Lotte Glob: An Ultimate Rock Garden

October 2004

Publication: Ceramics: Art and Perception

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Till a the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun”

 

Robert Burns, 1794

 

Four decades have passed since the potter Lotte Glob moved (at the age of 20) from her native Denmark to Scotland, where she has lived ever since.  It would be difficult to conceive of two more physically different countries – although they occupy similar latitudes and are separated by no more than a few hundred kilometres of sea, the contrasts are startling.  The loose grouping of the Jutland peninsula and a series of larger interconnected islands is characterised by low-level land, the result of glacial run-off from the vast ice sheets which once covered most of northern Europe, at it height 17,000 years ago.  The soils are clay , chalk, limestone and large areas of the country are covered with peatland and fenland.  The land is intensively cultivated, tamed and peopled.  Scotland’s geological origins are far older: much of the mountainous regions, including the NW highlands where Glob has her home, were laid down in the Pre-Cambrian Era up to 3000 million years ago[1].  These ancient rocks, some of the oldest in the world, not surprisingly created the interest and circumstances which led to the fledgling science of geology being developed by James Hutton (1726-1797) during the Scottish enlightenment.

 

Whereas Glob has described the Scottish landscape, light and seasons as ‘kinetic’,  she reserves the label ‘static’ as a description of the physical characteristics of her own country.  Such a perceived juxtapositioning is central to Glob’s artistic ethos and is crucial to any understanding of her work.

 

Glob grew up near the coastal city of Aarhus on the east coast of Jutland.  Her father, P.V. Glob, was an eminent archaeologist who worked in the city’s university and later as a state antiquary for the Danish museums[2].  P.V. Glob popularised the hitherto ‘dusty’ image of archaeology  through his writings.  One of his most popular documented finds, ‘The Tollund Man’, an Iron Age sacrificial victim, preserved by acid peat for over 2000 years, is a popular attraction in Silkeborg Museum, near Aarhus.  This immersion in antiquity is another important element in Lotte Glob’s intellectual and artistic background.  For, as well as the more sensational work involved in unearthing human remains, P.V. Glob’s work extended to thorough analyses of the material culture of Iron and Bronze Age Denmark.  In particular, Lotte Glob recalls her fascination with functional ceramic objects, archetypal forms little changed from antiquity until the present day. As a young potter, working in Denmark and Ireland, Glob’s early ceramics were “…influenced by . Neolithic…and Roman pottery.”[3]  The close connection with the earth and treasures it held, as well as the processes of discovery are all, therefore, significant when considering Lotte Glob’s work.

 

A series of other influences are illuminating in the context of Lotte Glob’s ceramics, and her approach to making art generally.  Her father’s circle of friends included some of the COBRA[4] group of artists, the most significant of whom was Asger Jorn[5].  Jorn’s was a prodigious talent.  Although known primarily as a painter, his oeuvre extended to printmaking, writing and ceramics.  Lotte Glob describes Jorn’s influence as less stylistic, and more “fun and wild…[expressing] …energy and “freedom”[6].  Another highly signifaicant influence was the potter Erik Nyholm[7] – another of her father’s friends - who later became an important mentor, significantly influencing Glob’s approach to sculptural ceramics.

 

Although Lotte Glob’s  familial background was academic and artistic (her grandfather,  Johannes Glob, was a celebrated painter in his day[8])  she herself received no formal artistic training.  Indeed,  her  limited experience of formal schooling is less than happy:

 

“I left school at 14 at the minimum age…my parents didn’t really want me to leave…we were an academic family…you had to do exams and you had to be ‘clever’…otherwise you were ‘stupid’…I used to skive [play truant] and hide out in the fields instead of going to school…lie in the field all day then come back home…much nicer…I learnt a lot more.”[9]

 

This sense of closeness to and affinity with nature has pervaded her outlook,  while her rejection of formal educational structures has remained a constant and, to her mind , liberating position.  If this stance has elements of the faux naïve then the cogency of her counter-argument is also compelling.

