Fine art and finding focus: in the studio with Freya Bramble-Carter
Freya Bramble-Carter is totally at home in her studio, rammed to the rafters as it is with handmade ceramic works. She shows no fear as she navigates shelf, floor and table space packed with rich and beautiful sculptures, vases and pots, waving away my concerns about causing a calamitous crash: ‘Oh, don’t worry, you won’t break anything’, she reassures me. I nod, unconvinced.
Having shared the upstairs space with her father Chris Bramble, where the two split the teaching of twice-daily classes of budding potters, she claimed her own downstairs studio a year ago. ‘I’m moving away from quite so much teaching’, she tells me, ‘because I feel like I’ve got something to say now in my practice. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say before.
‘I did a fine art degree at Chelsea, and I found it to be a very confusing experience. I’d been at the Brit School before, doing lots of paintings and expressive pieces. I did these small sculptures when I was about 16 – I was very drawn to just doing. I was lucky that Dad had a studio, and I could come in when nobody was here, and he’d fire them all for me.’
‘If you hold a piece of clay in your hand, if it relates to you, it’ll captivate you and take you on a journey. It’s very absorbing. Some people aren’t receptive, or maybe they’re addicted to other things. But I just followed this.
‘I grew up around clay, but by no means did I think I’d do it for a career. Actually, I thought the opposite. But then you go to college and they give you this blank cube of a studio, and you just think, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do with this?’ In the end, you learn and then you unlearn. The way it’s approached at college is very academic and conceptual – and actually I just wanted to be making.’
When Freya holds her pots, you feel that they’re an extension of her body. As she walks around the studio, she’s compelled to handle and caress the works: ‘Some people’, she says, ‘like a photographer, will be about the visual details. For me, it’s all about touch.’
When we discuss the feel of the pieces she’s made, it’s as if she’s discovering them herself for the first time as we talk. My suggestion that certain pieces are full of movement and vitality is met with surprise – ‘Oh yeah! You’re right – that’s so true’ – as opposed to an explanation of why.
‘It’s come full circle now since college. I’m kind of unlearning technically so that I can be more free flowing with my creativity. I’ve realised that creativity is the most important thing – that it’s the most valuable knowledge that all humans have. Most people block it out or say they can’t do it, but I think it’s a truth within us. It’s not something you can teach.’
While all of Freya’s pieces are likely to end up in someone’s home eventually, it’s only recently that she’s started to think about her work in a domestic context: ‘When you’re at home, you want peace, harmony and tranquillity. You need to be able to hit your reset button at home.
‘I want my pieces to be a source of energy and inspiration; they should be a message of oneness and wholesomeness. When someone looks at something and they’re amazed by it, they’ll feel a sense of love, connection or awe – and maybe it’s to do with the texture or the story, but they’ll just feel a big ‘Yes!’ And I get that. I love that.
‘In my own home, there are lots of pots – and quite a lot of students’ work that they were going to chuck in the bin. I sometimes use them to bake cakes. There are tons of objects – my mother’s puppets, my sister’s theatre stuff. They’re all things that keep me interested and keep my eyes rolling around the room. I think if I tidied up a bit, or if I had a blank space, it wouldn’t nourish me. It doesn’t feed me enough. Maybe I’m just not used to being under-stimulated.’
Freya’s natural connection with clay, manipulating and making with it, and wanting her creativity to take precedence over rigorous technique, is evident throughout our conversation: ‘For me, the whole point of art is not just to express yourself but also to help humanity with it. I don’t know if that’s naïve – my tutors used to tell me it was, albeit indirectly – but my reason for doing what I was doing was the opposite of everybody else’s. Everyone else was making art for the sake of causing an argument in the art world, whereas I was doing it to open up people’s minds.
‘I learnt the craft through teaching: it taught me, and then I taught it. It’s been a two-way street. At a certain point, you master your skill, and then you can do anything. You can fulfil any idea within that skill. That’s when you start to push things and define your style. Often this starts a debate about art versus craft, which I just can’t bear. I think my practice marries them both; I don’t see the need to separate them or define exactly what I’m doing. It’s an artistic practice, and that’s that.’
The idea of a disconnect between the art and the artist – that it’s a planned execution to spark a debate, as opposed to an expression of intrinsic creativity – doesn’t work for Freya: ‘It takes 95% of the time making the thing; only 5% is it being finished, an object you can look at and observe, and it includes the emotional and physical energy that I’ve put into creating it. All of me is in that.’
She might speak with confidence about her work, but she doesn’t think she’s got it all figured out. When I ask her about her proudest moment, she tells me, ‘I’m still learning so much about myself, learning how to be. I hope I haven’t had my proudest moment yet.’