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Alison Britton

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  • Alison Britton was part of the radical group of RCA graduates in the early 1970s whose work laid the foundations for what became known as ‘The New Ceramics’. Working from a London studio for more than three decades, Alison also writes and curates. She has taught part-time at the RCA since 1984. Her work is in numerous international public and private collections, and she has been represented by Marsden Woo Gallery, London, formerly Barrett Marsden, since 1998.

  • Biography

  • Born in Harrow, Middlesex, in 1948, Alison Britton studied at Leeds College of Art (1966–7), Central School of Art & Design, London (1967–70) and at the Royal College of Art (1970–73). Her studios have been at 401½ Studios (1973–5), St Pancras Road railway arch (1975–86), and a butcher’s shop in Stamford Hill from 1986 to the present.

    Britton has exhibited her pots very widely, and lectured on her own work and contemporary British ceramics in Europe, USA, Canada, Japan and Australia. Her work features in Alison Britton in Studio by Peter Dormer (Bellew Books, 1985); a monograph by Tanya Harrod (Bellew Books, 1990) and a monograph by Linda Sandino (Barrett Marsden, 2000).

    Alison Britton was a part-time lecturer at various colleges until 1984, when she was appointed as tutor at the RCA, becoming a Senior Tutor in 1998. She was made a Fellow of the RCA in 1990 and has been Research Coordinator for Ceramics & Glass since 2005. She has been external examiner for BA courses at Camberwell College of Arts, Goldsmiths, the University of Dundee, the University of Westminster, University College Falmouth, the University of Edinburgh and Loughborough University, and BA and MA courses at the National College of Art and Design (Dublin). She was awarded an Honorary Degree at The University of the Creative Arts in 2006, Honorary Fellow of the University of the Arts London in 2008 and an OBE in 1990.

    From January 2015, Alison Britton will be Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Crafts Study Centre, Farnham, University of the Creative Arts.

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  • Practice

  • Alison Britton’s first significant solo exhibition was at the Crafts Council Gallery in 1979. She was one of the 14 selectors for The Maker’s Eye at the same gallery in 1982. She curated a British Ceramics exhibition for the British Council in 1985, which toured three venues in Czechoslovakia, and in the same year Peter Dormer curated Fast Forward: New Directions in British Ceramics for the ICA, London. Britton participated in The Vessel at Serpentine Gallery, London, in 1987, and the British Council exhibition Contemporary British Crafts at the National Museum of Modern Art in both Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. Her retrospective curated by Tanya Harrod for the Aberystwyth Arts Centre toured UK museums from 1990–92 and culminated at Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Holland.

    With Martina Margetts, Alison curated The Raw and the Cooked in 1993 for the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, which toured to the Barbican Art Gallery, Taiwan Museum, Swansea, Shigaraki Museum Japan and Musée d’Art Contemporain de Dunkerque. In 1995, her exhibition Form and Fiction was at the Marianne Heller gallery in Heidelberg, Germany, and in 1996 a solo show toured venues in Australia including the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney and the Brisbane City Art Gallery. In 2001 she was shortlisted for the UK Jerwood Prize. In 2005 she participated in a large international survey exhibition, Transformations, The Language of Craft, at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, from which works were acquired for the permanent collection.

    Britton has had regular solo exhibitions at Barrett Marsden Gallery, London, since 1998. Of these, the 2003 show New Ceramics stands out as a pivotal development in the progress of her work, and also in 2005 New Work and the Ed Wolf Collection of Alison Britton Pots, the exhibition of a private collection of over 70 of her pots acquired over 30 years. A limited-edition catalogue of the collection was published by the gallery. In Containing, 2007, she curated a collection of nineteenth century Modernist and contemporary chairs, and showed her work in this context on a shelf running round the gallery walls.

    In 2007 she helped to initiate and participated in END, an international collaboration between seven ceramic artists from England, Norway and Denmark. Their work was shown at the Danish Museum of Art and Design, Copenhagen, and the Bomuldsfabriken in Norway.