 

Although Lotte Glob did not attend an art school or similar institution, she argues that the training and mentoring she did receive was far more rigorous, demanding and rewarding: Glob left home when she was 15 and I went to live and work with Gutte Eriksen[10].  “I learned a lot but you don’t realise how much you learn until later on in life…I think most importantly the shape and aesthetic of a pot.  The form.  I still hear her saying ‘it should be carrying the world’  She was quite precise about shapes…”[11].  Lotte Glob’s experience as an apprentice and assistant to Eriksen was seminal.  Although Glob remembers her time with the older potter as hard and, at times, gruelling, the knowledge she gained was invaluable.  Principally this centred on practical aspects of pot- and vessel-making, such as throwing, clay mixes, glazes as well as more formal and aesthetic concerns such as the relationship of the pot’s function to its form.  Eriksen had experienced the Japanese approach to ceramic vessels (which aims at a ‘perfect’ blend of the utilitarian and the aesthetic)  indirectly though the philosophy of Bernard Leach, with whom Eriksen had worked for a period of two months in 1948.  As is the way with teaching and apprenticeships, this deep-rooted philosophy was passed on  to Glob herself.

 

Three other semi-formal apprenticeships followed.  The first was of these was at Knut Jensen’s pottery in Sorring, Jutland.  Jensen’s was an eight-generation family business were artisans had specialised in making slip-ware in wood-fired kilns for over 200 years.  Here, Glob’s experience was similarly hard but the intensity of working in a thoroughly commercial environment, with a pragmatic approach to pot-making, taught Glob speed and accuracy in her throwing technique, as well as the processes of mass-production.  A period at with Philip Pierce in Shanagary, County Cork in Ireland was less rewarding but had value in that it told the young potter about the directions she did not wish to pursue: “...it was quite different pottery…very tight…very English…all fired in the electric kiln and very predictable…they all had to be signed and were very smooth.  But it doesn’t matter if it’s not what you like.  You can learn things from anywhere.  You learn what you don’t want to do in life.”[12]  An apprenticeship which began in 1964 with another English potter, David Illingworth, (who later became Glob’s partner) brought her to Scotland.  Glob worked with Illingworth in Morar on Scotland’s west coast.  Then, in 1968 “with a ton of clay, a kick-wheel and five pounds in our pockets” the couple eventually set up a workshop in a disused Ministry of Defence camp, in Durness – a business which Glob maintained until 2003.

 

It was perhaps inevitable that the rugged and barren landscape of north west Scotland should exert an increasingly profound influence on Glob’s work.  While struggling to maintain a workshop producing  wholesale tableware and coping with rearing a young family, Glob had little time in the early years to pursue more sculptural work.  However, as time passed, the draw of the land became increasingly more intense.  Glob began to spend periods of time alone in the unpeopled mountains and glens of this part of the Highlands.  Again, with an inevitably perhaps given clarity with hindsight, she decided to place one of her sculptural ceramics in the landscape during one of her walking and camping trips.  Glob had just returned from an unproductive business trip in London, where she had attempted, unsuccessfully, to break into the gallery circuit:

 

I just got more and more disillusioned.  When I came home with all my stuff on my back, I was so depressed.  When I’m depressed the best thing for me is to go out in nature, go for long walks and things become easy, simple, and not that important.  I thought, I’ll go to Cape Wrath and head down to Sandwood Bay.   I packed my camera and sketchbook in my rucksack.  Just as I was going out the door I passed all these sculptures standing there with dust on them.  I looked at them and thought ‘I’m going to take them back where they belong’.  I got them from there and that’s where they belong.  I put one pot in the rucksack and half-way between Cape Wrath and Sandwood where I stopped for lunch…I put my ceramic sculpture there and thought ‘wow, it looks fantastic  there…it looks as if it belongs there.  The colours, everything.  It wasn’t intruding.  Just sitting there as if it had always been there.  So, I thought that’s nice and took a photograph.  I noted the time and weather, how I felt etc.  I made a little diary for it.  I walked on and looked round and took another photograph.  An oyster-catcher was sitting on it!  Great! Recognition, at last!  That  I thought I’d like to put another one nearby, so that they could ‘speak together…”[13]

 

From such beginnings, in 1986, the vast sculptural installation which eventually became known as ‘The Ultimate Rock Garden’ began to take shape.  To date, over 70 pieces have been placed in a landscape which covers more than 5000 square kilometres.

