Publication: Ceramic Review
(Published in Ceramic Review Issue 250, July/August 2011)
When Sutherland-based Danish potter Lotte Glob was in her early twenties she was working in her native Denmark with her English husband, the late David Illingworth. The couple had met a few years previously when Glob travelled to Scotland to seek work as a potter and had eventually arrived at Illingworth’s remote workshop in Morar in the West Highlands. Glob recalls: ‘My first daughter, Shona, was born in Denmark in 1966 when we were living in a little cottage near Fjellerup in Djursland, north of Aarhus. I had her the night after firing this big wood-fired kiln for the first time! For twenty hours we were firing this kiln…I was black and we were all naked because it was so hot. I went straight from the firing into the hospital.’
The memory and imagery is stark, tough, feisty, and romantic – signalling a birth amid heat, fire, and earth. It might stand as a convenient metaphor for all of Glob’s work as well as highlighting the continuing strong bond between this immensely talented artist’s work and her family.
Showing me around her ‘sculpture croft’ on the shores of the dramatic glaciated fiord, Loch Eriboll, with its characteristic limestone topography and fauna, she points to various small-scale ‘sanctuary gardens’, which she has created for each of her four youngest grandchildren: Alina, Sonny, Finn, and Ava. The spaces are individual, idiosyncratic, sheltered, and nourishing. Each has its own intimate atmosphere characterised by combinations of Glob’s sculpted ceramic forms and sensitive, intuitive plantings of predominantly native species of trees, flowers, and shrubs. Alina’s garden, for example, is circular with plantings of silver birch, cherry, hazel, lingonberry, and anemone. Finn’s garden, by contrast, is more square, and is planted with bamboo, oak, blueberry, and marguerite.
The garden as dedication has a long and passionate tradition; here it is also a celebration of regeneration – of both land and family. Glob bought the sixteen-acre croft around twelve years ago. At that time it was bare, neglected, and ecologically depleted. In the intervening years she has succeeded in creating what seems nothing short of a minor miracle. Previously over-grazed by sheep and deer, with heather and grass eaten almost to the root, there now stands an exemplar of what can be achieved once the native ecology is allowed to return to some semblance of balanced normality.
Glob explains the evolution of her croft: ‘I first fenced it from the road to the shores of Loch Eriboll so as to keep the sheep and deer out. Now the grass, flowers, and trees are growing again in abundance with new birds arriving – the latest incomer, a pheasant. A small native wood has been planted (with some ‘immigrants’ as well) with a small scattering of fruit trees and fruit bushes: apple, plum, cherry, pears, currants, raspberries, blueberries, and even sweet chestnut and walnuts. Little by little other sculptures are emerging through the long grass, heather, and flowers. Running across the hill, hiding behind rock and heather or bowing to the sky, sending beams of light out into the universe and mirroring the landscape. Even the rhubarb and potatoes look happy guarded by a two-legged creature, and on sunny days my bees are enjoying the new growth of the garden.’
Glob’s croft land includes, as well as her garden and woodland, a dwelling house, kiln, and studio workshop. Unsurprisingly, given Glob’s Scandinavian reverence for nature, there’s also a sauna on the shores of the crystal clear loch. Even in inclement weather, of which there is a good amount, the setting is paradisiacal. The environment oozes fecundity and creativity. It is a gesamkunstswerk in the making and Glob describes the setting out of her sculptures and the process of creating her retrospective as being akin to painting: ‘It evolves unpredictably under its own momentum and creative logic… I don’t have a plan or a diagram.’
Much of the work to be included in the show has never been seen before in the UK, as it was housed and stored in Denmark. Glob’s parents were enthusiastic, if critical, supporters of her pots and as a result over several decades Glob gave them representative samples of what she considered to be her best work.
Glob enjoyed highly formative apprenticeships with some of Denmark’s best-known artists, including the ceramists Gutte Eriksen and Erik Nyholm. She also spent time in the company of the great Cobra artist Asger Jorn, who as well as painting, enjoyed a prolific career as a sculptor in which clay was a frequently used medium.
From Eriksen, Glob learned to transform clay from dead matter to living material. The basis of Eriksen’s approach – down to earth and practical – was the importance of the base to any vessel. This fundamental instruction, learned by Glob at a very young age, has been a constant throughout her working life, whether in the making of domestic tableware or ceramic sculpture. The Golem-like cephalous beings of The Loch Eriboll Chorus – whatever the other aspects of their nature – stand on broad feet and are supported by stocky legs recalling the shape and feel of Eriksen’s mazagran goblets.
The exhibition will therefore present an important and rare opportunity to assess the progress and evolution of Glob’s work over nearly five decades. The earliest pieces will date from the late 1950s and thus were made when Glob was a teenager. There are also highly significant pieces from the mid-sixties, including Bog Doll, Eat Your Heart Out, Baluba Muse, and Old Bull, which already demonstrate an affinity with form and an impatient experimentalism – both important characteristics of Glob’s long-standing approach.
Old Bull, in particular, evinces its own genesis and process in a transparent manner; the taurean form has been reduced to the most basic elements and these components (legs, trunk, neck, and head) have been fashioned from wheel-thrown pots, assembled and conjoined to create something archetypal, rough, and vaguely threatening. Looking at it takes the mind back to a more primitive, atavistic, and elemental context; the work is modern only inasmuch as some of Picasso’s own similar motifs were such. In other words, the work reveals a dialogue with the essential past, borrowing (in the best sense of the term) from the Cycladic and Minoan traditions, to name but two influential elements. It was undoubtedly from her father, an eminent archaelogist, that Glob learned to value and evaluate the forms of the past, thus absorbing the archetypicality of shape and function that has endured for thousands of years.
At her best Glob seems to act almost like a conduit for the elemental influences around her, so that in much more recent work, such as the platter Loyal Loch (2009), there is a sense of the temporal vastness of geological process, with a much more impressionist feeling of light in combination with sea and sky; glaze becomes a kind of deepening, optically enhanced ‘paint’, and the term ‘stoneware’ connotes something much more than its normal limited sense.
In this setting, the extent of Glob’s considerable opus will be laid out, considered, and enjoyed in its native element.