    In 2009 Alison Britton developed the collaboration with the Norwegian artist of the END group, Marit Tingleff, and shared Unforeseen Events, a dual exhibition, at the renamed Marsden Woo Gallery. Also in 2009 she curated Three by One: A Selection from Three Public Craft Collections by Alison Britton for the Crafts Study Centre, UCA Farnham. A catalogue of six essays edited by Alison and Simon Olding was published by the Crafts Council in partnership with CSC.

    In 2010 Alison Britton was invited to be a guest artist at Shigaraki Cultural Ceramic Park, Shigaraki, Japan, and delivered a lecture on Hans Coper and his influence on Contemporary British Ceramics at the Shigaraki Museum, which was hosting the first touring retrospective exhibition of Coper’s work in Japan.

    Among her recent work is the dual exhibition Cut and Run, held at Marsden Woo Gallery London in 2014, where she showed with Jim Partridge.

    www.marsdenwoo.com
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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Publications

    Britton, A. (2013) Seeing Things: Collected Writing on Art, Craft and Design, London: Occasional Papers

    Britton, A. (2011) ‘Circuit Céramique aux Arts Décoratifs: La Scène Française Contemporaine’ The Journal of Modern Craft, Volume 4, Issue 2, Berg

    Review of a large contemporary ceramics exhibition in Paris.

    Britton, A. (2009) ‘The Fiction of Form’ The Journal of Modern Craft, Volume 2, Issue 1, Berg

    Alison Britton wrote ‘The Fiction of Form’, an essay as the recurrent feature called ‘Statement of Practice’ in The Journal of Modern Craft. This international academic journal is published triannually by Berg, and is edited by Glenn Adamson, Edward S Cooke Jr, and Tanya Harrod. Her essay was paired with, and responded to, a historic primary text by David Queensberry, a transcription of a paper The Designer, The Craftsman and The Manufacturer given at the RSA in 1975, which he introduced in the journal with a recent commentary. Lord Queensberry was Alison Britton’s Professor when she studied at the RCA in the early seventies.

    Britton, A. and Olding, S. (ed.) (2009) Three by One: A Selection from Three Public Craft Collections by Alison Britton, Crafts Study Centre and Crafts Council

    A book of six essays, Three by One: A Selection from Three Public Craft Collections by Alison Britton was published by the Crafts Council in partnership with Crafts Study Centre, designed by Sara de Bondt Studio, and launched by Sir Christopher Frayling in May 2009. Alison Britton wrote the introductory essay, co-edited the book with Simon Olding of the CSC, and supervised the creation of 14 new photographs by Edward Park which brought together groups of objects from all three collections. Tanya Harrod and Helen Rees Leahy wrote the longer contextual essays.

    Dissemination: press coverage in Design Week, Crafts magazine, Saturday Times magazine.

    Exhibitions

    Cut and Run, dual exhibition with Jim Partridge, Marsden Woo Gallery, London (15 October–15 November 2014)

    Life and Still Life, solo exhibition, Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham (16 October–15 December 2012)

    Postmodernism Style and Subversion 1970–1990
    Group exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum (24 September 2011 – 15 January 2012)

    This major exhibition at V&A included a piece by Alison Britton from 1987. The accompanying book of the same title includes an image of her work and was published by V&A Publications and edited by the curators Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt.

    ‘Martin Bodilsen Kaldahl Invites ….’
    Group exhibition, Puls Contemporary Ceramics Gallery, Brussels, Belgium (4 June–16 July 2011)

    Unforeseen Events Marsden Woo Gallery, Alison Britton and Marit Tingleff (28 September–31 October 2009)

    This dual show with Norwegian artist Marit Tingleff at Marsden Woo Gallery (28 September–31 October 2009) developed the dialogue between bodies of new work in ceramics, extending an international rapport between seven British and Scandinavian artists initiated in the END exhibition in 2007.

