Professor Martin Smith
School of Arts & Humanities
Professor, Senior Research Fellow
- Ceramics & Glass
Martin Smith’s practice consists of an ongoing research project investigating the formal language of the vessel and the way that it can both contain a space and define a place. He makes reference to elements of architectural language and uses ‘poetic geometry’. Investigations into both material and process underpin his research, the results of which are a series of regular exhibitions in international galleries and museums. He has recently extended the investigation beyond the autonomous ceramic object to multi-part series, wall installations of plates making use of hybrid digital and silkscreen print processes, furniture, exhibition design and currently the design of tableware.
Martin Smith attended the Ipswich School of Art before moving on to Bristol Polytechnic Faculty of Art and Design where he was awarded the DipAD in Ceramics. From 1975–7 he undertook a Degree by Project at the Royal College of Art in the Ceramics Department. This was the equivalent of a research degree and investigated the potential of the Japanese technique of Raku as a highly controllable rapid firing process. It resulted in the design and construction of a radically new kiln, glaze and body formulation and the production of a body of work that formed the basis of much that was to follow.Show more
In 1979 he moved his studio to London. From 1977 he was teaching part-time at Loughborough College of Art and Design and from 1980–3 he was the head of its Ceramics Department. From 1986–9 he was senior tutor at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts.
He joined the staff of the RCA in 1989 as Senior Tutor, becoming Professor and Head of Ceramics & Glass in 1999 In 2015 he was appointed Senior Research Fellow.
Martin Smith's work is included in many public collections including Victoria and Albert Museum, London; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Museum Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg; and Kanazama Crafts Council, Taiwan.
Martin Smith established his first studio in Suffolk in 1974 while working as a part-time ceramic technician at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts.Show more
Martin Smith’s first solo exhibition was held at Atmosphere, London, in 1978 but early recognition was mainly in Europe with group shows in Bern and Zurich, Switzerland; Rosenthal Studio Haus, Munich, Germany; and Het Princesshof, Leuwarden, Netherlands; and a solo show at Gallerie de Witte Voet in Amsterdam in 1979.
His first major solo show, Forms Around a Vessel: Ceramics by Martin Smith, was curated and mounted by Leeds Art Galleries at Lothton Hall in 1981 and then toured to Nottingham, Bath, Bolton and the Crafts Council Gallery, London, in 1982.
Through the 1980s and 1990s he showed regularly at the Garth Clark Gallery in New York and Los Angeles as well as Gallerie de Witte Voet, Amsterdam, and Contemporary Applied Arts in London. This phase of his practice was marked with a retrospective exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, in 1996. This brought together work from both public and private collections throughout Europe covering the period 1976–96 and concluded with a new body of work. The architect John Pawson designed the exhibition.
Up to this point all work had been individual ceramic pieces, exploring aspects of place and space and using a minimal vocabulary of basic geometric solids and the material qualities of ground and polished ceramic surfaces. However in 2001 an invitation to make a site-specific piece for Tate St Ives presented the opportunity to work on a larger scale with multi-part pieces, exploring aspects of sequencing and the interaction with changing ambient light conditions. Wavelength consisted of ten large, truncated cones with reflective internal surfaces and hidden colour that interacted with the changing atmospheric colour resulting from the movement of the sun during the day and the state of the tide.
This was followed by two multi-part pieces titled Binary Shift and Tectonic Drift, shown at Garth Clark Gallery, New York, in 2002.
In 1999 Martin Smith signed to the Barrett Marsden Gallery – now Marsden Woo Gallery – in London, who exclusively represent him in the UK. He continues to exhibit there and in Amsterdam.
Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes
The Meissen Fountain Project with Dr Steve Brown, The restored Fountain exhibited in the New Europe Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Blue and White, British Printed Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
British Ceramics Biennale, Stoke on Trent
Red and Black with Blue and Yellow, Solo Show at Marsden Woo, London
Hangzhou International Contemporary Ceramic Biennale China
- Helen Stokes
Martin Smith’s ongoing research project investigates the formal language of the vessel and the way that it can both contain a space and define a place. Reference is made to elements of architectural language and use is made of ‘poetic geometry’. Investigations into both material and process underpin his research, and its outcomes are a series of regular exhibitions in international galleries and museums.
Current and recent research
Extending the Potential of the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface
This research project brings together a consortium of pioneers of 2D ceramic toner laser transfer printing to explore the potentials for scale, economies and a new aesthetic within the UK commercial production for the digitally printed ceramic surface.
Martin Smith, the Principle Investigator is working with Dr Steve Brown as Senior Research Associate and Dr Peter Oakley as Co-Investigator and is supported by a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Using the laser printing technology developed by MZTT in Germany and working closely with industrial partners: Digital Ceramic Systems and Royal Crown Derby this project is developing systems and design methodologies to maximise the potential of the technology in the context of British ceramic manufacture.
Meissen Fountain Restoration Project
The Meissen Fountain Restoration Project involved the re-creation of missing or damaged elements of a porcelain table fountain made by Meissen in the eighteen century. This table fountain, the largest assemblage of its kind in existence, was modelled by Johann Joachim Kändler for Count von Brűhl, Prime Minister of Saxony and Director of the Meissen factory. The baroque design of the table fountain was based on the Neptune Fountain in the gardens of von Brűhl’s summer palace in Dresden. In the eighteenth century the table fountain was used as a centrepiece at state dinners.
Martin Smith and Dr Steve Brown worked with a curatorial team from the V&A led by Reino Liefkes, Senior Curator and Head of Ceramics and Glass. The restoration utilised research undertaken by Liefkes that determined the original layout of the table fountain. Digital scans were taken of the existing surviving and damaged elements owned by the V&A, porcelain objects in the Dresden Porcelain Museum made using the same moulds as the table fountain, and scans of the Neptune fountain in Dresden. Using this data, Professor Smith and Dr Brown recreated the pieces that were missing or it was decided were too damaged to restore. The new pieces were made in porcelain using a combination of digital scanning and model making and traditional ceramic casting and hand-modelling techniques.
In 2015 the restored table fountain was installed in a four-metre-wide space in the V&A’s new Europe 1600–1800 Galleries, along with a video showing the restoration process.
Red and Black with Blue and Yellow
This project, the title of a Solo exhibition at Marsden Woo in 2015, explored two related but distinct strands, refers to an exploration of the archetypal form of the vase, deconstructed as a series of conic sections. The vase is one of those curious archetypes that are fundamental to the history of ceramic production. Usually domestic in scale, the vase form makes reference to many utilitarian functions; the containment of wine or oil, or cremation ashes, or indeed flowers. The vase can act as a sign for other, often celebratory, concerns related to human emotions and narratives. Frequently such forms come to occupy positions of display, their function having shifted from the physical to the metaphysical.
Blue, Yellow Red and Red refers to a new development in Smith’s investigations into Moire interference patterns. These consist of multiple plates, either grouped and hung directly on the wall, or resting in wooden frames that contain one or two shelves. The pattern runs across the surfaces of the plates uninterruptedly – a single geometric construction of fine cobalt blue lines fills their combined surfaces to suggest one unified surface.
Here, however the palette moves beyond the monochrome cobalt blue. Use was made of some of the early findings of the research project Extending the Potential of the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface to explore aspects of colour interference Red and black interfere on a white ground to give the impression of metallic copper. Red and blue interfere on a yellow ground to give the impression of a range of greens, purples and oranges.