 

These sculptures vary in form, and to some extent size, although the latter is dictated by the fact that the sculptures have to be carried - often for many miles - before they are sited.  Contrary to expectations, these sculptures are not made for particular places – and are, therefore, in the jargon,  not ‘site-specific’.  They are, rather, made with no actual site in mind:

 

Everything is organic with me.  I don’t like to pre-plan things too much…I like things to grow by themselves…but then I’d be in a place and I’d think, one would be really nice up that hill….  That would be in line with that.  It would be able to stand up there and ‘speak’ to another one across a hill…I would think of the place and what would be nice in that place…In that way I would take it to the hill.  It was always amazing …when I got to the hill with the piece of work and take a photograph of it in its situation…I’d look for a place where it could nestle…[14]

 

 

Glob makes photographic images of her own work and the sculptures themselves are mapped only in the vaguest terms.  Such small scale works placed in colossal mountain landscapes are almost inevitably ‘lost’ and she rejects the label ‘public art’. But this is part of Glob’s intent, because the works are not placed specifically for a human audience.  Explicitly Glob thinks of these sculptures are nature inhabiting nature, of the earth in dialogue with itself:  “The clay I use is essentially rock – granite – worn by time and weather, carried by rain and stream and eventually …becomes sedimentary clay.  [It is then] reformed and burnt once again….so returning in its new form to its old primeval earth mother.”[15]

 

Although Glob uses different materials from most ‘land artists’ i.e. those who are involved in a continuing exploration of art and man’s relationship with the natural world, her work differs in other significant respects.  Whereas Richard Long, or Hamish Fulton, will often make interventions in the landscape based on walking trips, their work, while being to some extent ephemeral, is make using ‘found’ natural materials, often in geometric patterns.  Andy Goldsworthy, whose work is again characterised by its temporality (and is usually, like Glob’s work, recorded and experienced solely photographically) makes a virtue of using  material found nearby, formed into patterns.  Often the appeal derives as much from the beauty of the natural material  as from human intervention in the form of patterning and ordering.  Although, some of these points may also be applied to Glob’s work, these mysterious, organic, living shapes also find a habitation in their chosen landscape which makes them unique.  Often, these shapes (at times vaguely anthropomorphic, at others zoomorphic or botanical) are set up in opposition to a feature or a colour or a rock formation.  A ‘dialogue’ takes place.  Sometimes, these forms appear to be in ‘conversation’ with each other, communicating across valleys or over mountain tops.  And what of those who say ‘I go to the mountains to avoid human presence utterly.  What right does an artist have to place her work there?’ Perhaps they have a point.  But if they do encounter one of these works, most will stop to ponder the complementary nature of work created by a human being who is that rare thing: a presence who not only moves over the earth but is of the earth, an artist in harmony with and in awe of the great cosmic forces which brought our planet into being.

 

GILES SUTHERLAND




[1]The oldest rocks in Scotland are also some of the oldest rocks in the world and were formed up to almost 3000 million years ago. Collectively they are called the 'Lewisian Gneiss' and the Outer Hebrides forms the largest outcrop. They are metamorphic rocks that have been metamorphosed several times during their long history. From analysing the chemistry of the rocks it appears that the Lewisian Gneisses were predominantly granite-like rocks with some volcanic and sedimentary rocks mixed in. At the time the earliest Lewisian rocks were being formed, the Earth’s crust consisted of many more tectonic plates than it does today and life on Earth at its most complex consisted of bacteria and algae. (source: www.scottishgeology.com)

[2]  P.V. Glob was appointed Director General of Museums and Antiquities in Denmark in 1960.  Previously, for 11 years, he was Professor of the Archaeology and Prehistory of Europe at The University of Aarhus. 

[3]Lotte Glob, Interview with Giles Sutherland, June, 2003

[4]COBRA – an acronym derived from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, the capital cities of the countries where the main exponents of the movement were born.  The movement was at its height from 1948 to 1951. As well as  Jorn, the movement’s other Danish members included Eijer Bille, Egill Jacobsen and Carl-Henning Pedersen.

[5]Asger Jorn (1914–1973)

[6]Lotte Glob, Interview with Giles Sutherland, June, 2003

[7]Erik Nyholm (1909-1997)

[8]Johannes Glob (1882 –1955)

[9]Lotte Glob, Interview with Giles Sutherland, June, 2003

[10] Gutte Eriksen was born in 1918 in Rodby in Lolland. She studied at the Kunsthandwerkerskolen in Copenhagen from 1936 to 1939. Since 1953 she has worked in her present studio at St Karlsminde. She taught at the Jutland Academy of Fine Arts, Aarhus, in 1968‑71, 1973‑4 and 1976‑8. In 1972 she won the Gold Medal in Faenza and in 1985 she was awarded the Thorvald Bindesboll Medal of the Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

[11]Lotte Glob, Interview with Giles Sutherland, June, 2003

[12]Lotte Glob, Interview with Giles Sutherland, June, 2003

[13]ibid.

[14]ibid.

[15]www.lotteglob.co.uk