Kay Aplin

The Ceramic House

Words by Jenni Davidson

When Kay Aplin shows me her bathroom – not normally on show to the public – one wall is covered in plain white tiles, the kind you get in DIY stores. That is quite a surprise for a ceramic artist known for decorating every surface in a riot of colour and texture. It’s like spotting a famous food critic eating in McDonalds. How can she resist such a blank canvas?

It seems that she can’t, because the room is in the process of being changed, with one wall being set with Portuguese blue and white tiles – a mixture of imports and her own versions – and the white tiling soon to be replaced with a new artwork.

There is a serious commitment involved for any artist running an open house, but Aplin has gone further than most, transforming her entire living space into a permanent display.

She specialises in public art, and the house and garden are covered in leftovers from various commissions. Outside the walls are decked with pink and orange tiles from her Llanbradrach Follies, while the kitchen is tiled in Tudor-themed leftovers from another project at Hampton Court Palace. In the upstairs en-suite more Llanbradrach chevrons and spirals, this time in shades of blue and green, combine with textured glass reworked from an old college project.

“It’s a living artwork,” she says. “I love living here.”

The artist first opened The Ceramic House to the public during the Artists Open Houses in 2011 and last year it won the Best House award. This year though, she is taking things to another level with a themed exhibition of Danish ceramics.

The exhibition, called Fantastic Tales, with reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, will feature 15 of the foremost contemporary Danish ceramicists. From the fragile sweep of Mette Maya Gregersen’s waves to the wood-fired fantastical creatures of Sten Lykke Madsen, it will showcase the diversity of current Danish ceramic art.

“The Danish artists are so excited about this,” she says. “They normally exhibit in white cubes.”

Aplin fell into curating through running The Ceramic House and has discovered that selecting artwork is something she really loves.

“The curating has become a really important part of it. That’s a real buzz.”


Among the artists she has chosen for the exhibition are Copenhagen Artists Association’s Artist of the Year 2013 Pia Lund Hansen, British Ceramics Biennial 2013 prize nominee Malene Hartmann Rasmussen and Karen Harsbo, who lectures at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art.

Harsbo and ceramic and performance artist Christin Johansson have also been asked to give lectures at the University of Brighton while they are here.

Johansson has put together a brand new work which she will perform in the basement of The Ceramic House. The piece will be videoed and shown as an installation in situ along with the set.

Harsbo’s work, some of which was exhibited at last year’s British Ceramics Biennial, explores the transfer of ideas and materials between cultures and her fascination with the history of porcelain.

Fantastic Tales came out of a residency Aplin spent at Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center in Denmark last year. It was her first artist’s residency and marked a departure for her, which she hopes will lead to a new way of working and more exhibiting.

Normally she undertakes public art commissions and the residency provided the rare freedom to work on a project of her own choosing. The resulting large-scale work will be shown in The Ceramic House and at European Ceramic Context 2014 on the Danish island of Bornholm.

With so much to cram into The Ceramic House, what will happen when there is no more space? Aplin admits she likes the idea of buying another house to decorate and perhaps turning it into a B&B. The Ceramic Street? Maybe next year.

The Ceramic House will be open weekends from 3 to 25 May.


Art Listings May 2014

7 May
Yinka Shonibare in conversation with Hofesh Shechter
HOUSE 2014 invited artist Yinka Shonibare talks to Brighton Festival guest director Hofesh Shechter about his new commission, The British Library, and the significance of HOUSE festival’s theme of migration, territory and refuge to each of them.
Sallis Benney Theatre, University of Brighton, 58-67 Grand Parade, Brighton

3 to 25 May
Artists Open Houses
All over Brighton and Hove and beyond artists open up their homes for four weekends in May to sell their wares in a domestic setting. Pick up a brochure and map and blaze a trail of tea, cake and creativity across the city.

3 to 25 May
Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time No. 2
Hundreds of pendulums suspended from the ceiling move in time to any movement in an installation by choreographer William Forsythe that references the building’s future use as a dance space for the city.
The Old Municipal Market, Circus Street, Brighton

3 to 25 May
The British Library
The shelves of the Old Reference Library are colourful books bound in Yinko Shonibare’s signature wax cloth, on whose spines read the names of immigrants such as Henry James, TS Eliot, Hans Holbein and Zaha Hadid who have made special contributions to British culture.
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton

31 May
Brighton Fringe Urban Artfest
Some of the biggest names in street art, including RYCA, Cassette Lord, Zeus, Pure Evil, Jo Peel and Hutch will create paint and stencil work live on location in the warehouse space of Brighton’s old market.
The Old Municipal Market, Circus Street, Brighton