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Inspiration from the East-End


The School of Life has collaborated with Liminal Space to curate a Tour of Designer-Makers of London's East End this Saturday. Our expert guide is design historian Sarah Teasley. Our hosts include artist Adam Dant, ceramicist Stuart Carey, creative consultancy Patternity and Town House founder, Fiona Atkins who will all be inviting us into their studios. Here they answer our questions.

What inspires you?

Adam Dant

Patternity: We’re about finding inspiration absolutely everywhere: from spectrums of colour swirling in diesel-doused pavements under our feet, to the neat geometry of the high-rise architecture above us. The process of looking up, down, around and beyond – and no

ticing the patterns that surround us – helps us gain perspective and remember our place in the now. It’s a way of positively engaging with our environment and each other. Everything Patternity does is a celebration of this. It extends to exploring the patterns that often go unnoticed, including the patterns of thinking and behaviour that shape how we live.

Sarah Teasley: As a historian who thinks about what we make and how we make it, it's near impossible to walk down any street and not be drawn in by the details. the way a kerb is set and the type of concrete used, the height of a rear fender in relation to the other cars around it, how the forsythia on the corner is slowly overtaking the wall, the typography of shop signs.

Stuart Carey: I draw inspiration from the intimacy of functional objects. I enjoy how the piece feels in your hand or against your skin during use. I am constantly looking and thinking about how people use and interact with everyday tableware. My pieces have a subtle movement. I lift them from the wheel while wet, which leaves my physical mark and a memory of being held. Then it is over to the user to build their physical and emotional relationship with the piece.

Adam Dant: I make very large sepia ink drawings of recognisable public spaces which act as an armature for the construction of equally familiar narratives from history, classical and popular mythology, systems of knowledge and all manner of metropolitan stories and puzzles. For example, I have depicted St Paul’s Cathedral as an exotic slave market, The Royal Exchange as the labyrinth of the minotaur and Shakespeare's 'theatre' as a car park. 

Fiona Atkins: Simplicity, whether in the line of a piece of furniture or in an idea from the past that we can use to simplify our busy modern lives.

Has East London influenced you?


ST: There's something fascinating about the entrepreneurial spirit of East London, the way that manufacturing, retail and daily life are mashed into each other on such a small scale. This place is densely layered with hundreds of years of people's lives and businesses co-existing cheek-by-jowl. Those different pasts are still visible underneath and between the present. It’s an inspiring place to be.

P: We feel continually lucky to be based in the heart of East London – kept here by the abundant creativity around us. East London is a centre for the kinds of traditional skills, craft and manufacturing methods that are often key to developing our ideas and projects.

SC: It is good to feel part of a scene and ongoing conversation with other artists and designers, where you can be involved as much as suits you. 

AD: I make a map of the immediate surroundings of my studio in Shoreditch at least once a year. These have included maps showing this area of 'near East London' according to its residents’ dreams, how locals imagine the area in 3000 AD, as Manhattan and formed from the boils and blains and birthmarks on a giant circus sideshow fat lady named 'the fortune of Whitechapel'.

FA: East London constantly makes me think about where we have come from and where we are going, what's good about the old, but also what's good about the new.

Do you look to the future or the past in your work?


ST: As a historian, my 'material' is history, like a ceramicist's might be pots and clay. But history can be a lens for considering where we want to go and evaluating the different ways we might get there. For example, looking at the impact of 'old' new technologies, like power looms or mainframe computers, can help us think more clearly about how we might want to use new technologies, like additive manufacturing and carbon nanotubes, today.

P: For us the research and exploration of pattern is endless, and ranges across eras and fields. The natural world is becoming an ever increasing source of inspiration to us. We are looking into how we can learn from nature as the ultimate efficient and sustainable designer-engineer.

SC: Ceramics has a rich history. Fired clay has a life span much longer than that of any person. I think of my work as contemporary, but draw from history to make it. I work hard to find ways to thrive as a handmade producer in a throwaway society using a material often seen as outdated. I am extremely passionate about opening up crafts and hand skills to a new generation. It’s vitally important for our development as individuals and as a society.

AD: The more you build the more you dig up the past. The best buildings are the ones that make the most beautiful ruins. 

FA: I look to how the past can inform the future.

What would you like the tour’s participants on the tour to take away with them from visiting your studio and finding out about your work? 

Stuart Carey

SC: I hope to show that, although the process of what I do may seem quick, it has taken me over a decade to develop the skills I use to produce the work and the frame of mind to understand what makes an everyday object beautiful. I hope that after spending some time in my space participants think twice about the next piece of tableware they use, and take time to appreciate its aesthetic beauty or flaws.

P: We hope participants will walk away from Patternity with a changed perspective on the everyday things that surround them and a desire to work on their own pattern projects. 

AD: I would like visitors to my studio to take away epic 10ft-wide drawings and paintings which they can gift to the civic art collections of the cities of their birth in lieu of death duties. 

FA: I would like participants to think about how they view the past themselves.

Our Tour of Designer-Makers of London’s East End is now sold out, but we hope to run it again soon. To find out more about all the contributors, click on the links below:

Liminal Space: www.the-liminal-space.comSarah Teasley: www.rca.ac.uk, Stuart Carey: www.stuartcarey.co.ukAdam Dant:  www.halesgallery.com, Patternity: www.patternity.co.uk, Town House Window: www.townhousewindow.com 

Images copyright Adam Dant, Stuart Carey & Patternity 2012.

Homepage Image copyright Adam Dant 2012.

Posted by The School of Life on 17 October 2012

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