Neil Brownsword is an artist, senior lecturer and researcher at Buckinghamshire New University. His PhD thesis (completed in 2006) combined historical and archaeological research on ceramic production in North Staffordshire from the eighteenth century to the present; the film archiving of craft skills in the industry today; and the creation of a body of artwork in response to this research. The resultant ‘narrative’ sheds light upon Britain’s contemporary “post-industrial” experience as well as its industrial past.
Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1995, Brownsword’s work has gained both national and international acclaim, and is positioned at the forefront of experimental ceramic practice in Great Britain. It resides in eminent public and private collections worldwide, such as the Victoria & Albert Museum and Crafts Council, London and Fu Le International Ceramic Art Museum, China. He continues to engage in prestigious research residencies that include the European Ceramic Work Centre, Holland; International Ceramic Research Centre, Denmark; and recently Fu Le International Ceramic Art Museum in Shaanxi, China.
For nearly a decade, Neil Brownsword’s work has been a sustained mediation on the decline of British ceramic manufacture in his home town of Stoke-on-Trent – a first hand knowledge that has accrued since he was apprenticed at the age of 16, at the Josiah Wedgwood factory. Assuming the role of artist/archaeologist, Brownsword unearths/ salvages by-products from the histories ceramic production and regenerates these symbolically charged vestiges of labour into poetic abstract amalgams. Through its metaphoric exploration of absence, fragmentation and the discarded, his work signifies the inevitable effects of global capitalism which continue to disrupt indigenous skills and a heritage economy rooted in North Staffordshire for nearly three centuries. In 2009 he won the One Off category at the British Ceramic Biennial, and continues to exhibit both nationally and internationally.
What makes your objects speak?
In his text, David Whiting frames what it is that makes my objects speak:
In Neil Brownsword’s work there is a distinctly subversive negation of traditional craft and technical skill – a subtle response to the more difficult aspects of long labour in the Stoke potteries from an artist who also, paradoxically, has great admiration for those skills. His delicate and poetic amalgams, further fused, warped and mutated by their resubmissions to the kiln, have a strong sense of regeneration… Rarely has the oozing, coagulating, brittle detritus of clay, re-formed and re-fired into another state of permanence, been so intelligently and eloquently expressed. Nor has the history of ceramic manufacture in one place been so elegiacally and poignantly recorded.’1
1. David Whiting, Poet of Residue (2008) Exhibition text