Dennis Farrell | Interpreting his surroundings

We have been quiet for a couple of weeks with our blog posting, busy with exhibitions in the gallery and taking advantage of the late summer warmth in London to head off to the coast for a few days...

We are back this week with Dennis Farrell. We first sold Dennis Farrell's ceramics a few years back, when he took part in a Christmas exhibition, so it is nice to see him back in the gallery, this time with the inclusion of some larger vessels - the perfect canvases for his expressive painting.  

Dennis draws inspiration from historical references. Observations directly influence his approach to form and surface, and the connections can be seen through his use of techniques and colour. Over the years, this has heightened his awareness of his surroundings and how everyday experiences subconsciously influence his practice. 

Ceramics by Dennis Farrell will be on display and for sale in the gallery between September and the end of December 2019.

Contemporary Ceramics in conversation with the artist, Dennis Farrell.

Dennis Farrell in his studio
Contemporary Ceramics: Why do you do what you do? 

Dennis Farrell: Quite simply I have always enjoyed being creative, expressing and interpreting what I see around me has always been the starting point for my artworks particularly my ceramics. 

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

DF: Art was my favourite subject at school and I was lucky to have young inspirational teachers who encouraged me. My Foundation Course was like being in an arts sweet shop, I enjoyed every technique and discipline. I was set on being a painter until I found the ceramics studio in the basement. Frank Egerton was a young tutor just graduated from Manchester Polytechnic and he brought a vibrant approach to the possibilities of working clay.

Dennis Farrell | Sweeping Landscape 60x27x39cm 
CC: Are there new pieces or a new direction in your work that will be explored for this display feature? 

DF: I use very similar hand-building techniques each time I undertake a block of work, however, the way I approach laying down the surface will be influenced to some degree by the subject matter I'm responding to at the time. Recently, following a study visit to the North East Yorkshire coast, I have become fascinated by the chalk cliff formations at Flamborough and North Landing. This has led to a more linear drawing like approach to surface and mark making. Recent pieces exploring these qualities are included in the group of pieces for the display. 

Dennis Farrell |  Secret space 15x11x29cm ht.
CC: How do you work? 

DF: I have always drawn inspiration from historical references and what I see around me. The idea that we've tried to understand so much about human existence from the artefacts we have uncovered has played a part in the way I develop ideas for form and surface. For instance, the inspiration for my work in the seventies was drawn from seeing the demolition of textile mills and housing in West Yorkshire and East Lancashire. Once the buildings were opened up the scars of constant interior decorating created multi-layered patterns, torn edges and contrasting materials. These observations inspired an experimental approach to applying coloured slips using patterned cut sponges and paper resists combined with direct brushwork. The fragmented buildings encouraged me to look at archaeological fragments with eroded surfaces and semi-constructed forms. This led me to create forms that in themselves were perceived as fragments or sections of something more complete. 

CC: How has your practice changed over time? 

DF: Teaching ceramics has required me to absorb and understand contemporary and historical ceramics practice and references, this, in turn, has influenced my approach throughout the years. For instance, 16th-century Japanese ceramics, particularly the work of Ogata Kenzan, Oribeware and the work of Shoji Hamada have been significantly influential. Over time techniques have varied only slightly, but the subject matter has inspired changes in the way I express form and surface. 
Dennis Farrell | Clifftop Walk

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

DF: Currently I have photos, sketchbook drawings and paintings from my visit to the North Yorks coastline, but I'm also referencing William De Kooning and Barbara Rae to absorb vibrancy and directness in their approach. 

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

DF: I can't recall a single 'oh my god' piece. In my teenage years, it was the work of the Impressionists that had an impact.  In terms of ceramics, I was blown away by the work of Hans Coper in the Coper Collingwood exhibition at the V&A. 

Dennis Farrell | Estuary Light 35x9x40cm ht
CC: What role does the potter/ceramist have in the 21st Century? 

DF: To continue to engage in the relevance and importance of individual craft practice in an ever-increasing technological 'hands-off' society. 

CC: How do you hope people experience your ceramics? 

DF: Being engaged with the work long enough to absorb something for themselves 

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

DF: I have been invited to meet many students groups and have made friends worldwide through my clay practice over the years. Also, my practice has heightened my awareness of my surroundings and how everyday experiences can subconsciously affect my approach. 

Dennis Farrell, September 2019

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