Signs, symbols and mythology inform ceramist Helen Graham’s work.
Using handmade porcelain and terracotta forms, she creates thought-provoking works on themes such as politics, feminism and advertising.
Her current practice is a progression from her MA in Visual Arts.
Creating hand-built forms from Southern Ice porcelain – a “very white, very translucent and very expensive” material – Helen imposes recognisable contemporary symbols on to handled flasks that reflect Classical and pre-Classical history and mythology.
“I am interested in themes such as gender and semiotics, and aim to create a visual narrative through inlaid decoration. Some are obvious comments; others are more obtuse and open to interpretation.”
Forms are created to reflect Ancient Near Eastern and Greek designs and decorated with, for example, female and male symbols for toilets, mixed in with religious imagery such as a bishop’s mitre. Helen designed this work to question the current Pope’s pledge to address world poverty while rejecting women’s reproductive rights, and refers to it as a commentary on Christianity’s uneasy relationship with women.
“We live in a culture where women’s lives are determined by the ways in which they are perceived,” she says. “And yet, at the 2013 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the term “reproductive rights” was removed, such is the strength of the Vatican lobby”.
“I am fascinated by archaeology and ancient sites and am a complete trainspotter for pre-Christian imagery. Many pre-Christian religions had female deities but Christianity either maligned them, or appropriated them and their festivals.”
Other recent works include a series about the 2012 Olympics, depicting Jessica Ennis and a female Iraqi archer,
“it’s a comment about passivism and women as products”, says Helen.
She is currently building her practice in preparation for the pursuit of a PhD.
Prior to her MA studies, Helen completed a BA (Hons) in Art and Design at Bradford University, specialising in ceramics and print-making (1989). She worked on a Creative Workshop Scheme and, in 1990, won a Princes Trust grant to investigate Portuguese ceramics, such as azulejoes and decorated majolica ware.
Helen was a founder member of Prospect Mill Studios in Thornton, Bradford. She is a qualified and experienced silversmith and holds a PGCE qualification. She has been teaching at HSAD since 2000.
She exhibits and sells her work widely, most recently at the British Craft Fair, Dean Clough in Halifax and at Gallery Eleven in Hull as part of a Northern Potters’ Association show. Upcoming exhibitions include a display in the North York Moors visitor centre at Danby; the Lillian Coleman Gallery in St John’s Wood, London; and The Meeting Room at South Square Centre in Thornton, Bradford, in November.
You can view Helen’s ceramics at: www.helengraham.org.uk.