The Room: Introducing Carl Koch
For the inaugural exhibition in The Room, we have chosen to highlight the work of the British artist, Carl Koch. A graduate of Central Saint Martins, Koch's handmade ceramic artworks focus on process and artisanship, two aspects reflecting Turnbull's approach to shirt making we wished to reiterate visually.
Turnbull: We are delighted to have you exhibit as part of our new concept –The Room. What are your earliest memories of craft, art and design? Did you always know you wanted to pursue creativity?
Carl: Thanks for having me! There has always been some level of creativity in my life. When I was a kid, my grandparents would look after me, and I would spend most of the time in my Grandad's studio (he was a full-time wildlife artist). He would take out his favourite books, and I would try and copy the animals and wildlife pictures. The smell of the oil paints and the sound of Classic FM in the background is a very nostalgic memory for me. At school, I could get by academically, but when I figured that I could mentally escape my classroom by drawing, I started taking a sketch pad with me to every lesson. At some point, I got it into my head that I would not ever earn any money from being an artist, so I decided instead to become a designer. Which, in the end, has come full circle because I now create artworks full time.
‘SOLEMN’ Hand-dipped Ceramic Tiles in Black Timber Box Frame.
Please tell us a bit about your creative practice and what goes on in your studio day-to-day?
Very fortunately, I get to paint full time – sending artworks all over the world to clients that would probably never normally own a piece of my work. To do so, I need to stay organised. I start by planning my day, then emails, and then cracking on whatever project I am working on. It could be stretching canvases to creating Verre Eglomise pieces for a penthouse. If I am doing ceramic artwork, then I will roll out the clay, cut it into tiles and then dip them in whatever colour is needed. Once they are dry, I pack the kiln and fire it up. My studio has become overrun with tiles, from miss fires to experiments. I seem to be accumulating boxes of them!
During the recent lockdowns, you reconnected with ceramics. What draws you to this medium and process?
Ceramics is an ancient medium, and something about handling clay feels very primal but also so natural. It is the tactile qualities and the intricacies along with the firing process that draws me to it. There is also something quite astounding that once the clay has been fired to a high temperature, it vitrifies into stone. So, you are creating something that has lasting qualities but is not plastic. I produce many individual parts that come together to form my works – almost like a hive or a swarm. You have all these individuals that collect in one place and make up the overall singular body. There is a rhythm found in nature that I am trying to emulate-echo. Up close, it is hard to make out a coherent shape or form, but from a distance, the lines become sharper. The ceramic pieces invite you to stop and draw you in to notice all the different effects, a lot of which are created by the firing process.
'SOLEMN' and 'UNION' details
After graduating from Central Saint Martins, as a print designer, you lived in Istanbul. What influence does this have on your work?
Istanbul is a fantastic place. A meeting for not only cultures but also the past and the present. You can sit on the old capitols and columns from a Roman building that stood over a thousand years ago and now sit discarded in a suburban park. There is so much history there it is hard to know where to look. The people are fantastic too, and something about their attitude really inspired me and has profoundly shaped how I feel about what I can create. No problem is insurmountable to them. Their ceramics are stunning too, with so many independent shops selling the work of small studios, there is a lot to see and collect. It was here, in the UK, that I decided to change my path from working as a print designer. I spent hours in front of a computer screen every day, and it would leave me feeling drained and unfulfilled. Although being a print designer did teach me a lot about noticing repeating patterns wherever you look and working with and choosing the colour.
You have created artworks for some of the most exclusive locations in London. Is your approach to bespoke commissions different from that of personal projects?
Creating a bespoke piece for a client can be different from personal projects because there is often a brief and almost always a colour pallet to work with. Whenever working on one, I make sure that they have their presence and can handle themselves. They are not just a space-filler but an actual piece of art that someone can appreciate. I agonise over minute details, reworking them several times until it looks and feels right. There is a lot of preparation and experimentation before I start on the final artwork. From trying new materials and techniques to redrawing a shape many times when it comes to the final piece, it looks natural.
‘VEIL1 VEIL 2’ Hand-dipped Ceramic Tiles in Black Timber Frame
There is a calming serenity in your work, with repetition and scale played with throughout. After the year we have all had, what are you most looking forward to about life post-Covid?
Actually, I am about to become a dad, so I am extremely excited about that! Overall, though it will be great to have some sense of normality again, we have all experienced the pandemic differently. For me, it will be reconnecting with friends and family. And London, I cannot wait to have a day in the city with the shops, cafes, restaurants, and galleries all open again. On some level, I have appreciated the lack of distractions that lockdown has afforded. It was having the time in lockdown that gave me the chance to get back into working with clay.
A selection of Carl's works will be on display and available for purchase at The Room, in Mayfair until the end of May.