Photography by Anouk Finn Margoliese-Ferrolho
As a self-taught ceramicist, Ruby Kinnear-Jones joined a local community studio in Peckham where she was drawn to the magical alchemy of ceramics. Although she initially aspired to become a painter, it was the transformative power of fire and kiln that sparked her interest in exploring scale, colour and texture through clay.
Whilst refining her technique in the studio, Ruby has found a particular fascination in the often mercurial reactions between glazes – just one example of the sheer unpredictability that pervades every level of the ceramicist’s process. But rather than being a source of frustration, the fickleness of her form has been a source of profound learning for Ruby. Ceramics is just like life, she explains, in that “you can’t always plan or premeditate. It's liberating to have confidence in the fact that you only have 85% control in the outcome.”
Through constant experimentation she has found a definitive style that finds beauty in imperfection. Her ceramics have a raw, natural quality to them, like undiscovered objects from the deep, thrown up on some craggy shore. Faded off-set hues and uneven patterning appear as if products of crashing waves and turning tides; her textured surfaces and undulating contours calling their beholder to reach out and touch.
We sat down with Ruby in the creative hub of Hackney where she resides to discuss her journey into ceramics.
Initially I wanted to study to be a painter, but I found Fine Art too broad, so I studied Textiles at Chelsea College of Arts instead. I became so interested in the process of ceramics and the intricacies that go along with it – there’s a whole new narrative to be explored here. I think that being able to accept this element of surprise is an incredibly rewarding way to approach art.
I understand you worked initially with textiles and interior architecture, what made you focus on ceramics?
I love textiles and exploring materiality. Learning how to understand the world through materiality is really powerful, especially within architecture. I’ve always been more visually inclined, so having the opportunity to explore something as detailed and historically important as ceramics is incredible. It ties architecture and textiles – it’s the fabric through which we build the world – bricks and tiles are everywhere.
What were your first experiences like with ceramics?
The capitalist society that we live in teaches us to maximise our productivity, but the process of ceramics isn’t like this. You can’t say exactly where it’s going, but there’s something massively alleviating about being able to have freedom with an idea and trust that it will take time, but be worth it in the end. It’s a kind of centering through the learning process that has allowed me to develop pieces in a way that I wouldn’t have done if I was deeply immersed in the normal things that 25-year-olds do.
What are the main inspirations for your work? Do you have specific references or look to any artists in particular to inform your creativity?
I’m really interested in reading about architecture, drawing and creating textures. I’m just really intrigued by how to recreate textures and stripes with hard ceramics.
In my recent exhibition I started to look at formations from Henry VIII, the medieval times and iconography – I find these really beautiful. It's always a hard balance between functionality or visually stimulating work and I think I’ve been tossing up those things. How much does the function matter to me? Does it need to have a direct function or can it be an open-ended piece? It comes down to how I see the objects and how I place them in my home.
We’re constantly surrounded by stimuli and materials, but still it's easy to forget everything around us is malleable. As humans we think too much about absolutes and that’s very limiting, which ties into my thoughts surrounding form and function.
All my objects are made by my hand, so I want people to enjoy them by holding them in their hand too; feeling their natural fit. I feel inspired when I imagine others holding these objects in their hand, it's an interesting type of connection.
What was it like going from working in a self-directed studio to studying formally at the RCA?
Making an artisanal craft your work does naturally become your life, and being self-directed and motivated really calls upon you to have a refined sense of commitment. I just started at RCA so the juxtaposition from the creative studio and academic environment is really significant. Being in the studio was sometimes challenging because I never really wanted to be an artist, my mums an accomplished artist, but I never personally wanted that internalised self-directed type of lifestyle.I think that the community aspect of sharing ideas and asking for feedback from your peers is pivotal to creativity. I feel like some level of fine art is so internalised that it becomes less about how people receive it, and it gets too pretentious and inaccessible. It’s bad mental hygiene to just be serving your own ego. With clay the whole process is designed to be shared, it’s the same with jewellery, and anything that’s been designed to be lived in and lived around.
Were there any challenges during the pandemic?
During the pandemic I loved going running and then working at the studio. In ‘normal times’ there’s a lot of pressure on young people to fulfil social roles, but being plunged into this dislocated, albeit horrific time, has enabled me to luxuriate in knowing there’s nothing else I could do but create. Focusing on the rhythm of making something, the rhythm of running. I’ve matured so much through this process.
Explain your process, start to finish. Are your pieces planned or spontaneous?
I kind of go through different textural explorations with each microcollection which is limited to a certain material and follows a set of rules. My pieces have been quite technical so far because I’ve been learning alongside them. The double sided vase explores bridges and floating elements, so it’s been an exciting challenge to see how I could achieve that structurally. There was also a large flower in my exhibition, which was interesting because it had a very compact trunk and large floating elements too. Because of its structure, it was a time-sensitive piece so I had to ensure there was a certain level of moisture spread on the clay to allow it to dry at the right moment, as well as being able to support the larger parts. On the interior it needed to be clean and structured internally, being cavernous but not weak.
In saying this, I do love the spontaneity with ceramics and not knowing the outcome of each piece. Even if something breaks, I just remind myself that it’s clay and find a way to work around that. Ceramics allow you to be open and flexible, I think that’s what makes it so beautiful and engaging.
What’s the most challenging aspect of running your own brand?
It’s actually been really enjoyable seeing an endpoint to my work. I’ve been in the studio a lot and not had any external validation other than my immediate circle. Having anonymous feedback and people engaging and enjoying my work is really rewarding. It's like these people are not indebted to my work and are genuinely enjoying it. I’m very stimulated by taking on the new challenge of setting myself up in a professional context. It’s fun and I enjoy it. It's slightly more difficult with the different responsibilities in handling a business. I was grappling with the idea of taking on a larger studio space to meet demand, but I think my outlook at the moment is to keep everything the same and just see how it goes. I think that’s all you can do, especially being relatively new and emerging through the pandemic.
I think my proudest moments have been making these ceramics during my degree. At the beginning of the last lockdown I just moved to a new house and was having an emotionally difficult time. I started making this massive weird sculpture and made it on the kitchen table. I didn’t have studio space at this point, I was just making this object randomly and it's been on my sideboard for a year, it's huge. It's so huge. And then I recently got it fired. It's like torso sized.
I’m very proud of what I’ve made, especially when I see it glazed. There’s a sense of everything coming together.
I definitely would like to develop a large scale practice, and I’m working on that now. I want to increase the amount of places that are stocking/showing my work. I also want to spend more time learning about interior architecture, and building on my practice by creating more insulation-based ceramic work, almost like 3D experiential drawings.
Who do you envisage buying your pieces?
It's more about who responds to my work and who is drawn to it, which is why I’m so interested in this AIME project. I’m completely open to whoever wants to own my pieces. It's fucked up that in our culture, you need to be wealthy to afford beauty. Beautiful objects should be accessible. There’s this new generation of artists and craft-makers who aren’t neat or pretty, and don’t subscribe to commodified ideals. I think people respond well to that – it's invigorating to look at. We need to be surrounded by objects that stimulate our experience. Even if you live in a white box, just changing the lighting can change your experience. Or a piece of silk fabric held up against the light. Small things like that really alter interior space.
You're treating yourself to one item from the AIME Store - what do you choose?
I’m slightly biased as she’s one of my good friends, but I love Matilda Little’s work so much. I’m actually wearing one of her pieces now. If I could have anything, it would be one of her necklaces.