A Conversation With Billy Lloyd

Conversations

Ceramicist Billy Lloyd’s work is beautifully understated. His interest in ceramics is borne from a fascination with form and functionality: he designs domestic scale objects, which are designed and made to be used. We met him in his studio to discuss his training, inspiration and growing range of products.

Billy’s Cockpit Arts studio is an expression of his style: very clean, very calm and very refined, and flooded with sunshine. The view, of Deptford’s industrial skyline, is one of which Lloyd is proud: he has lived and worked in South London since he moved from his home in Oxfordshire to study at Camberwell School of Art.

IT’S BRILLIANT TO MEET YOU AT LONG LAST – WE’VE CERTAINLY ADMIRED YOUR WORK FOR A LONG TIME! SO TELL US, HOW DID YOU BECOME A CERAMICIST?

I studied art and design all the way up through school – we had a great art department, and I made my first pot when I was thirteen. After an Art Foundation course I studied Ceramics at Camberwell. I enjoyed the rigour of my BA and it encouraged the development of my aesthetic and conceptual approach. I hope my work has always had a coherency, but it was during my last year that I developed a strong direction – I used the wheel to create thrown and constructed sculptural forms of an ‘industrial aesthetic.’

LOOKING AROUND YOUR STUDIO, WE’D SAY THAT DESCRIBES YOUR WORK PERFECTLY. SO WHAT HAPPENED AFTER CAMBERWELL?

I had a very positive response to my degree show and subsequently exhibited the collection at Hatfield House before it travelled to a gallery in Amsterdam. Following that, I heard that Lisa Hammond, a well known soda-firing potter, was looking for a new apprentice. We met and decided that I would assist her for one year at her pottery in Greenwich. Our aesthetics are quite divergent: Lisa’s work is more gestural then mine, but working with her gave me the chance to learn about the work of another maker, to develop my throwing skills and also get an insight into running a business.

I HOPE MY WORK HAS ALWAYS HAD A COHERENCY, BUT IT WAS DURING MY LAST YEAR AT CAMBERWELL THAT I DEVELOPED A STRONG DIRECTION AND STARTED TO DESIGN IN AN ‘INDUSTRIAL AESTHETIC’

WHAT HAPPENED ONCE THE YEAR WAS OUT?

I was contacted by Julian Stair. He heard about my work through his former assistant Carina Ciscato, who had been my tutor briefly at Camberwell. It was perfect timing: my apprenticeship with Lisa was coming to an end and his apprentice was leaving. Julian and I share similar aesthetic sensibilities, and I immediately knew the position was right for me; following a successful trial I stayed for four years. During that time I assumed a lot of responsibility in the studio and became immersed in his work. Julian has a scholarly approach to art, design and craft and, increasingly, his work involves installations. It was very insightful working with him on projects such as the installation he made for prominent collector and patron Sarah Griffin at her family home in Kensington Park Gardens. Julian was given a small room for which he designed and made a series of wall mounted and freestanding ceramic ‘Grounds’ (plinths), which he dressed with Cups, Teapots and Caddies.

JULIAN HAS A SCHOLARLY APPROACH TO ART, DESIGN AND CRAFT AND, INCREASINGLY, HIS WORK INVOLVES INSTALLATIONS. IT WAS VERY INSIGHTFUL WORKING WITH HIM ON PROJECTS

YOU MUST HAVE LEARNT A HUGE AMOUNT.

Definitely – most of my current collection was born out of work that I developed at Julian’s studio. He gave me guidance and offered critiques of my work. We had a flexible working arrangement and ultimately everything I did with Julian contributed to my own progression; he is a great teacher and I feel privileged to have worked so closely with him. It was also through Julian that I met Priscilla Carluccio and got involved with Few and Far.

THAT MUST HAVE BEEN REALLY EXCITING – AND A GREAT ENDORSEMENT OF YOUR WORK.

Absolutely. I met Priscilla in Julian’s studio at the beginning of 2008; she wanted some of Julian’s work prior to the opening of Few and Far and I was in the studio. Priscilla saw some of my work in progress and commissioned a small order for the opening. This led to further orders and in 2010 I was asked to take part in ‘Billy Lloyd and Friends.’ This was a great opportunity because I got to curate the show in collaboration with Priscilla and therefore show some of my work alongside others whom I really admire.

