As history has shown, times of crisis often operate as the catalyst for creativity and innovation. Moments of strife forces one to view the world from different eyes and experiment with new ideas. In walk Alma Berrow, a Londoner with an ardent eye for wacky juxtaposition and a brilliant artistic hand who during the trying months of lockdown took up ceramics for the first time.
As a magpie for all things absurd, when I discovered Alma's work my mouth began to foam. Alma has transformed the ancient art of ceramics into an unexpected commentary on everyday gritty objects. Her work often includes smoked cigarettes, eaten apples, opened ketchup packets, and teeth making for unique compositions of otherwise mundane objects. Never would I have thought the combination of a pile of cigarette butts residing in a seashell could provide such a beautiful lens.
In a short time, Alma has made waves in the art world garnering over 20,000 Instagram followers, features in several galleries, and collaborations with brands such as Bonne Suit and Liberty London. Distinctly recognizable, Alma has become one of the most revered ceramists of today.
To my delight, I had the chance to connect with Alma from across the pond. She lent me a bit of her busy schedule to answer my burning questions.
What prompted you during lockdown to take up ceramics?
My mother is a ceramicist and during the first lockdown, me and my sisters I all went home to Dorset. I had never really played with clay as was always my mum's thing. However, with suddenly nothing but time and wanting to create some buttons for a suit I made I gave it a go, that's where I and it all started.
What are two words you would use to describe your work?
Playful and debauched.
Where do you find inspiration?
In the everyday small details and funny moments. Greek Mythology. I also reference 50's & 60's cuisine a lot and their adverts, the monstrous food combinations (potatoes sauce, jello salad, pineapple on everything). It's classic, almost like the perfect doll's house vision of living but all so messed up. I used to read "the tale of two bad mice" and always wished I could live in a doll's house for a day surrounded by ceramic food, maybe I'm not so secretly making it a reality.
What has been the most pivotal moment of your journey as an artist?
My most pivotal moment would have been selling a piece of work in Sotheby's (Women) Artists 2021 auction. It's the largest singular piece I've made to date and to have it sit with so many great artists that I love and admire. Eeee. No words.
Favorite creation to date?
'Tale of the Tarot' which was displayed in the Timothy Taylor Summer Group Show 'IRL: In Real Life' curated by Tarka Russell. I made over 40 pieces for the tablescape and to see them all sit and fit together in the space was an incredible feeling and relief that every piece made it! It was also my first gallery show so the first time people were able to come and view and interact with my work. I loved people's reactions and feedback, after a year and a half of making I was so proud to produce that piece.
The items you choose to represent within your work are in many respects utilitarian yet when shown together create a peculiar assemblage. How do you decide what items to represent?
I guess, as mentioned above, I like to look at the everyday forgotten funny moments in the mundane...the orange peel used as an ashtray or the gum under the table. When isolated and immortalised in ceramic they are hysterical or at least I find them so. The items selected and their composition of them is super important as for me it needs to tell a clear narrative. The Ashtrays tell a story (be it one you've maybe forgotten from a glass too many), when making them as commissions I almost feel like I'm painting a portrait, capturing a moment and memory in someone's life.
A book you always return to?
Letters to a young poet. I've also gifted many copies.
A historical figure you most identify with?
Alma has two upcoming exhibitions in London. The first, E2, takes place at Among The Pines from September 15th to September 19th. The second, Cracked, will be on view at Tristan Hoare Gallery from September 23rd to October 30th.
Follow Alma on Instagram: @almaberrow
Follow Natalie on Instagram: @natalieealdridge
Check out more of Alma's work HERE.
Images: Alma Berrow