Artist Talk: Emilie Taylor and Edgelands Exhibition, Gallery Oldham


Before her talk, Emilie said she was nervous, but once she got going she’d be fine.  How true, she is an excellent communicator. She attributes her lack of  ‘art speak’ to advice from her lecturer at Liverpool ‘Never use three words when one will do’.

Liverpool was where she studied Fine Art, and later, Art Psychoherapy. Her 10 years experience working in mental health informs her work, and forms the base for her practice.  She is interested in ‘people who exist in gaps’, in the liminal spaces, which  Richard Rohr describes as:

”…when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

Edgelands is rooted in the recent grooming of young women in Rochdale and Rotherham. Emilie says she has drawn on the experience of what the women had shared with them, at Social Services. Three of the six large vessels depict similar young women, young people who exist on the cusp, neither children nor adults.

Emilie also feels the weight of the social importance of ‘making’, identifying with the potters of the middle ages whose pots told the local stories (for an illiterate population). Harvest pots, that would be at the centre of celebrations and shared by the whole community. Thus, places where people come together for ceremonies are important to her.  In Edgelands she looks at the spaces young people appropriate for themselves, the forgotten areas of land between urban and rural, which play a role for young people who are also on the edge. She says such spaces provide an opportunity for risk, play, escape and creativity, but things can go wrong.  Such spaces are on the edge between creativity and danger.

Emilie said she had previously made harvest jugs based on the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter during a residency at Chatsworth. Persphone is the daughter of Demeter.  Whilst out picking flowers, Persephone is seized by Hades and dragged to the underworld.  When she learns what has happened, Demeter, goddess of fertility, causes the crops to whither and die for a year, until Zeus orders Hades to return Persephone. But Hades tricks Persephone into eating food of the underworld, so she has to spend half the year with Hades, and half the year with Demeter, which explains the seasons. In Edgelands, Emilie revisits the myth to celebrate the power of women and commemorate the young women involved in the Rochdale and Rotherham convictions.

Six large vessels form the core of the exhibition.  Three represent Persephone, daughter, young woman; three represent Demeter, mother, experienced woman.

Emilie Taylor’s Edgelands in the fabulous Gallery Oldham

Emilie coils the vessels, standing on a stool when necessary, then finishes them with ‘lots of smoothing’.  She has used a white grogged (gritty) stoneware clay body for Persephone/summer, and black grogged stoneware clay body for Demeter/winter.

Emilie filters myth and social issue through her own personal experience. The pattern round the top she says is inspired by her Gran’s wallpaper and the Arts and Crafts Movement.  The pattern is a recurring theme in her work that draws attention to art, culture and social change, and inside v outside, where ‘what you see isn’t always what happens’.

Emilie Taylor, Edgelands
Emilie Taylor: Gran’s Arts and Crafts style wallpaper

To apply the pattern, she uses a stencil she made herself from plastic sheet and coloured slip (liquid clay). The fit is not exact and she has to bend the stencil into shape.

Emilie Taylor Edgelands
Emily Taylor: summer

She brushes on 3 layers of slip, and incises the drawing using a sgraffito technique.  She then builds up the coloured slip around the drawing.  The incised lines of the drawings are coloured with iron oxide, which she applies with a brush. In the final kiln firing, areas are highlighted with gold lustre.  Emilie says that the contrast between rust, represented by iron oxide and untarnishable gold, represented by gold lustre, is important to her.

Emily Taylor Edgelands
Emily Taylor: small vessels with lustre

The young women are based on her own personal experience. She photographed her friends in the park they used to go to, doing the things they used to do. The urban aspects are a collage of buildings in Sheffield, where she grew up. She says she has a ‘rough idea’ of what she wants, but she doesn’t plan them, they evolve.

The colours of Persphone are yellow, gold and orange – the hues of summer and fields of corn.  Orange is important to Emilie because it’s an urban colour, representing warmth, and is associated with the rave scene. Images and signs of town and country mingle on the vessels. The young women dip their toes into the black of the underworld, hinting at the danger of the in-between spaces they inhabit.

The colours of Demeter are black and white, white representing ice. The women are based on Emilie’s friend who teaches Yoga. She demonstrates Yoga positions that are especially beneficial for the female body.  The stance is powerful, grounded, reminiscent of child birth, motherhood. Is this a cry of strength or a scream?

Emilie Taylor, Edgelands
Emily Taylor: Demeter figures

The female and fertility is a pervasive theme. Possibly because Emilie has recently had a baby herself. Ears of corn as seen on the Persephone vessel, were used to decorate traditional harvest pots. Emilie has replaced the ears of corn on her harvest pots the Demeter Mother-yoga figure:

Emilie Taylor: Harvest Pots

Through the making of harvest pots and platters, Emilie references the traditional slipware pottery of the 16th to 18th Centuries:

Emilie Taylor Edgelands
Emilie Taylor: Platters
Emilie Taylor Edgelands
Emilie Taylor: Platters

As mentioned earlier, she identifies with the potters of the Middle Ages, whose pots told the stories of the local community.

After Emilie’s talk, we had the opportunity to ask questions. She said that it was important to her that Edgelands was exhibited in the North.  She had had a pot included in Gallery Oldham’s Ceramics in the City exhibition in 2011, so knew the gallery space, with it’s fantastic vistas of urban rooftops set against the moors beyond. It forms the perfect backdrop for Edgelands.  She explained that she isn’t entirely comfortable networking, so she is always prepared with printed information. She met the curator of Bury Art Gallery, who introduced her to Rebecca Hill, the Art Director at Gallery Oldham, seen below chatting to attendees of Emilie’s talk:

Art Director, Gallery Oldham
Rebecca Hill (left) discusses the exhibition with visitors

Emilie gave her a copy of her info, and sent a letter with her proposal for Edgelands to see if they were interested. Thankfully, the answer was ‘Yes’.

Emilie had further good advise for aspiring ceramicists. She makes large vessels – not easy to sell as a new maker. She advises against capitulating to the commercial demand for small objects.  Making small objects just to get sales can compromise an artist’s practice. If money is a problem, she suggests finding a bread-and-butter job. She said it had taken two years to get her first real sales.

Emilie Taylor Edgelands
Emilie answers questions after her talk

She also advises finding a studio with people in different stages of their career to offer support and exchange ideas. Emilie has studio space at Artspace in Sheffield.

After another viewing of Emilie’s wonderful vessels, I thanked her and left the gallery. On the way in I’d spotted Claire Curneen’s Daphne. On the way out, the story of Daphne had taken on new meaning, influenced by Emilie Taylor’s Edgelands. Curneen’s ceramic figure is based on another Greek myth, in which Daphne was changed into  a tree to escape the unwanted attentions of Apollo.  Curneen depicts her in the transition stage, caught between human form and tree.

Claire Curneen
Claire Curneen: 2005 Daphne






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