Ceramicist Alice Mara creates 3D clay houses

We talk to the cutting-edge ceramic artist about her technical clay creations

Alice Mara holding a ceramic house sculpture outside of her workshop

What’s your background?
I grew up in Walthamstow. As a child, I attended a local Saturday ceramics club – I was totally hooked. I then completed a Ceramics degree at Harrow College and a Masters at The Royal College of Art. Five years ago I moved to Lewes and have a studio nearby.

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Open notebooks filled with sketches in Alice Mara's studio

Can you tell us about your early designs?
My pieces involve the use of ceramic transfers. I take photographs of real people, buildings and objects, and apply them as digital transfers onto ceramics. My initial work concentrated on decorating simple shapes, but over the last five years my style has become extremely detailed, with a focus on bespoke glazed ware for commemorative 3D house containers, jars and lamps. My approach is very poignant with a contemporary edge and an element of the unexpected.

An array of ceramics waiting to be fired in Alice Mara's workshop

What have been the defining moments of your career?
A show in 2010 at the Eagle Gallery, opened by Grayson Perry, put my new work on the map. I exhibited a collection of 22 houses from Walthamstow High Street, along with seven commemorative pots. Winning the Ottilie Helen Wallace prize for female sculpture at the Royal Scottish Academy in 2016 was also a special moment.

‘My approach is very poignant with a contemporary edge and an element of the unexpected.’

Who has had the most influence on your work?
My dad, Tim Mara. He worked as an artist and teacher for 25 years and later became Head of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art. He died very suddenly at 48 and his work is now included in many collections and galleries. His paintings captured objects as seen in the moment and I am hugely influenced by him. In my work, something beautiful is always countered with small details of something horrible – a dustbin liner or an empty crisp packet. It keeps it real.

Alice Mara painting one of her ceramic houses in her workshop

How do you make one of your bespoke houses?
Clients send photos of their house, family and pets, who appear in the windows. The 3D house is built from slabs of rolled out clay that are cut to size using a simple paper template and left to harden. The slabs are stuck together and the piece is put into the kiln for the first firing and then the glaze. Digital images are printed onto tattoo-like film using ceramic toner that enables the image to be transferred from paper to pot. The glazed ware is fired again.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve just completed a 3D French farmhouse – a surprise present for a client’s husband.

One of Alice Mara's ceramic creations

What are your future plans?
I’ve started to work on a new collection of 3D interior sculptures and sculpted 3D figures. I want to bring to life everyday things and settings: a narrative of time, fashion and social awareness. I’m also very excited to have a piece of work through to the second round of The Royal Academy of Arts’ 250th anniversary Summer Exhibition. Crossing the divide between craft and fine art has always been important to me.

You can visit Alice at Long Barn Studios, Upper Lodge in East Sussex (by appointment only). Want to see more of Alice’s wonderful ceramics? Head to alicemara.com.

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Images: Alun Callender