Ceramic artist Matthew Raw on tiling stories, transportation by barge and post-industrial Manchester

Matthew Raw is a ceramic artist who seeks to push the possibilities of clay to communicate, and to challenge public perceptions of what it can do as a material. Based in East London, he is a co-founder of Studio Manifold in Hoxton, an artistic collective of nine Royal College of Art graduates, and has participated in group shows, collaborative projects and exhibitions in London, Munich, Copenhagen, Detroit and more.

He collected the Jerwood Prize in 2014 for 'The Shifting Spirit', a full-size interpretation of a tiled pub exterior now on permanent display at the Five Points Brewery in East London. He has recently been working with architecture collective Assemble for an Art on the Underground project at Seven Sisters Underground station. Matthew also runs practical public workshops in ceramics via rawceramicworkshops.com.

In May, Matthew is devoting his first solo exhibition to examining the relationship between shifting populations and the built environment through a series of eight sculptural ceramic artworks.

Supported by Arts Council England, 'Clad' takes place over 10 days at the Ragged School Museum in Tower Hamlets during London Craft Week. Each of Matthew's works will use ceramics as a means of engaging with Britain’s manufacturing past and its evolving craft culture. Over on our magazine Creative Boom, we spoke to Matthew to chat about ceramics, craft inspirations and the importance of history in manufacturing.

Tell us about where you studied and how you've got to where you are now

"My BA was in Brighton on the ‘Wood, Metal, Ceramics & Plastics’ course. It was super workshop based, and I got a good understanding of lots of materials and processes, and how to translate ideas into 3D objects. After graduating in 2006 I moved back to Manchester for a year, before heading to Denmark to do a six-month long residency. That’s when I became serious about using clay, and got onto the ‘Ceramics & Glass’ MA at the Royal College of Art, graduating there in 2010."

Did you always have a love of clay?

"Not at all. The art department at my high school didn’t waiver much from drawing and painting, and clay needs space and mess to exist comfortably, which for some reason ruled out six-form and foundation. It was only really on my degree that I had a proper go with clay, which I chanced upon because of the multi-material nature of the course. It was its immediacy that instinctively drew me to it – you can shape anything, or an interpretation of anything, just by manipulating a ball of mud!"

Describe your process, how does an idea transform into a finished product?

"My work always starts life away from the studio. What am I thinking about, what do I want to convey? And then how can that translate into an interesting and eye-catching object? The majority of my time is spent working with clay, so naturally that crops up in my thinking more often than not, but I try to stay open and let the idea lead, and over the years have also made work with wood, resins and paper."

Let's talk about your exhibition – what's Clad all about?

"Clad is about the relationship between the urban environment and the transient populations that pass through it. There are numerous physical traces on the urban landscape that different cultures and social groups leave in a given area over time."

It's your first solo show. Has it been easy to put together?

"The idea for the show began on my residency at the V&A Museum in 2015. I was exploring ‘the tile’ and had access to their unbelievable archive of objects. There was no pressure to produce final pieces, so that experimental time was crucial to push ideas in a free environment. But I wanted the tests and concepts to develop, and that’s where ‘Clad’ came from. I found the Ragged School Museum, which is the perfect fit for the show complete with brilliant and supportive staff. After all of that it was a case of pulling the research together and communicating it to the Arts Council in a funding bid. At this stage it’s more of a logistical challenge marrying project management with intensive making in the studio, as the exhibition will be made up of entirely new work."

What is it about tiles that interests you in particular?

"It is ‘urban grids’ that I am particularly drawn to. Brick walls, tiled façades, paving, etc. I have come to realise that growing up in post-industrial Manchester has shaped this appreciation and aesthetic interest. A pre-Christmas visit to Lisbon really hammered home to me the international and historic significance that tiles have.

"Living in London surrounded by such a variety of interior and exterior architecture and building techniques provides me with a constant inspiration, as does travelling the Tube, which further localises my research."

Katy Cowan

Manchester, England,