    Working out of sight of each other’s developments (hence the title) they are both interested in relationships of form and surface, risk and certainty, and a breadth of expression achievable with a limited palette of pigment and glaze. Loose allusions to tableware are common to both. Marit Tingleff’s six very large-scale plates, painted with slips and glaze, were wall-mounted. Alison Britton’s 15 pieces were smaller and more diverse in form, occupying two expansive tables/plinths newly designed for the gallery by Martin Smith.

    An introductory essay by Edmund de Waal was available in the gallery and online. A review in Ceramic Review was re-published in a Norwegian magazine.

    Malerei auf Keramik
    Galerie Handwerk, Munich, Germany (16 January–14 February 2009)

    Alison Britton showed three pieces of recent work at Galerie Handwerk emphasizing the painted surface in this international European group exhibition.

    Our Objects, Contemporary Ceramics in Context Curated by Katy West, Mackintosh Gallery, Glasgow School of Art and touring (2009)

    Alison Britton participated in a touring exhibition, Our Objects, Contemporary Ceramics in Context, of the work of eight artists curated by recent graduate Katy West for the Mackintosh Gallery, the Glasgow School of Art, March 2009 showing her work Sluice from 2007. The tour included the British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke on Trent, autumn 2009.

    In Glasgow Alison Britton gave a lecture on her own practice entitled The Fiction of Form and participated in a seminar/debate led by Martina Margetts on a future context for ceramics.

    Three by One: A Selection from Three Public Craft Collections by Alison Britton
    Crafts Study Centre, UCA Farnham (2009)

    Alison Britton curated and installed Three by One: A Selection from Three Public Craft Collections by Alison Britton. This exhibition at Crafts Study Centre (University of the Creative Arts, Farnham, 2009) was a personal selection investigating the stirrings of history and contemporary themes in applied arts, and included over 100 objects across media from the public craft collections of Crafts Study Centre, British Council and Crafts Council, all of which became established in the 1970s.

    Online V&A Trail
    Victoria and Albert Museum, Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art (2008)

    Alison Britton curated an online V&A trail of objects in the Jameel Gallery. Her trail discusses and contextualises 12 objects, mainly but not all ceramic, in this Islamic gallery.

    25 jaar Binnen
    Galerie Binnen, Amsterdam (2008)

    Alison Britton participated in a large international exhibition of 60 artists and designers celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Galerie Binnen in Amsterdam, 25 jaar Binnen. Her work is featured in the catalogue.

    Lectures and Other Outcomes

    2011, Ceramics: A Fragile History

    Ceramics: A Fragile History was a series of three one-hour programmes. Alison Britton featured in the third of these entitled ‘The Art of the Potter’ first broadcast 24 October 2011. The series is part of a year-long season exploring the history of British Decorative Arts, and is a BBC V&A partnership entitled Handmade in Britain.

    April 2010, Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park

    During her guest artist residency in Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Shigaraki, Japan, Alison Britton gave a lecture entitled ‘Narratives of Form’, on Hans Coper and his influence on the ensuing generation, at the Shigaraki Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, during the showing of his first retrospective exhibition touring Japan.

    She subsequently contributed to a Japanese television programme on Hans Coper for NHK. This was partly filmed in the RCA Ceramics and Glass studios – Coper was a tutor in the department 1966–75. The programme was aired in August 2010.

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Selected work

Research

Research interests

Alison Britton’s research is an ongoing project revealed in regular exhibitions, and further disseminated in publications. Her focus is on the exploration of the pot form, which stretches definitions of object type. This includes ideas about connection and disjunction with ceramic history, painting and sculpture, surface and form.

Differences between verbal and visual expression are an area of friction to work with, including how fiction might relate to form. Current concerns are the control and non-control of skills and materials, and the value of imperfection. Critical writing on the applied arts, and curating, are also within her field of practice.

Research

Research students