NO.5 PRUE PIPER : Up Our Street - 8 Holland Street's neighbours, near and far
"THE AIR IN ARTIST PRUE PIPER'S HOME AND STUDIO IS THICK WITH OTHERWORLDLINESS THAT SHE BATS AWAY AS IF MUNDANE. WE WANTED TO GAIN INSIGHT INTO PRUE'S WORLD, AND INTO HER PROCESS THAT CREATES SOME OF OUR MOST LOVED CERAMICS..."
ON A VISIT TO ARTIST PRUE PIPER’S HOME AND STUDIO, WE ARE REMINDED THAT THINGS WILL GET BRIGHTER…
The air in artist Prue Piper’s home and studio is thick with otherworldliness that she bats away as if mundane. We wanted to gain insight into Prue’s world, and into her process that creates some of our most loved ceramics. Prue spends her days making clay into folkloric shapes - green men and dancing figures and mousies and frogs. As she shows and tells us, we become a bit too shrill about the cuteness, and sense a furrowed brow forming in genuine confusion. Prue is not like the dancing figure of her vessels; Prue is waiting for the weather to clear to spread dung on her land, fell a tree and move the sheep with no names in her ‘just’ eleven acres of woodland.
We ask if she gets distracted in the day, does she ever procrastinate? No, I just get on with it, she says. We try to delve a little deeper to understand her process. Inspiration? Google in fine. Listening to anything? A very dull CD. And yet, not one thing is dull about Prue’s life or work. Her house and studio were once the laundry for Marston House in Somerset. The oolite limestone of the laundry has wriggled itself into the land and allowed wild strawberries to take over and a generous fig tree to rest. Elsewhere, sprouts, chard, kale, marrows, squash, chicory allow Prue to be almost entirely self-sufficient.
Within the house, Prue’s shelves are from a felled Beech tree, paintings are by both her late husband Edward Piper and father-in-law John, sculptures are from her son and neighbour Henry, and heat comes from a log burning stove. Prue may say that Google is a good source, but one can’t help but think that it is amongst the sprouts, and in the chickens feathers and within the forest where inspiration comes. Prue later tells us, that she also spends days in museums ‘getting in the way’ by sketching. Pitt Rivers’ archaeological and anthropological finds are a key inspiration. Prue enjoys the eccentricity of the man and the museum in Oxford that he founded. Nothing too curated, for it sanitises and loses the narrative behind the pieces on display.
It could seem contrary to her whimsical ceramics, that Prue is straight down the line, practically dogmatic in her art. However, it is this which creates her unfettered artistic genius. This complete inhibition, that may mean that in fact, Prue is exactly as her ceramics are. This is her reality. Whilst my normality is the 52 bus and an oat latte, Prues is Peruvian beasts. Oh, Prue has a PHD in Biochemistry. We found that out on Google, so it’s not through scrolling that Prue truly gets inspired even if most of us truly, sadly do. Prue has a deeper understanding about the natural world.
So, there may be something in Prue’s furrowed brow. It’s not otherworldliness that surrounds her work, but a world that so many of us are disconnected from. Prue, in her forest of self-sufficiency knows the green man, and the sheep and the chickens. Prue is UP OUR STREET because she reminds us of the bigger picture outside, behind, off, above and below the street. And right now, Prue Piper reminds us that things will get brighter.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY OLLIE TOMLINSON
WRITTEN BY ALEX MASTERS
Henry Piper's sculpture 'Guiding Shadow' leads into a courtyard with another of his works, 'Top Fruit' made out of bed springs
A fig tree leans towards the window into Prue's studio
Prue wastes nothing - using old yoghurt pots as containers.
If you look, there are a few references inspired by the Oceana exhibition at the RA in 2018. Bottom-left, there is head of a man Prue sketched that sat on the front of a boat to direct it in the Pacific Ocean
A mold for a 'Green Man', as seen via Luke Edward-Hall's Instagram
An Ercol chair from Prue's daughter-in-law with some sketchbooks from a research trip at the V&A. Prue misses spending rainy days in museums
Prue's ceramics sitting comfortably on Beech shelves made from a felled tree on the estate of Marston House.
Every Christmas Henry gives her a small sculpture for her window sill. Henry's scupltures revolve around re-use, so they are all made from disgarded objects. There are butterflys made out of cogs and figures with lightbulbs for heads
Prue PiperPair of frogsGlazed earthenware
Prue PiperPair of horse candleholdersSlip decorated earthenware
H23 x W9 x D11 cm£ 565.00
Prue PiperLeaf vaseDecorated earthenware
H27 x W12 x D8 cmSold
Prue PiperLarge light brown mouse on an oak leafDecorated earthenware
H4.5 x W15 x D8 cmSold
Prue PiperAqua Manile (Indonesian duck)Decorated earthenware
H13 x W19 cm£ 755.00
Prue PiperPink flattened mantelpiece vaseSlip decoration on raw clay
H19 x W14 x D4.5 cm£ 1,150.00
Prue PiperAdam and Eve platePainted embellished moulded plate earthenware
D31 cm£ 1,700.00
Prue PiperBlue flattened mantelpiece vaseSlip decoration on raw clay
H20 x W15 x D6.5 cm£ 1,150.00
Prue PiperBrook's Gecko VaseEarthenware decorated with slip
H19 x D7 cmSold
Prue PiperCoffee mugSlip decorated earthenware
H8 x D7 cm£ 65.00
Prue PiperDouble Faced Green Man Vessel 'Horror fury'Decorated earthenware
H17.5 x D12 cm£ 1,700.00
Prue PiperFrog vaseDecorated Earthenware
H14 x W13 cm£ 650.00
Prue Piper, Green man Jug with blue
Prue PiperPair of greyhoundsDecorated earthenware
H13 x W10 x D8 cmSold
Prue PiperPair of Oak Leaf CandlesticksDecorated appliqued earthenware
H18 x D9 cmReserved
Prue PiperPatterned Flower VaseTin glazed earthenware
H18 x W18 x D17 cmSold
PRUE COMPLETES THE SENTENCES ABOUT HER DAY...
I STARTED MY DAY BY…
I just get up, put the radio on and get on with it. That probably doesn't sound very exciting...
AT LUNCH …
I should probably feed the chickens.
WHAT GETS ME THROUGH …
I usually start by listening to the radio. I like the Today Programme on Radio 4, but I can often get cross at politicians and turn it off. I borrow CD's so willl put on the latest until a play I'm following comes on the radio in the afternoon.
A DISTRACTION …
knowing that I need to feed the chickens. Although lately they havent been laying eggs, so think I need to get some new ones.
I FAILED AT …
spreading dung on the land. Must get out and do that.
A THOUGHT I HAD …
where is my new kiln? It has been stuck in Germany. It got to the border then was returned to Frankfurt. It's all such a mess.
A DREAM PROJECT …
right now, is just to have a kiln. I have some new large pieces I want to fire. I don't have any dream projects, just to keep making work.
I've got to move the sheep to another paddock so they can graze, but its always such a task and I end up with mud for feet.