Lesley McShea | Punk Potter

Lesley McShea circa 1986

Lesley McShea is an established ceramicist and self-confessed punk potter born in Lancashire, England and based in Stoke Newington in London.

Her work is mainly wheel thrown durable functional vessels made with sandy, grogged stoneware clay and decorated with contrasting shiny glaze.

She studied firstly in Australia where she gained a Diploma (Distinction) in Ceramics at Caulfield Institute of Technology in 1982.

She returned to England in 1984, and worked as a ceramic tutor and technician at Westminster Adult Education Service. She continued to work in numerous adult education institutions until retirement from Harrow College in 2013.

Lesley gained a BA(Hons) degree in Ceramics in 1992 at Middlesex University and worked for Emmanuel Cooper and Kate Malone as part of her 'sandwich' year in 1991.

In 1997, she established her own studios Church Street Workshops in Stoke Newington where she continues to produce work and teach numerous workshops.

We asked Lesley some questions about her practice.

Contemporary Ceramics: Why do you do what you do?

Lesley McShea: I first discovered ceramics at an early age, in Australia, where all the textures and colours of the landscapes and terrain greatly influenced me.

I have been passionate about ceramics for as long as I can remember.

The uncertainty of the clay and glazes make each item an exciting challenge, and no two days are the same.

CC: How did you first get involved in working with clay?

LM: A school pal worked throwing clay on wheels with his father in a room at the back of their house, which backed onto the beach, and I was mesmerised watching them work, the whole experience was like meditation and I was 'hooked' from the start.

CC: How do you work?

LM: I mainly throw on my wheel, which was built for me by Steve Harrison, who I went to college with.

I use durable sandy white Stoneware clay, which creates a natural texture that contrasts with the shiny glazes I use.

CC: How has your practice changed over time?

LM: I always vowed that I would never become a production potter/ceramicist, however this has changed over the years, due to public demand.

The most recent mass production orders that I completed were very large orders from the Conran shops (Lesley McShea for The Conran Shop),

The work was shipped to the Chelsea, Marylebone and Paris shops. The good thing about the orders was that they encouraged any variations in the sizes of the items, 1-3 cm variation was acceptable, so I was still able to maintain the 'one-off' status in my work.

Wherever possible I continue to make unique one-off items by choice.

My most recent work also consists of brighter colours, a new take from my early work which was quite dark and Gothic.

CC: What images keep you company in the space where you work?

LM: My studio is like my second home, and it has many visual aids dotted around the walls, including many 3D bats which I find fascinating.

I also have a large glass showcase of other ceramicists work in the middle of the studio, which I find incredibly inspiring.

CC: What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

LM: I have always been very respectful of the fact that ceramics and clay have been around and used as objects for cooking/survival as long as early mankind, and going into museums and seeing ancient artifacts from BC made me want to be a part of that historical story, and all of the years I have spent teaching and spreading the ceramics passion makes me proud of keeping that history alive today.

CC: What role does the Potter/Ceramicist have in the 21st Century?

LM: Ceramics' 'fashion' and demand has changed greatly over the years, and there is still a very high desire for functional and decorative ceramics.

Lesley McShea was artist in residence at the Jewish Museum in Camden, London in 2017
Hopefully this desire and demand will continue into the uncertain future, and as a ceramicist, I shall strive to help keep this passion alive.

CC: How does working with clay influence your life beyond the workshop?

LM: I adore working with clay, it is my therapy, my lifeline and my 'rock'.

I'm not sure where I would be now without clay - perish the thought.


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