Inspired by the exquisite beauty of the Cornwall coastline, Sam Marks' work encapsulates a sensory connection to the natural world.
A second-generation potter, Sam Marks’ work captures the rugged influences of Cornwall’s distinctive landscape, harnessing the natural beauty of the southwest coastline to showcase a natural aesthetic sensibility that is imbued with a certain historical impact and clarity.
My mum is a ceramicist and a potter, but she gave it up when I was about 10, so I had a lot of exposure to it when I was a kid, but wasn’t really interested in it. If anything, I would have said that I was completely turned off by it and didn’t understand the world she operated in. I went through life, grew up, got a job, but I wasn’t really happy doing what I was doing, so I went to study product design when I was 25. I got a design degree and came out of it very disheartened with the design world and didn’t see my place within it, primarily because of the sheer volume of waste that comes from that world. I gave up on creative practice for a while, and ended up working in coffee for a long time. I then had a mini mental health breakdown, and my girlfriend at the time recognised that I needed something creative as an output, so she signed me up to a one-off workshop. I had this day in the ceramics studio, and I had this exciting moment where it felt really familiar and right. Without being taught or shown anything, I was able to make some pieces on the wheel. It felt like a coming-of-age moment, I suppose, when I touched the material and had it in my hands. There was something very natural about it. Quite quickly I bought a wheel and got set up at home, and practiced for a while to see if I could get any good at it. I got completely absorbed into it. I wasn't necessarily thinking about it as a career, it was more an output to get some creativity out and in some ways a meditation – taking some time out of my normal day to day life to get into a different headspace. It became something that I used as a tool to help with my mental health. I ended up working full time as a barista and also doing this full time to supply the work that I was being asked to create. For three years I was up at 5am for my coffee job, finishing at 3 or 4pm, straight to the studio, then back home and straight to bed by 12 to start again the next day. The weird full circle moment, about three and a half years ago in London, was when I had a full-blown mental health breakdown – I was working 100 hours a week. I made a decision to quit the coffee job and began teaching pottery alongside my own practice. From that point, it all just kicked off. I decided to move to Cornwall so I could focus on making completely without having the pressure of needing to teach or needing to work another job. My work is predominantly inspired by colours and textures that you find on the coast, so that’s why Cornwall seemed so right.
I touched on it a little before in terms of the design industry and their waste aspect. I’m not kidding myself, there’s a lot of waste in the ceramics industry as well, but most of the materials that we use in this industry are by-products from other big industries. You could look at it from the perspective that you’re repurposing something that would be going to waste otherwise – not the clay, but the materials we use for glazing. Something I really love about clay is that, until it’s fired, it is completely recyclable. It can be dried, broken down, re-wetted and reused. There is minimal waste from that respect. When you’re throwing something, the parts that are carved away can be reused. There’s also just something so primitive about working with clay, that even if you’ve never touched it before, it feels incredibly familiar. There’s a tactility to it that brings you into yourself and brings you back to the earth. It’s also just so versatile, in the sense that it’s an incredibly elastic material and you can pretty much anything with it, within reason. The flip side to it is that it’s also an unforgiving material – just cos something looks really nice once you’ve made it, doesn’t mean that it’s going to still look nice once it has been through the kiln. Clay has this weird knack of not doing what you want it to do. It sounds really strange to say, but it has a memory, so if it has been knocked out of shape at some point during the making process, even if you’ve changed it back to how you want it to be, it can sometimes remember that. In the firing process it can then return to that previous shape. It keeps you honest, I think is the best way to put it. There’s nothing more humbling.
Other than the equipment that we use to fire the clay, nothing has really changed with the pottery process. In its primitive form, it would’ve been material that you found around where you live. Most places with pottery originally would’ve started out in places where there was clay in the ground. Some of the first functional pots that were found were made by farmers, and they were to transport their butter from the farm to the market – they had a very primitive functional aspect to them, in this country anyway. I think it’s the same as most forms of craft, like blacksmithing, or woodturning. They are materials that we’ve had around us since day dot, so we’ve learnt how to work with them. But also, you don’t need a lot of tools to make things with clay – although you do if you’re throwing on a wheel – but the primitive pots would’ve been hand formed, and they wouldn’t have necessarily been fired. There’s that connected story to our ancestry that is carried with it. The clay itself is made of broken down, organic material, and it’s abundant. While it could be harmful to the environment, the digging process is certainly not as destructive as mining for metals. There’s a contemporary interpretation of it now, where maybe potters don’t use glaze or blend clays together that they theoretically shouldn’t. But it still has that familiarity.
Fundamentally, we’re working with organic natural materials, although there are some man made variants. What I’m looking at when I’m walking around the coastline is the really polished pebbles and the contrast of where that pebble has come from on the really craggy cliff - how has it transitioned from that to this really refined thing. So water and weather erosion influences my practice a lot, as does negative space. I would look to people like Barbara Hepworth, older sculptors who were working with organic materials but shaping them by hand in a man made process, trying to make things that still look like organic forms. Where I abstract it slightly is taking away the roughness and making it this spherical, smooth, polished thing. It’s the texture of geology on the coast specifically that I’m inspired by, as well as the colours – those earthy, rusty, rich, stained forms. The sharp injections of white that spike through the rock - that’s something that really fascinates me, trying to replicate that visually, but also creating a piece that works as a functional piece of pottery.
The END. x adidas Ultraboost OG "Ceramic Craze" will launch online via END. Launches on 20th August.
END. x adidas Ultraboost OG 1.0 "Ceramic Craze"
Core White/Off White/Core