MAstars 2011: Owen Quinlan, MA Ceramics

MAstars 2011: Owen Quinlan, MA Ceramics Owen Quinlan, Excavated Form I (detail), 2011. Stoneware fired ceramics. 16cm x 6cm x 4cm

Emma Geliot selects Owen Quinlan from Cardiff School of Art & Design for MAstars

Material World
Owen Quinlan’s ceramics are not functional, but they work on the mind.

Gateaux layers of clay, found materials, glaze. Forms and surfaces that make the fingers itch to touch them. Jewel-like but not twee, reminiscent of the best beach scavenge after the rain, when sea glass and old brick glitter out of the sand and pebbles, glow from the mud.

Quinlan is from Galway in the Republic of Ireland. A place that is wild and coastal, which perhaps explains the draw to the Tremorfa tide line. Here the land curves around the edges of Cardiff, away from the Bristol Channel, towards the mudflats of the mouth of the River Severn and here he has found debris and detritus to incorporate in strata of clay.

'The interest in found objects has been there for as long as I can remember. Since I was young I’ve always arrived home with objects - stones, shells, leaves and any other number of things which catch my interest when I’m out (once even a rat). My current body of work has evolved from this responsive habit, developing into a more in depth study of this compulsion to collect.'

In that body of work, exhibited for his MA show at UWIC (Cardiff School of Art & Design), Quinlan has rationalised the collector’s compulsion into a focussed use of materials that reflect the human built environment – nubs of brick, electrical flex, nuts, bolts and nails, possessors of obscured industry, worked into clay to form a new connection with the physical, material world we inhabit.

'By observing the compulsion by which people collect certain objects and disregard others I became interested in the life and continued narrative of discarded objects. The commitment of ownership which is made through gathering found objects, carrying home and placing amongst others has been further developed this year by their subsequent inclusion within my work.'

The period of experimentation during the MA course has moved Quinlan away from more formal methods of production and given him the space to reflect on a cyclical approach that sees him revisit past work and ideas to move forward. There is now more of an element of chance, more anticipation as the kiln door is opened. But he clearly has an extraordinary understanding of what happens to clay and other materials during the firing process and is able to manipulate the outcome to carry through his concern with the transience of humanity and break down of man-made materials.

'By firing these materials within my work, they are given a new life; one often subsequently unrecognisable from their original. The significance of the firing process for me is to accelerate the qualities of time and weathering.'

'As organic components are burned away in the firing, their only trace remains in the marks they leave in the more permanent geological materials.'

Quinlan has already been selected for two biennials - Fresh: British Ceramics Biennial in the Spode Factory, Stoke-on-Trent and the Ceramic Biennial in Kapfenberg, Austria.

Selected by Emma Geliot
Published October, 2011

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