To be or not to be a potter

I came to meet Annabel Faraday hoping to uncover the secret behind the beautiful vessels covered with printed maps, photographs and graphic art that she makes. Little did I know that I would be transported back to the 60’s and 70’s and art for art’s sake, to a time of social and political unrest when people held hands and marched against their government’s policies, a time when sexual differences were expressed for the first time.

Growing up in the deepest, darkest part of suburbia in Hampshire, Annabel developed a sense that there should be more to life than the constrained and formatted path to marriage or university de rigueur at the time. Very early on, she came to the realisation that art in the form of Saturday art classes in Farnham, an adjacent town, was an escape route and she fully embraced it. In Farnham, not only did she learn about pottery and sculpture but she was also introduced to the counter-culture movement. It was the heyday of the Folk and Beatnik scene and everything it stood for: a deep questioning of the status quo and accepted values and aspirations. She often found herself hitchhiking to London to help out at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)’s offices. There, she embraced a new world where writers and actors exchanged strong political views but also knew how to have fun!

She was also undergoing her own little revolution at home: from disruptive behaviour at school to having under age sex with a boy on probation, her relationship with her parents took a serious toll. Those were very formative years indeed. Thankfully, art seemed to offer an escape from it all.

Having completed her A level in art in one year, Annabel seemed well placed to embark on a career in the arts. But her life took an unexpected turn while she was at Winchester School of Art. At the time, Conceptual Art was taking over, emphasising the process of creation rather than the production of objects per se. Not realising what she was giving up at the time, Annabel went wholeheartedly down the path of “concrete poetry”.  It was an exciting time where she put aside all desire to create objects in favour of playing visually with words and exploring their sounds and multiple  meanings. About the same time, she discovered Zen-Buddhism: a philosophy that permeates every aspect of her life and the way she interacts with other people to this day.

But troubled years ensued. After Winchester, Annabel literally took to the woods with her boyfriend of the time. Living a life of almost a recluse, her attempt to go back to art studies after her split up turned out to be a disaster. She continued to explore more ephemeral aspects of her work, playing with elements of chance and making poems for people to find in the street, whilst sharing countless bedsits with her American friend, Jeramy Turner, who in later years was to become a famous painter. Gradually, as her sense of separation from the quotidian world increased, she became aware of a need to re-connect on a more stable footing and returned to studying at evening classes.

Annabel did eventually go to university where, in the course of time, she came out as lesbian. Having graduated in Sociology from Essex, a very progressive university known for its radical teaching, she went on to do a PhD researching the history of anti-lesbianism in the 20’s and 30’s in Britain. Those were long, lonely and arduous researches into widespread and incipient homophobia.But it was all part of a bigger scheme of things, namely what she saw as her contribution within the vibrant lesbian-feminist movement of the 1980s. As everything about Annabel is done in an inimitable fashion, her PhD got her a book contract and she took up a post at London University teaching what was later to be known as Lesbian studies.

At that point, Annabel Faraday couldn’t have been farthest from the art world, engrossed as she was in her research and course studies. Yet a series of events made her realise that she was craving to go back to a world where she could express herself  with her hands and in doing so make peace with the world around her. The first shock came in the shape of an encounter. She met an artist, a painter more precisely, soon to be her life-long partner. Then her mother died suddenly. Finally, one day, she had an epiphany in Lyme Regis: the Jurassic coast. Surrounded by millions of fossils, she perceived herself even for the briefest moment as a tiny spec of earth in the infinite continuum of life. A whole new spiritual dimension had opened and with it the intimate conviction that she had to model the earth into objects of that very same earth we all come from. Taking pottery classes to work the clay became the obvious thing to do. That is how she completed a Fine and Applied Arts (Ceramics) course at the City Lit, London in 1991.

All the pieces of her life seemed to fall into place at last and all her accumulated experience was finally about to feed harmoniously into her work even if she was not fully aware of it at the time.  She started working with raw clay, found that the shape that suited her the most to work on was the vessel and started experimenting with different ways of decorating the surface of those vessels. As a worthy descendant of genial scientist Michael Faraday, Annabel set about creating her own unique way of printing images on raw clay using iron filings.

She first combined maps with the vessel. She was drawn to maps because they were evocative of places that existed on the earth and they explored a sense of place. Soon enough, she started printing maps of places she wanted to go to. Perhaps this was reminiscent of her childhood when she moved to Germany and then Egypt thanks to her father’s position in the NAAFI. In any case, she started travelling widely in the UK and also abroad developing strong ties with France and a strong connection with North Africa in particular.

She printed maps on vessels for the best of the 1990’s and became very successful. She was where she always wanted to be but soon became a victim of her own success. One year, she recalls having participated in 14 craft fairs. Her father’s death just like her mother’s struck a chord in her. She decided to start using her own photographs on the outside surface combined with the map of the actual place on the inside. That is how she got to a point where she can work on any given map or photography on commission. If you go to the Craft Potters Association, you will be able to admire her work.  These days, she is considering whether to do one to one master class workshops to pass along the passion that animates her and to transmit this unique way that she has invented of transposing printed images onto raw clay. And since it is never more fun than when you explore new territories, she is playing at the moment with new shapes and  new ways of firing the elements. Anybody having a wood firing kiln near London, please do give her a ring. She would love to hear from you!

Her local haunt is The Larder in Bethnal Green. Broadway market is one of her favourite hang outs just as much as the cafe in Whitechapel Gallery. For a more picturesque spot, Pellicci’s Cafe does the trick.  More and more, Annabel gets her inspiration from the sea or nature. You may be lucky enough to see her cycling in and around Victoria Park.

I met Annabel Faraday hoping to uncover the mystery behind her beautiful vessels and I left with the feeling that her pottery was the embodiment of a lifetime full of rich and eventful accomplishments.

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