Inspired by Nature: Claire Palastanga

Claire Palastanga in her studio
Claire Palastanga in her studio

Claire Palastanga is a ceramicist based in Tunbridge Wells, her sculptural non-functional vessels and forms are based on the miracles of nature. Her work is strikingly beautiful and merges the boundary between craft and art. Nicholas Toovey tells us more

Claire Palastanga 'Warmth' porcelain with gold leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Warmth'
Claire Palastanga 'Strength' black earthenware with silver leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Strength'
Claire Palastanga 'Red Hot' black earthenware with gold leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Red Hot'
Claire Palastanga 'Wave' black earthenware with gold leaf
Claire Palastanga 'Wave'

Claire grew up on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells and since her teens always wanted to pursue a career involving the arts. Her initial thoughts leaned towards a career in interior design. After a visit to the department at the Rochester Campus of Kent Institute of Art and Design, she was somewhat disappointed to find the department very clean and tidy with neat desks and drawing boards. Fortunately for her, she had walked through the ceramics department. Here she saw people with clay-splattered aprons and an inherent dust in the air an environment much more akin to her character. With no experience of working in clay she launched into a ceramics degree obtaining a first-class honours degree. Claire has not looked back on this bold and brave decision ever since. 2011 was a particularly good year for the ceramicist as she was awarded the Niki Calcutt Bursary for the South East Open Studios and won joint best 3-D/Sculptural Work at the Pure Art Fair in Battle.

For many, her subtle yet eye-catching work is reminiscent of sea urchins. However, these ceramic sculptures were inspired by horse chestnuts and conker shells. ‘I love the mass of vicious spikes contrasting against the soft velvety interior’ says Claire, who continues ‘I also love the fact that these are never really seen as precious and are just discarded by roadsides – to me they are like treasure’. These delicate forms are made from porcelain or black stoneware clay with each spike painstakingly hand rolled before being applied to the body. It is then fired with the main body often left unglazed showing the matt surfaces of the clay. This is juxtaposed with the silver and gold leaf interiors reflecting her natural inspiration.

Does Kent inspire her? Definitely, she feels lucky to live in such a beautiful area surrounded by fantastic countryside, particularly in Broadwater Down Woods, where she rides her horse, Jigsaw. She is also inspired whilst working at her allotment in Leigh. Whilst these inspirations may not directly transfer onto her sculptural forms, it assimilates and exudes through it. Her work that is unadorned with spikes offers a more tangible link to her surrounding landscape once she has thrown and distorted the porcelain or clay into its final form.

Her work is stocked by numerous galleries and can next be seen alongside the work of printmaker Letitia Tunstall at the South East Open Studios in the first three weekends in June, between 11am and 6pm at the Red House, Trottiscliffe near West Malling. On the 6th and 7th July her work will be at ‘Art in Clay’ at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. Her work can also be seen at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery between the 1st June and 7th July in a group exhibition with 49 other artists in the preview exhibition of Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auction where all the works on show will be offered for sale at their Sussex Salerooms on the 21st July.

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Nicholas’ article was intended for publication in June 2012.

The Familiar Faces of the Contemporary Art Auctions

Lot 96: 'Red Landscape' by Alison Milner-Gulland

Nicholas Toovey, event organiser of the Contemporary Art Auctions, every year selects an eclectic mix of works from both emerging and established artists working in a range of different media.  The auction is now in its sixth year and is fast becoming the annual event for contemporary art enthusiasts.  In the introduction to this year’s catalogue Nicholas states that ‘it is a great privilege to be in a position whereby I can promote contemporary art in Sussex.  Over the years I have met some fascinating, eccentric, humble, intelligent and exceptional artists.’  This year two-thirds of the participants have featured in previous sales, but it might come as some surprise that only four artists have entered work in each of the six Contemporary Art Auctions at Toovey’s.

Washington-based artist, Alison Milner-Gulland, is one of these four regular participants.  Alison’s paintings, prints and ceramics all reflect the beautiful rural countryside surrounding her studio, infused with classical, mythical or natural inspirations.  Her rich, earthy palette also reflects her Sussex surroundings, and is exemplified in ‘Red Landscape‘ and her two other works entered this year.  She works in a variety of media, including oil paintings, prints and ceramics. The media often dictates her subject matter, while her subject matter informs how she uses the chosen media.  The variety in media and style means her art fits into almost all interiors, from country cottages to feature walls in contemporary spaces.  At first glance her work is accessible and uncomplicated, but over time, the layers, subtle details and evolving depths of the art come to the fore, highlighting the talent of this artist.

Lot 61: 'Event Horizon' by Susie Jenkins

Arundel-based photographer Susie Jenkins has also entered work every year.  Susie has a different viewpoint to the rest of the world when she looks through the lens of a camera.  Examining the minute details of the bottom of boats or other ‘found’ objects she immerses viewers into a different world, as seen in ‘Event Horizon‘ or, creates a striking abstracted view, like ‘Purple Abstract‘  – challenging the onlooker of her photographs to look at images in a different way.  Nicholas Toovey featured Susie in the August 2011 issue of Sussex Life magazine.

