everything which was in the garage.”
Although she was originally attracted to the house by the garage space, which she intended to turn into her studio, both she and her partner – sound artist Joseph Young – have studio spaces at Brighton’s Phoenix Gallery, in Waterloo Place. The garage is now the In Camera gallery and an Air BnB room the rest of the year, with the attached space she uses as an office turned into a tile shop during the Artists Open Houses.
This year’s Made In Korea exhibition links back to a 2013 residency in Denmark when Kay met Korean artist Kyung Won Baek. Both were staying at the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Centre on the Zealand peninsula. “I invited her to be part of the 2015 black and white show [Dark Light],” says Kay. In turn Kyung Won organised Kay’s Arts Council-funded research trip to Korea in October and November, where she met Korean artists and found out about their ceramics industry. It will all feed into her next work, which will be part of the British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke On Trent this autumn. Kyung Won and fellow artist Jin Kim are both coming to stay at the Ceramic House in May for six weeks and will assist on the piece, which will follow the Botanical Structures theme Kay explored in Denmark and a 2016 residency in the Shetland Islands, taking inspiration from natural plant forms. Her Arts Council-funded exhibition In A Shetland Landscape at the Ceramic House was part of the 2016 Brighton Digital Festival and saw her collaborate with Joseph to combine ceramics and sound. “We had a residency in Scalloway Booth on the water’s edge,” she says. “We spent the whole time going for walks across Shetland recording the sound of the wind and the sea, the crashing waves and the animals at agricultural shows. It created a wonderful soundscape of Shetland in the exhibition space.”
Joseph has previously worked in Stoke on Trent creating a tour phone app celebrating its past as a centre for British ceramics. He will also be creating a soundscape for the Made in Korea exhibition – particularly based around some of the animal ceramics.
As well as going to the British Ceramics Biennial, which runs from 23 September to 5 November, Made In Korea will also transfer to London’s Sladmore Contemporary Gallery in Bruton Place from 12 to 28 July. The British Ceramics Biennial underlines a growth in interest in the craft, at the same time as art schools are closing their ceramics departments. “Stoke is so important as it is where British ceramics come from,” says Kay. “There are so many former ceramics workers who are either unemployed, have jobs elsewhere or are retired but are highly skilled in the area of ceramic production. Artists are trying to set up a school where people can study ceramics. There is a resurgence in people appreciating the handmade.”
This is the year to see the Ceramic House, not only because of the wealth of international talent on display, but also because Kay is planning to take a break from the Artists Open House festival in 2018. Her next plan is to go to Berlin and check out their ceramics scene although she laughs: “I’ll probably end up writing our next funding bid.”
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