No Boundaries: Encountering Art

Christine Derry was Artist In Residence at Portsmouth Grammar School from 2011-2012, during which time she worked on a variety of projects, offering guidance to many PGS pupils. Christine was also a teacher of art at Portsmouth Grammar School for many years, before retiring to live and work in France. During a recent exhibition of her work at Portsmouth Cathedral, she made time for an interview with Portsmouth Point to talk about her work:

The Forest of Philosophers by Christine Derry

You were born in Stoke on Trent, did that have an influence on your artistic direction into ceramics?

Probably.  It wasn’t a conscious desire to follow a tradition, but it surrounded me as a child and I loved making mud pots.  I remember reading a book when I was eleven or twelve  about two girls who lived next to a lady, Mrs Gascoigne, who had a pottery in her basement.  The girls often visited this eccentric (considered so in those days) lady who wore a smock and was generally very colourful.  I thought, I want to be that lady!  When I was about 50, something reminded me about this story and the potter, and I realised with great joy that I had become Mrs Gascoigne. However, everyone is more colourful these days so now she and I wouldn’t be considered particularly noteworthy. Who knows what effect the subconscious has on our destinations.

Art has always been my raison d’etre, I see this in some of the children that I teach; it is what you are and what motivates you.  My father was part of the old tradition and wanted me to have a “proper job”; art to him was a hobby.  He would not let me go to Art School.  I went to a good secondary modern, in Portchester (we moved to the South because my father was in the Navy), and I managed to pass quite a few GCEs, but left school at 16.  No one encouraged  you to do A-Levels then; it was the 1960s, jobs were plentiful, so you were encouraged to go out to work.  College for me was simply not an option.  My first job was as an invoice clerk at Schweppes and then at an accountants and then, for my father, the pinnacle of respectability the Civil Service. I think I was very unsuited to all of these jobs, I know I hated them.

Were you involved with art during this time?                    

by Christine Derry
I have always drawn, painted or made things.  After marriage and two children, I stopped working (being in paid employment, that is).  Later I began going to evening classes.  Funnily enough, I began going to French classes I don’t know why, but I am interested in etymology, the derivation of words and all that, anyway, now I live in Brittany, so it turned out to be very useful.  The next thing was pottery classes, I was in my early twenties.  A friend of mine had made a pot and I thought “Oh, I’d love to do that”, so I just went along.  It was love at first touch.  Pretty soon I had to get my own wheel and kiln because I wasn’t satisfied with the once-a-week class and the time it took to fire the work.  I created my own studio in my mother’s garage and she lent me the money to buy my own kiln and I managed to pay her back by selling my work.  My pottery teacher and friend, Ken, suggested that I should try teaching evening class and that’s what took me into education.  I started by teaching adults and then did my B.Ed at Portsmouth Poly, as it was then.  It was the best thing that I could have done.  It was so good to meet so many like-minded and artistic people.

I enjoyed teaching adults but I think that teaching children has been ultimately more rewarding.  What I think appeals about ceramics or pottery, is that there is no interruption between brain and hands, it is immediately creative and fulfilling.  Many children who may not be so confident with drawing and painting, love clay work; it is such a natural thing, it can fulfil something that is missing, particularly in these days of computers and all the televisual stuff.  I refused to have a computer in my classroom, it was a last bastion of sorts.  I felt children needed somewhere they could have a direct, unmediated encounter with the artistic process.

Tell me about your own work.

Millennium Arch
by Christine Derry
I love to work big.  This is not easy with the medium of clay.  However, I am privileged to have been invited to create a couple of very large arches, one at KCS and one at PGS.  I have made other public pieces but my own work has been involved with religion and the hypocrisy I see therein.  The results of this particular line of thinking are lurking about my garden.  My garden is full of weird things, including bits of PGS pupils’ work that they left behind and odd metal things that I pick up at French car boot sales. I really love sculpture in landscapes. Henry Moore’s Sculpture Park in Yorkshire is Mecca.

Living in France has given me the space to surround myself with stuff that I find visually stimulating and also to have two big studios. I continue to make smaller things for fun and do a bit of teaching with local ex pats like me.

You are a painter as well as a sculptor.  Do they satisfy different needs?

Sleeping Nude
by Christine Derry
Drawing is fundamental to any art. If you want to sculpt people, for example, you have to understand anatomy and how the body looks when it moves, so life drawing is essential to my work.  Drawings and paintings are what they are when you create them; ceramic pieces, however, needs the firing process. You have less control over the end results.  The firing process can be magical but it can also make you cry. For me, ceramics is magical, I love the smell of it. Actually, I also love the smell of oil paints, linseed oil and turps! They should create a perfume or room spray based art! 

I think I love all aspects of creativity, drawing, painting, potting, sculpture, interior design, gardening, textiles and on and on.  I guess that’s the point of my art and my philosophy if I have such a thing: no boundaries. 

Visit Christine Derry's website here to find out more about her work.