Lot 9: 'Engine House Bottle' by Ben Barker
Lot 25: 'Loose Chickens' by Josse Davis

Ceramicists Ben Barker from Steyning and Josse Davis from Arundel make up the other two artists who have entered work in every auction. Regular followers of the auction will see how Ben’s work has developed from his highly precise geometric work in porcelain offered in previous years to the freer ‘Engine House Bottles‘. These bottles reflect his childhood in Cornwall and draws its inspiration from the Cornish landscape.  He states: ‘The form of the bottles is influenced by the architecture of the pump houses for the now discarded tin mines.  Different clays are combined to create the impressions of rockfalls, decorative geometric marks refer to industrial activity and the use of clay slips and metal oxides echo the colour and texture of the landscape. Some bottles are dark and threatening, as in wet cliffs and caves, and others suggest reflected light from the sea.’

Josse is the son of the famous ceramicist and artist Derek Davis and the painter Ruth Davis. Having been born into a world of colour and form, Josse was always destined to be creative. Every year he showcases a different range of work at the sale.  In previous auctions he has shown his whimsical tin-glazed flat-back figures of animals and work depicting aliens undertaking everyday tasks on earth.  This year Josse is showing three examples of his hand-decorated stoneware in blue and white including ‘Loose Chickens‘.  This work shows his confidence and a freedom in the brush-drawn depiction of chickens.  Also included in the sale by Josse is ‘Frolics‘, a thrown stoneware teapot and cover with a cane loop handle. Fully functional and probably the perfect size for tea for two – although it may not be suitable for tea with the grandparents or in-laws as it is decorated with nude figures ‘frolicking’ amongst hearts!

The catalogue for this year’s Contemporary Art Auction is available to view online here although it does not include the insightful question-and-answer feature with every artist which is only available in the printed catalogue. So if you want to find out which one of the above artists favourite quote is Gary Player’s “The more I practise the luckier I get”, purchasing the catalogue is the only way to find out! The auction is held on July 21st at 6pm, for more information visit our previous blog post (listing all the participating artists) or the Contemporary Art Auction page on the Toovey’s website.

Contemporary Art Auction Catalogue Available Now

The Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auction catalogue for the 2012 sale is available now. £6 at our Spring Gardens auction rooms (£8 by post available only from our offices – 01903 891955).

The catalogue will also be available at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery from 1st June to 7th July – throughout their exhibition Off The Wall. Every penny of the £6 catalogue sales at the exhibition will be donated to Horsham Museum and Art Gallery.

In addition to what you will be able to see in the free online catalogue, the printed version carries an additional question-and-answer feature with each of the 50 participating artists.  All 150 lots are illustrated and reproduced in colour. Note: cover image ‘White Heart Dish’ by Claire Palastanga (Lot 110).

2012 Contemporary Art Auction: Artists Announced

Toovey’s are pleased to announce their sixth Contemporary Art Auction on Saturday 21st July 2012 at 6pm. 50 emerging and established artists have been selected, offering a total of 150 works at the sale. The majority of the entries will be exhibited from 1st June to 7th July at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery in their exhibition Off The Wall.  Prior to their auction at their Spring Gardens salerooms near Washington, West Sussex, all works of art will be on view on Friday 20th July from 12noon to 5pm, and on Saturday 21st July from 3pm until the start of the sale at 6pm. The fully-illustrated catalogue will be available soon (£6 at our salerooms, £8 by post) with more information on each artist.

The list of artists represented in this year’s Contemporary Art Auction is as follows:

(Click on an image for full view and again for further magnification)

A Summer of Art at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

“We saw this at Frankfurt; we never expected to see it at Horsham!” was one such exclamation from a delighted visitor last Saturday after the successful launch of ‘Matisse: Drawing with Scissors’―the new month long exhibition at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery. Thanks to support from Toovey’s auctioneers and in association with Horsham District Arts, the Museum should be hearing further exclamations of delight as this summer sees a showcase of truly great and remarkable art.

From May to mid-September Horsham Museum and Art Gallery has pulled together a fantastic exhibition programme. After a year of discussions and networking, using the connections brought together by Horsham District Arts working with Toovey’s and University of Chichester Bishop Otter Gallery,  the public have the chance to see great contemporary art with a focus on British art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Following on from the riot of colours and shapes that is the Matisse exhibition, the Museum hosts ‘Off The Wall’ where 50 artists and craftspeople display their finest work in a preview show for the best Contemporary Arts Auction to be held in the South East. Using his contacts and a great deal of persuasion Nicholas Toovey has curated an exciting showcase, which Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is delighted to host. With artists of the calibre of Chris Kettle, Christine Tongue, Eve Shepherd and Muju, we know the public will value the opportunity to see, debate and be inspired by this fantastic collection, and perhaps dip their toes in the Contemporary Art market. With 150 works on display it will be an exciting and rewarding time. Some may even decide to bid for a work at the auction on the 21st July and take it ‘Off The Wall’ and home to their own interior.

From July to September the Museum & Art Gallery has engineered a once in a lifetime opportunity to see name-dropping art that for many a year has lain awaiting discovery by art lovers. Works by Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein, Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, Ivon Hitchens and other great artists will be on show at Horsham Museum. The exhibition ‘A Summer of Great British Art’ is only possible because The University of Chichester Otter Gallery is closing this summer for refurbishment and Toovey’s Auction House has generously helped support this exhibition.

‘Matisse: Drawing with Scissors’ runs from 28 April – 26 May; ‘Off The Wall’ runs from 1 June to 7 July; and ‘A Summer of Great British Art’ runs from 17 July to 15 September.