Turning point

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From the IAR Archive
Frances McDonald traces some pivotal moments in Sara Flynn’s career as her first solo exhibition in London continues

In an exhibition in 2011, by final year students from the Crawford College of Art & Design, three former graduates, including Sara Flynn, were invited to exhibit current work alongside pieces from their graduate collections. Anyone familiar with her work would certainly have recognized Sara Flynn’s student pieces in the show, for hers has not been a journey of dramatic twists and turns.  Instead it’s been a steady, constant exploration of form, which began at the Crawford in the 1980s when she first got her hands on clay and realized that this was the way she would articulate herself.  Slowly developing her craft, Flynn has continued over the years to improve her skill and increase her understanding of material which is why she now finds herself on the cusp of a new phase of her international career.

For Flynn, the emphasis has always been on resolving questions about form, even sometimes revisiting older work, but always moving forward. There have been a number of milestones along the way.

Ask her now about those early pieces and Flynn is keen to emphasize that she has always retained work in order ‘to provide the context of where I started and see how work has developed’.  For Flynn, the emphasis has always been on resolving questions about form, even sometimes revisiting older work, but always moving forward. There have been a number of milestones along the way. In 2005 an opportunity to exhibit in ‘Forty Shades of Green’ allowed her to show non-functional sculptural vessels for the first time, while at SOFA Chicago in 2006, she was invited to exhibit, for the first time, on an international stage, alongside makers she admired and in the company of her international contemporaries.  She now admits that there were times, during this period, when she hoped a solo show might come her way but knows now that she would not have been ready.

Sara Flynn’s exploration of flat and narrow-based forms centers on the vessel. The rural environment of West Cork provided early inspiration but eventually made way for an increasing focus on process and material.  Today environment continues to play a vital part in feeding the work but now because it offers solitude and an opportunity to retreat from outside distractions to concentrate on making.  In her Gesture Vessels (Fig 1), a dark interior contrasts sharply with a lighter exterior in which a celadon glaze allows the subtle marking to tell its story, while her Hipped Vessels tell their own very different story, with curves and contours highlighted by a black glaze covering both the exterior body and interior space.  Flynn is profoundly interested in the notion of space; how it exists all around us and the idea that these vessels contain and hold it. She quotes a line from Zen and the Art of Pottery, by Kenneth R Beittel, which talks of interior space having ‘separated out a meaningful space from all possible space, and given it wholeness and quality’. A strong black glaze also covers the interior space in her Junction Vessels (Fig 2), however here it’s taken back at the rim to expose junctions where the viewer is invited to stop and pause.

In 2010 Flynn showed in COLLECT for the first time, an exhibition that proved to be the next turning point as it brought her work to the attention of Anita Besson, owner of Gallery Besson, one of Britain’s leading 20th-century and contemporary ceramics galleries whose exhibition archive features such luminaries as Hans Coper, Lucie Rie and Jennifer Lee. In 2011 Besson retired and the torch was passed onto Erskine Hall & Coe; however the relationship with Flynn continued. Then came the offer of a solo show from director Matthew Hall and this time she was ready. I recently visited Sara Flynn in her studio where she was preparing to send work to London. In addition to the work already described, new surfaces and textures will tell new stories but for Sara Flynn one thing remains constant: honesty and integrity as the work continues its forward journey.

Sara Flynn ‘Solo Show’ Erskine, Hall & Coe, London until 6 December 2012; Irish Craft Portfolio: Critical Selection at the National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny from 25 January 2013.
Frances McDonald is an independent advisor and project manager working primarily in the craft sector.  

From the IAR Archive
First published in the Irish Arts Review Vol 29, No 4, 2012