The Collector’s Guide to… Ceramics

Our secret art buyer explores the Sussex ceramics scene.


In the summer 2023 edition of ROSA magazine I was asked to say what I thought was good value in today’s art market. I suggested ceramics and then challenged myself to give a better account of what I meant. That took me on a personal tour of some of the studios and galleries in Sussex where work of the highest quality can be found.

What are ceramics?

Any three-dimensional artefact made from natural earth-based material, fired and usually glazed, will count. The range is infinite, from functional homeware through myriad shapes, forms, finishes, glazes and sizes to the most expressive abstract sculptures.

What to collect?

‘Collecting’ is not always the right word. You can buy exquisite pieces from Atelier Beside the Sea in Brighton, where you will find bespoke homeware and other smaller works from ceramicists such as Aey Aspdin (working in porcelain as Aeyglom) and Alma Boyes, who specialises in agateware derived from different coloured clays and looks back to traditional Japanese techniques and design. These pieces, and work from other fine artists such as Tamsin Arrowsmith -Brown (delicate blue etching on white) and Topsy Jewell, can form a meaningful and inspiring collection, and also – at owner’s risk of course – be put into daily use. Why not enjoy your morning tea or coffee out of a real work of art?

Louise Bell.
Louise Bell.

Art for art’s sake

Along the spectrum away from functional ware, the shapes, sizes and breadth of imagination grow exponentially. Bekky May produces challenging abstract natural forms on a small scale. For the big picture go to see the work of one of Sussex’s celebrated ceramicists, Kay Aplin, at her home-cum-gallery, The Ceramic House, in Brighton. Aplin is commissioned to execute large-scale architectural ceramic panels inside and outside buildings around the world. Examples of her highly coloured geometrical and figurative works are shown on the outside and inside walls of her house (not excluding the bathrooms). She also exhibits the work of other ceramicists and has a magnificent personal collection, sometimes bought from her exhibitors and sometimes spotted by her expert eye in second-hand shops.

Who else buys ceramics, and why?

I put this question recently at an art fair to a gallery-owner who specialises in modern graphic art, but also had on sale some superb highly coloured glazed ceramics by Cornwall artist Paul Jackson. You might find yourself buying ceramics, she said, when you have run out of wall-space for pictures and want to keep on adding to your art collection. There are, of course, stories of avid ceramic collectors who hoard large high-quality collections, properly so-called, in cupboards and outhouses, having no space to put them out where they can be seen. But the more typical buyer will go for a single piece or two, and put it… somewhere. (I was persuaded to buy one of Jackson’s cubist-inspired, definitely-not-functional coloured jugs).

Paul Jackson.
Paul Jackson.

A studio visit: South Heighton

In his studio workshop and home just outside Newhaven, Chris Lewis demonstrates the full range of the ceramicist’s art. Trained first in Fine Art & Photography, he took evening classes in pottery and got a day job turning out a thousand garden pots a day. He then took a year out in Africa, studying local art in its many forms – pottery, masks and carvings – and has amalgamated these experiences into a highly personal body of work. It encompasses everything from the most attractive functional ware to abstract wall-pieces and outof-doors tribal and abstract sculpture. And ceramic garden benches. He displays a range of finishes from widely varied glazes to natural earthen colours. The shop, the garden and (when accessible) his house all contain a wonderful portfolio of his own and collected work.

A gallery visit: Arundel.

Ann Symes at Gallery 57 curates three or four exhibitions a year of diverse work of the highest quality made by some 20 artists whose work she has scrupulously assessed. Her taste focuses on plain raw effects, bringing in work in cloth, paper, wood, stone and metal as well as clay, to create a palette derived from the natural world and history. Scottish artist Janine Waudby creates elegant smoothly curved smoke-fired vessels with burnished or textured surfaces in greys and blues. Lewes-based Louise Bell reflects her training in psychology and her experience as a teacher in lively humorous sculptural work with a social and human dimension: ancient toys, decorated animals – some on wheels to revive childhood memories. The arrangement of the objects in Gallery 57 is the most visitor friendly I have found.

How much to pay?

For the collector, one of the most striking things about ceramics is that they are extraordinary value for money. A very fine one-off work in ceramics will cost a fraction of the price of a picture of comparable quality. You can do very well on any budget, from improving the kitchen table to making a grand statement on your shelves or in the garden. Go buy!

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