14th December 2017
Matthew Warner is a potter best known for his hand thrown porcelain tableware, which ranges from simple cups and saucers to complete dinner services. His pieces are made with the elegance of 18th Century porcelain while retaining a contemporary aesthetic. He arrived at Cockpit Arts’ Deptford incubator in January 2016 and in just two years has grown his original business and begun to develop a new body of work for the gallery and collectors market.
When Matthew arrived at Cockpit Arts, he was already an established potter, selling his hand thrown tableware to a steady stream of customers. He had graduated from Camberwell College of Arts in 2012, and had been working as an apprentice under Julian Stair for the previous three years. During this time, Matthew had continued to make his own work but was only able to devote two to three days a week to the business. In 2015 he successfully applied for the Cockpit Arts/Clear Insurance Award, which supports professional makers who have been in business for less than three years with £2,500 towards the cost of a studio space at Cockpit Arts.
“Without the award, I could not have had a studio,” Matthew states. “I needed to spend thousands of pounds on equipment, and I just didn’t have the money for a studio as well. The award meant I could make the step from being an apprentice to having a studio of my own.”
Matthew moved into a sole-occupancy space on the first floor of Cockpit Arts’ Deptford incubator in January 2016. “I built all the furniture to fit this space. I love it. It’s my sanctuary,” he smiles. “My studio is a 25 minute cycle ride from my house. I’m usually here 6 days a week and I really enjoy it.”
The challenge for Matthew on his arrival at Cockpit Arts was to turn his part-time business into a viable full-time career. In order to help him make this transition, he took advantage of the business support available to him from Cockpit’s in-house Business Incubation team. He developed a particular rapport with Madeleine Furness, Cockpit’s Business Incubation Programme Manager. “She was like my therapist!” Matthew laughs. Madeleine immediately identified two main priorities for the business: firstly, to improve on the sales of the production work and secondly, to create a strategy to develop work for the museum and heritage sector.
Over the next year, Matthew continued to make his work, selling successfully through a number of galleries, including the Contemporary Ceramics Centre and Contemporary Applied Arts. In addition, he enjoyed the wider benefits of having a studio at Cockpit Arts, especially the twice-yearly Open Studio events. “Open Studios have been very good for me,” he confirms. “I’ve met some really interesting people and it’s introduced my work to a new audience.”
By Christmas 2016, however, Matthew had started to feel that he needed a new challenge. “I enjoyed making my work but I felt it had become too product led,” he explains. “I was no longer fulfilled creatively.” Part of the issue was with the material he was using. Matthew does not use moulds in his work and it was proving increasingly difficult to produce such a large volume of hand thrown tableware in porcelain, which is a notoriously temperamental material. “I was working seven days a week and losing a lot of my work to cracking and problems with the heat, which was incredibly frustrating,” he explains.
Matthew had been experimenting with a new body of work for some years, but couldn’t afford to dedicate the time and materials necessary to fully develop his ideas. With Madeleine’s help, he successfully applied for the Jill Humphrey Springboard Prize, an award open to Cockpit Arts studio holders and aimed at helping fledgling businesses develop new projects.
This injection of funds came at a crucial time for Matthew’s business. “Suddenly that extra £1,000 gave me the impetus I needed to drop everything – materials, forms, glaze – and start again. I was able to buy proper stoneware clay, which has allowed me to make much more complex pieces. Some of the new vases have three or four joints in the handle alone, which would just not be possible to hand make in porcelain.”
Matthew says that Madeleine Furness and Cockpit Arts have proved invaluable in helping him to refocus his business into this high-end, gallery market. “The team is very knowledgeable about the craft sector,” he says. “I’ve talked through ideas with them about how I get away from product manufacturing.”
Although the new work has been slower to develop than he had initially anticipated, it is already attracting high-profile clients. “I have sold some of my pieces to some very interesting gallerists,” he confirms.
Matthew says that 2017 has been all about trying out new ideas and pushing his business forward in a new direction. 2018 will be about launching this new body of work – and it kicks off in spectacular fashion with a solo show in February at Contemporary Applied Arts. “This new body of work is creatively really stimulating for me. It lends itself to a different, more specialist market,” he explains. “I’m hoping it will reposition me. I want to be known as someone who is doing something a little bit different in the world of studio pottery.”