I began with clay and poetry, in 1986, and worked exclusively with clay for 20 years making pots in a contemporary take on the great tradition of English inscribed pottery. Now, and since 2006, I work in clay, handmade paper and driftwood from the Thames - materials with many related qualities - but my primary structural medium is still words. As a lettering artist, I set fragments of text or a flow of words, rather as a composer sets poetry to music; for me, this is a way to examine how form, materials and processes are given life and significance by thought and words - and how surface relates to inner form.
The earth/clay/body link is a fundamental concern in my work and the texts I choose to set - our place within the landscape, the elements, the seasons, time, space - our environment and our history. I want to make objects with an inner life, as well as a function and a form, and I want them to reveal the character of the material and the transformative power of the making process. This applies to all the materials and processes I work with: the clay’s original wet soft malleable state and the action of the fire in the kiln; or the paper’s innate pulpy wetness and its transformed light-carrying absorption and the ink’s determination. A dual-natured material like driftwood carries the transition between states within its form, holding its meaning within the grain, with the possibility of further change - you can always chuck it back into the river, and allow it to move on.
In this bringing together of words and material form, each text inspires a different means of physical expression: sometimes the words will suggest the containment of the vessel, the earthy embodiment of clay and the circling flow of the throwing process. I letter and decorate unfired clay freehand with a brush in underglaze oxides, so that the colour/text is bisque-fired into the body; then I often use a clear covering glaze, or sometimes leave the clay surface bare. I occasionally use gold, white gold and copper lustres. Other texts may suggest the light-bearing transparencies and single-plane depths of paper, and how it can hold within its form other organic impermanent materials that would be lost in the kiln fire - I often letter on paper with inks and paint mixed with wine, honey, blood, snowmelt, river-water, clay-slip, salt, charcoal - depending on the demands of the text. On paper I use an unconventional lot of mark-making tools, including wooden clothes-pegs, chopsticks, slate shards, feather quills; and my favourite lettering pen is a little driftwood stick picked up on a beach of the Thames.
I also handbuild architectural relief sculptures, often as individual house portraits, where proportion, texture and balance are key elements in achieving a likeness; a Georgian brick house facade will be handbuilt in terracotta, decorated with its own patina of age, and with its windows glazed - a visual pun reflecting my interest in the relation between surface and inner form. Many years of making individual handbuilt commissions in this way led directly to using these techniques in other areas of sculptural construction, including multi-panel clay wall hangings, banners and artist’s books.
I make artist’s books from many materials, sometimes constructed with clay pages, sometimes linen, often from a single sheet of handmade paper folded and torn into a sequence of pages, but still retaining the integrity of the whole original made form. I think of these books as ‘volumes’, vessels of containment. I often combine torn clay sheets, strips or fragments with driftwood or other reclaimed materials in banners or other sculptural forms, always allowing the text to determine the form. Each work is a one-off - though I often make work in ongoing series and groups, it’s important to me that each should have its individual own life and character, and reveal its essence. This applies just as much to a small olive bowl as to a huge artist’s book.
Degree in History of Art, Warwick University, 1983
Set up first studio in West Hampstead, London with partner Frances Bingham in 1986
The Wisbech Pottery 1989 - 1996
Whitechapel Pottery, London 1996 - 2006
Potters’ Yard, Tufnell Park, London from 2006
Solo exhibitions and installations include:
This moment: artist’s books and paperworks, Norwich Millennium Library, May 2017
The moment that holds you: artist’s books and an artist’s film setting poems by Jeremy Hooker, Enitharmon Press, London, March 2017
Hot ice and wondrous strange snow: artist’s books and clay pages, Norwich Millennium Library, June 2016
Turn: artist’s books setting poems by Maureen Duffy, Enitharmon Press, London, January 2016
Paper Wings: an artist’s book installation at Enitharmon Press, Bloomsbury, London, September to October 2014
light wells at the London Centre for Psychotherapy, April to September 2012
Riversongs in winter at Woolfson & Tay, Bermondsey, London, December 2011 to January 2012
Watermark at the Icehouse Gallery in Holland Park, London, May 2011
The Dunkirk Project, an online interactive installation from 2010 onwards
Journey from Winter, an installation at the Saison Poetry Library in London’s Southbank Centre, April to June 2008 (a residency including gallery talks in the SBC’s Literature and Spoken Word 2008 season)
inner space at the.gallery@oxo on London’s Southbank in 2001
Timepieces at Whitechapel Pottery for the Millennium 1999-2000
Continuous Cities at the Drill Hall, Bloomsbury London in 1998
Rus in Urbe at Gabriel’s Wharf on London’s Southbank in 1995
A Midsummer Cushion at The Wisbech Pottery in 1993
Joint exhibitions include:
Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, The British Library, May to September 2012
Best of Hackney at The Geffrye Museum Design Centre 2002
Pride and Prejudice at the Museum of London 1999
Baked Earth and True Fire at Wisbech & Fenland Museum 1991
Press coverage of Liz Mathews’ work has appeared in The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Financial Times, Time Out, Ceramic Review, Crafts, Studio Pottery, Diva The Pink Paper and Country Living.
- Twilight in the Rue Jacob Cover image for The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney by Frances Bingham (The Pottery Press November 2017)
- Blake’s darkest dream: cover and 9 colour images for Past Present: Sir Orfeo & Piers Plowless by Maureen Duffy (The Pottery Press 2017)
- Paper Wings Artist’s book, text by Maureen Duffy, images by Liz Mathews (The Pottery Press 2014)
- Paper Wings Artist’s film made by Liz Mathews with Frances Bingham, poems read by Maureen Duffy (Potters’ Yard 2014)
- Sea light Cover image for The Principle of Camouflage by Frances Bingham (Two Ravens Press 2011)
- Riversoup Artist’s film, images by Liz Mathews, text by Frances Bingham (Potters’ Yard 2009)
- Spacewater Cover image for Journey from Winter: Selected Poems of Valentine Ackland ed. Frances Bingham (Carcanet 2008)
- MOTHERTONGUE Artists’ book, images by Liz Mathews, text by Frances Bingham (The Pottery Press 1999)
My work is in several major public collections including the British Library, the National Poetry Library, at London’s Southbank Centre, and the National Library of Scotland.
My monumental artist’s book Thames to Dunkirk was a key piece in the British Library’s exhibition for the London 2012 Festival Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, and is the largest book in the British Library.