An excerpt of an interview with ceramic artist and psychoanalyst Fenella Elms published in Lucky Compiler earlier this year.
Born in 1964 it is not until she turned 40 that Fenella Elms’s actively started modelling dreams on potter’s wheel. She was working as an Occupational Therapist for National Health Services then and found it befitting to create structures and patterns using ceramics as a medium. A recipient of Ceramic Review Award for Exceptional, Innovative and Challenging work at Ceramic Art London, Royal College of Art in 2011 Fenella’s work is a narration in ‘fragile permanence’.
All through your career as a psychoanalyst you have been associated with work that has great scientific and social value. But the art is more relevant to your artistic self besides giving pleasure to the observers. How does this shift feel? Is it more spiritually fulfilling?
My art work would not be anything without my growth through past experiences, particularly in the NHS (our national health service) but I mourn the passing of mental health services in the NHS. When I moved out of London to Wiltshire, the decline in services was immediately obvious – outside London most mental health services are run by charities: I know many experienced and talented professionals who have gradually left and not been replaced: it is a great tragedy to our country. I worked outside London for 10 years before slowly withdrawing as the ceramics took off; I miss it and only feel sad about the loss of excellent teams and services that I was proud to be a part of.
You value the minor scars, blemishes, spots, cracks etc that is part of the whole process of narrative. Yet you are also a perfectionist when it comes to preserving the intricacy of the work. How do you balance and harmonise these two seemingly opposite thought processes? On a lighter note, have any of your errors, small or big, eventually resulted in a more appealing work of art than originally planned?
I wince at ‘perfectionist’! Certainly I don’t like complacency and continually strive to improve and develop, but if something is perfect it can’t be improved and, magically, things can only be ‘perfect’ when they are often imperfect technically but meaningful emotionally. It’s finding that illusive place beyond technical perfection.
Yes, I have masses of mistakes. The only way to survive the wave of disappointments is to realise that they are a necessary step along the way to the successes. I spend most of my time thinking, a lot of my time making experiments and a little of my time making things that get out into the world. There is a wonderful new ceramics department at the Victoria and Albert museum and I love the exhibit of a crashed pile of plates from Delft, 100s of years old; the shelves collapsed in the firing and thank goodness they didn’t throw it away because it makes a fascinating sculpture.
I am loving the new challenges of collaborating with others: I like that many components make something together, different to the parts, and that similarly collaborations go to new places.
Image Source: The artist Fenella Elms