Inspired by a reignited passion, Liam Owen's ceramics distil function and form into its purest essence.
Creating a selection of “satisfyingly simple” stoneware pieces for the home, London-based potter Liam Owen has built a distinctive aesthetic and a set of core principles that underline his ceramic work. Utilising his signature speckled two tone glazes, Liam creates pieces that are both instantly engaging with their swirling forms and functional for use in the home.
Delving into the world of ceramics from an early stage, Liam found himself pulled away from the practice as the ebb and flow of life shifted him in a new direction. Rediscovering pottery in later life thanks to a well-timed gift from his wife, the British potter dove headfirst into the world of the wheel. Transferring his skills as a graphic designer, Liam quickly found that his passion was reignited, fuelling his connection to the practice and his unique perspective on contemporary stoneware ceramics.
We sit down with Liam Owen to discuss his history with pottery, his work and how ceramics has impacted his life ahead of the launch of the END. x adidas Ultraboost OG 1.0 “Ceramic Craze” sneaker on 20th August.
I actually studied ceramics at art school in the mid-90s in Glasgow. The reason why I got into ceramics at that point is a little bit of a mystery, but that’s how it materialised. I went to do a foundation course, thinking that I was going to become a fine artist or a graphic designer – they were the two things that I’d studied at school – I’d never touched ceramics before. During the foundation course, I did a week of different mediums and I ended up specialising in ceramics, fashion and textiles – which, to me, suggests that I like actually making things, or objects. That tactility just resonated with me, so I ended up doing ceramics at art school and absolutely adored it. But I didn’t do anything to do with homewares or classic pottery works – I was much more sculptural at that point. When I graduated, there was no real world of pottery at that time compared to the world we’re in now, it was a very different place – very traditional. So from the day I graduated, I didn’t touch it again until about 7 years ago. I became a graphic designer, but I always had this urge to do it again. My wife bought me a taster session at a studio and within about 10/15 minutes I was throwing mugs again, the skill had never gone away. It’s a very therapeutic thing to do. At that point, it was very much a hobby – to take some time away from my day-to-day job. It was never the idea to suddenly start selling my work in shops. It was a natural progression that wasn’t really expected.
It’s multi-faceted – the tactile nature of ceramics. It’s a beautiful substance to work with, which doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re making has any connection to that, but it’s a very satisfying and therapeutic thing to hold. That’s why I love working with the wheel so much, because it has this level of motion that it’s giving back to you, which is a lovely feeling on your hands. I go into this zen state when I’m throwing, so that really appeals to me. I also always think back to the days when I was really into Lego. I love building things and this is a lovely way to build things. You’re taking lots of different objects and placing them together in a structured way, which is what Lego is, with the endless possibilities of these breaks. I love making physical objects.
Lastly, it’s another medium, a blank canvas for you to produce something that has endless different messages to it. It might be a mug, but a mug can say so much more if you want it to. It’s what I’m trying to do now, adding graphics and messages onto it. Ceramics has become quite fashionable now, so the idea that someone would actually want to have a mug with a message or slogan on it seems so alien to 20 years ago, whereas now, I can easily see how that works really well.
No bullshit is probably one of the ways I’d define it. Because I’ve spent a lot years in interaction design, there is a process that I’m used to – user-centric design. Taking whatever the user wants, and testing it with users the whole way through the design process, to try to get it down to the exact thing that the user wants, rather than creating something and forcing it upon them. I’ve got that in my background, so I concentrate on creating things that are not overly fluffy or over the top and eccentric. I want to make things that are simple and work in a functional and pleasing way. If you take one of my mugs, for example, they’re as simple as they could possibly be - it’s just a cylinder with a nice handle on it. I’ve made them so they fit really nicely for a good cup of tea, with a great hand-feel. That goes across most of my work, although some of it is more decorative. On the most part, I start from making things nice and simple.
On top of that, going back to the old days of ceramics, with things being very brown and natural, I use very bright colours as a juxtaposition to that. From day one, one of the first things I went to look for was a really lovely pink and a bright sky blue – my two favourite colours. All my ceramics are very simple in form but have these beautiful bright colours.
One thing is that the material is literally dug out of the ground. Now, you can do lots of smart things to it after that, but the basic function of clay is that it is dug out of the ground, and anyone can do that. The way that you can make something is so varied, you can use a wheel or simply thumb a mug together. It has an immediacy to it - anyone can do it. Some people are making pots in the same way that they have been made for thousands of years. Also, it lasts. When people are digging up areas, one of the first things they seem to always find is pieces of pottery. It has a simplicity, that anyone can pretty much do it. It has a longevity to it.
It’s moved a long way from it now, but I think that there are connections to where I was originally getting my inspirations from in the natural world. Most ceramicists seem to have these connections because of that connection to the mud. When I was studying in Newcastle, I was enjoying the concept of the break-up of lines and how lines in reflections on windows would create these new forms. My tutor at the time told me to go to Cullercoats, which has these amazing cliff faces that show all of the contours of the rock and these undulating forms. They were stunning – I’d never seen anything like it before. I took loads of photos. From that point, I was really interested in the idea of lines telling the story of time. I’m really interested in telling stories, which is present in all of the work that I’ve done from my graphic design to now. These contours are telling us about hundreds of years of progression, the same as on the grain of a tree. I’ve always tried to add that into my clay. It used to be more explicit, but now I have textured lines throughout some of my ceramics. It’s still there and in everything that I do.
END. x adidas Ultraboost OG 1.0 "Ceramic Craze"
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