Sam Bakewell (b. 1983) is a London based artist specialising in clay and working in a variety of approaches. Growing up in a small village in Somerset, Bakewell spent many hours digging up clay in his garden. Taking evening classes with his father from the age of 8, he followed whatever path he could to continue to use clay. His practice explores the expansive formal possibilities of clay through a self-critical and autobiographical approach. Often involving a chthonic reading of the material, the artist dissects the role of the maker, the objects made, and the cultural/aesthetic value systems bestowed upon them.
Since graduating in 2011 from Royal College of Art (MA Ceramics and Glass), Bakewell’s practice has been punctuated by several on-going series. In 2015, Bakewell won the British Ceramic Biennial Award with an iteration of one of these. His installation Imagination Dead Imagine was a purpose-built pseudo-shaman’s mud hut made from coconut oil and china clay. The hut housed 12 years of occasional object making. Musing on the death of creativity suggested in the Beckett poem of the title, these objects were never meant as ‘real’ work; they were started as tests, hand-eye thinkers, leftovers or complete copies made for the sake of making alone. Ranging from spontaneous tests to a small pin-carved porcelain hairball that took 2 years to complete (Of Beauty Reminiscing, 2015), the work explored Bakewell’s interests in the realm of homespun religion, personal talisman making and the compulsion to create at all.
Continuing a process of haphazard, arbitrary making, Reader is another ongoing series. Started in 2010 and expanding indefinitely, each Reader is a large, fired, solid block of clay; gestural and simple in appearance. Each block comprises a full bag of Parian (a self-glazing porcelain-based clay made by Staffordshire factories to imitate Greek marble) kneaded through with specific colours as a tool for thought alone. By exhaustively working and folding a large volume of clay until the mind starts to daydream and wander, Bakewell enjoys the dead space this creates so the material has a chance to push back and to ‘think for itself’.
Time For Waste, Bakewell’s recent solo show at Corvi-Mora in London, consists of the collected and processed waste products of all his artist output since graduating; a group of abstract sculptures made of Parian clay exploring the processing of time, waste, and the weight of colour. The series is split into three sub-groups. The Offal works started as colour tests; loose splats of colour-saturated slurry, daubed as tests on hollow blocks of the same clay, recipes coded and recorded. Leavings consists of small perfectly sanded finger sized cubes of different coloured clays collected into abstract citadels. The Dust works, as the name suggests, utilise the dust created from sanding previous works into literal still-lifes or time studies.
In October 2018, he became Ceramic Resident at the V&A, a residency ending at the close of July this year. The residency has allowed him to concentrate on the pottery of the late Victorian Studio Potters, The Martin Brothers, whose magnetism for Bakewell lies mainly in the madness and drive behind the brothers themselves. They tended to hoard their best pieces under the floor of their Fulham studio, which were only revealed when the building was demolished. This places them in a lineage of ‘outsider artists’, making objects for their own personal needs rather than commercially. During his V&A residency, Bakewell’s work not only reflects the dark illustrative nature of the Martin Brothers’ work and its links to the gothic romanticism of the 1900s (Aubrey Beardsley, Austin Osman Spare, William De Morgan’s drawing), but also focuses on ideas around mental health and ‘madness’ and their role in creativity, particularly in light of Bakewell’s own use of making to manage his mental health.
If you would like to visit Sam in his V&A studio, join one of his open studio events where you can drop-in and see his research and work in progress.
His work is currently on view in the group show The Size of Thoughts, White Conduit Projects, London until 30 June.
Forthcoming group exhibitions include Verso Nuovi Canoni at ICA Milano (21 June-15 September); Beyond The Vessel at Meşher, Istanbul (10 September-3 March); Corvi-Mora at Frieze London (3-6 October).