SO HOW DID YOU END UP AT COCKPIT ARTS?

Well, I applied for the Cockpit Arts award, was awarded a grant of £4000, and moved in in June 2011. The grant roughly equates to rent and business mentoring for one year. For an emerging designer it is a dream come true: it gives you time and space to develop a commercial direction and ensure that your business model is viable. Cockpit Arts is an inspiring environment and community to work in. Not only are you surrounded by similar minds and ambitions of other makers, but also the staff are there to help you with your strategic plans.

FOR AN EMERGING DESIGNER, A STUDIO AT COCKPIT ARTS IS A DREAM COME TRUE: IT GIVES YOU TIME AND SPACE TO DEVELOP A COMMERCIAL DIRECTION AND ENSURE THAT YOUR BUSINESS MODEL IS VIABLE

AND IT’S A BEAUTIFUL SPACE! SO WHAT HAVE YOU DONE SINCE YOU MOVED TO COCKPIT?

Well, towards the end of last year I made An Edition Of Fifty Mugs, each of a unique design in five geometric shapes. The Mugs were for sale individually but Vicky Conran purchased the whole set for Terence’s Christmas present. That was a great endorsement of an idea that I had been developing over a long period of time, and a real highlight of my career so far.

THAT’S AMAZING – YOU MUST HAVE BEEN THRILLED. I WONDER IF HE USES THEM…

Terence kindly wrote me a letter in the New Year to say how pleased he was to have received them and was designing some shelves for them in their kitchen at Barton Court. I’d like to think they use them…

IT MUST HAVE BEEN A CLUE THAT YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK?

Well, all my work is of thrown and glazed porcelain, and designed with function in mind. It’s my intention to combine a clarity of design with the nuances of making by hand. The collection of objects I have designed all emerge from a similar, conical form. I find this restrained approach very liberating and it results a conspicuous structure. Lots of my ideas for new work are generated when I see my own work outside my studio: I’m really interested an object’s relationship to space and the materials that surround it. One day I hope to design objects in other materials – eating and drinking from my Plates, Bowls and Mugs has drawn my attention to my innate desire to design cutlery, glassware, and furniture.

SO WHAT NEXT?

As well as developing my existing range, I have been commissioned by SE5 Architects to create 100 unique pendant lights for each of the two new houses they have designed and are building in Camberwell. I have been interested in incorporating lighting into my portfolio for sometime now and to complement the occasion, I will create an exhibition of tableware for the opening of the houses. I’m also excited to be working with the tea brokers Lalani & Co. to create a bespoke teapot to complement their fine, loose-leaf teas. A range of my work will soon be sold at Mill Goods in New Hampshire USA, a new design store from Sophie Dahl’s brother Luke Kelly and also at Fennica in Beams Department Store, Tokyo from September. More recently, Feathers Fashion in Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, have taken on a selection of my ceramics.

I FIND THIS RESTRAINED APPROACH VERY LIBERATING AND IT RESULTS A CONSPICUOUS STRUCTURE

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE IN YOUR RANGE?

I think the teapot is the pinnacle of my range. It’s the hardest piece to create and for that reason I am most proud of it. I applied a methodical approach to the design and making of my Teapot: I cut my teeth on other objects first, learning to throw a vessel and pull a handle when making Stacking Mugs; the versatility of a spout from Jugs and my Lidded Jars incorporated lids to my craft. Once I’d learnt to create all of the components, I felt ready to put them together and produce a Teapot. It continues to challenge me and therefore evolves as my skill, opinion and range develops.

WE HAD NO IDEA TEAPOTS WERE SO TRICKY! WE’LL LOOK AT THEM WITH NEW RESPECT. AND WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING IN YOUR HOME?

A brilliant folding stool by Pinch – I exchanged some Large Dishes and Lidded Jars with Russell Pinch for it.

I THINK THE TEAPOT IS THE PINNACLE OF MY RANGE. IT’S THE HARDEST PIECE TO CREATE AND FOR THAT REASON I AM MOST PROUD OF IT

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