Naomi Anderson-Subryan would spend a year trying to make it as an actor and another four years working in retail before realising that her calling was in the art world. After doing an art foundation at Camberwell College of Arts she decided to stay on to do a degree in illustration.
What is immediately clear from looking through the illustrator’s work is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her ceramics experiments are brilliantly bonkers, in particular the three-part ‘play’ she created for her degree show, where characters including a ceramic piggy bank, Siamese cat and cowboy on horseback took to the stage. We talk to her about choosing to study illustration, exploring the possibilities of ceramics and what her plans are for the future.
Creative Review: What led you to study illustration?
Naomi Anderson-Subryan: I don’t think I really knew what illustration was before I came to Camberwell, or I had a limited idea of what it was. But the way the tutors talked about the discipline helped me realise how exciting and boundless it is! I felt like all the things I wanted to do, be it printmaking, ceramics, film or set design, were possible within illustration. I have never felt restricted as an illustrator to work in one particular medium.
CR: Why do you particularly like working with ceramics?
NAS: I’ve always worked in 3D, it’s a large part of my practice. I used to make a lot of cardboard and papier-mâché props and sculptures, so moving into ceramics felt like a natural progression for me this year. With ceramics there is always an element of risk, because the kiln is not always on your side and you can’t know exactly how something will turn out until the very end.
Working with a material like clay has taught me patience and resilience. It’s always so rewarding to hold your finished, and hopefully unscathed, work in your hands for the first time. It takes weeks to get to that point and so when something is successful it feels amazing. Clay is also such a versatile material; it changes at every stage of the process from soft to rough to smooth to glossy. It amazes me every time to see the transformation.
CR: Has any creative in particular influenced your style of work?
NAS: I wouldn’t say that any one artist in particular has influenced my style of work. It’s probably an accumulation of lots of different things and people. I try to remain playful in my approach to making work and not to take myself too seriously.
I love using lots of colour and I’m a big believer of more is more. I think my work is inspired massively by the things that I like to surround myself with, I’m a huge lover and collector of kitsch. The ceramic rooms at the V&A is one of my favourite places to visit, if I ever feel uninspired I spend a day up there! The floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets are filled with all sorts of ceramics from all over the world.
CR: Tell us a little more about the work you did for your graduate show
NAS: It is called The Collection, and I like to refer to it as a ceramic three-act play of sorts. It consists of three static scenes depicting an anthropomorphised collection of 14 objects, including a clown, piggy bank, cottage teapot, Siamese cat, swan, tiger and a cowboy on horseback. Unfortunately, in this particular play a feather duster spells trouble for Mr Piggy Bank.
The research for my final piece centred around the weird and wonderful world of collectors, and in particular the narrative potential of objects within collections. I was fascinated by the notion that collections often outlive their collectors and would have all these stories of their own to tell, if only they could speak. I wanted to explore some of these conversations that occur between objects and bring them to life.
CR: What was the best thing you learned from your time at university?
NAS: Not to be too hard on myself. I know I can be my own worst critic and it can be prohibiting to your process to be so, especially if you look at everything that you make or do as a finished piece of work. I learned that I won’t love everything I make and that the process is just as important as the finished outcome, if not more so. The outcome ultimately is out of your hands, and once it’s done it may have a life of its own beyond your control.
CR: What’s keeping you busy now that you’ve graduated?
NAS: I have been working on a little collaboration with Jumbo Press, a risograph printers and publisher, so I am excited about that. I’m currently in the process of making them some ceramic elephant pots for a Kickstarter launching soon. It was an honour to be asked and I was given complete creative freedom to make something elephant themed. It’s still in the early stages but they’ve been super fun to work on so far.
CR: Your dream project, what would it be?
NAS: There are so many things that I would love to do and make, and I feel like I am just at the beginning of my ceramic journey having only really started working with the material back in January. I’ve been making these ceramic dog figures, loosely based on Staffordshire King Charles ceramic fireside dogs, also known as Wally Dogs.
I made a whole series of them to illustrate four scenes from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I’ve also made ones depicting Queen Elizabeth I of England and Marie Antoinette. I’d really love to make hundreds of them and see them on display somewhere all together, that would be really cool.