BBC pottery judge: artists shouldn’t be defined by gender

Anthony Lycett

Kate Malone is best known in Hackney for her giant ceramic fish in Hackney Marshes and a jug and bowl-shaped fountain in Homerton Hospital. Her other work, though, has been exhibited in museums in London and Los Angeles.

Malone has been based in Hackney since 1986, but has recently become a cult figure as a presenter and judge on BBC2’s The Great Pottery Throw Down. The show’s second series, which hopes to match the average of 2.39 million viewers per episode which the first achieved, concludes at the end of this month.

She explains that “one of the reasons I’m doing [The Great Pottery Thrown Down] is because I believe that making craft is very good for children at a young age.” Growing up in Bristol and studying at “a big rough comprehensive school” meant that arts and crafts were a key part of Malone’s upbringing.

“I was lucky enough to have craft as part of the curriculum and I’m very sad that the kids don’t have these days,” she laments. “It creates a nation full of people that can use their hands with confidence, which suits every job, whether you’re writing or doctoring or whatever.”

Malone’s work ranges from labour-intensive and expensive decorative arts, to public pieces for schools, parks, hospitals and libraries in the local area. “I believe that art in public places can enhance one’s life,” she says.  “I make pieces which range from £10 to £1.5million; ceramics really spreads itself across all things from buildings to eggcups.”

After initially moving to Hackney in the 1980s “because the rent was cheap,” Malone decided to stay put due to the high numbers of artists in the area. She was one of around ten artists who helped to set up Hackney Contemporaries in 1993, seeking to promote the ceramics, architectural glass, applied art, textiles and decorative trimmings produced within the borough. She now produces her latest works from her Balls Pond studio in De Beauvoir, which she built herself.

“At one point, Hackney had the densest population of artists per square mile in Europe,” she says.

“There’s such an amazing availability of skills and craft here. Obviously artists move to areas where space isn’t so expensive, but for me it was also because it’s such a brilliantly mixed area in all sorts of ways.”

Adrian Sassoon
Image: Adrian Sassoon

What makes pottery special?

“It’s a very primordial thing that connects people back to the earth. The benefit of making pottery is that you have the pleasure in the doing, the pleasure in the learning and then you have something you can give to someone at the end.”

Despite pottery being an industry dominated by women, Malone is keen to stress that an artist’s identity ought not to be defined by their gender. “I don’t think about whether I’m a woman or a man,” she says, “I think about whether I’m a potter.

“I don’t know whether [pottery’s] domestic association plays a part, but it’s not one of my concerns – it’s about what people do and what they can do, not their gender.”

She does, however, cite Mother Nature as her inspiration, calling her “the ultimate woman.” That relationship with nature is something that certainly comes across in her work. She also admits that her art is distinctly female. “I don’t think my work would be the same if I was a man; my work is definitely a woman’s work.”