Meet the Maker: Charlie Russell

We first met artist Charlie Russell at an open studio whilst sourcing work from local artists and makers to accompany our Entangled: Threads & Making exhibition. It was there that Charlie's prototype House Goddesses caught our eye. Each one is entirely unique, lovingly made and glazed by hand, and fired at over 1000 degrees. Now, we're excited to offer an exclusive range of Charlie's work to purchase online. We caught up with her this week, to hear more about her practice.

How did you start making?
I have always found a joy and peace in making. I can’t remember a time when I haven't been making something alongside whatever else I have been doing, it is a compulsion and definitely part of maintaining my mental health.

I found that clay is the best medium for where my work was heading. That started at Clayspace Studios in Margate who were massively supportive and integral to my first steps. I discovered a group of incredible women and we support each other to create and push through any feelings of self doubt about our potential to make what we see and feel we need to.

Where do you create your work and where do you find inspiration?
I moved from working at Clayspace to production at home where I now have a small studio and kiln which keeps me closer to my children while I work.
The themes for my work come from within me, based on my personal experiences and perspective but are a reflection of bigger and more general themes I see reflected back at me in many different forms. The ancient archetypes of Woman, Mother & Goddess are found in every culture, religion and human story.

I am inspired by our gentle and powerful bodies, by images of women and nature from all cultures. I believe that to be authentic, resilient and powerful is fundamentally beautiful. The abiding natural world and women in community across time are the two themes that run through everything I make and think about. How we find our own way to connect to our ancient selves is the purpose of the objects I make.

Tell us about your process! What aspects do you enjoy the most?
I think it's very cathartic, mostly about processing my emotions and experiences, seeing how my experiences fit into a wider female experience while meditating on forms, shapes and feelings. I enjoy the complete absorption I can achieve, sometimes it's trance-like, other times it's conscious effort and application to a task which in itself is rewarding and meditative.

The process of making the Goddesses is long and requires timing and patience... basically what I need to learn anyway so it's an ongoing joke with myself! I enjoy the knowledge that I will be making for the rest of my life, it's very comforting and watching my skills develop and ideas change is the most exciting part.

How did the Goddesses come about? What do they mean to you?
I have always loved knowing about what people treasure and hold onto. House clearances and boot fairs are the places I go to be close to and understand our relationship with objects. The Goddesses are the expression of a lifetime of treasure hunting and collecting precious things. They are an expression of my love for the sacred object and my belief in its power as a steadfast and enduring force for love and hope.

They are inspired by all the victories and the heartbreaks that intertwine and beget each other throughout our choices and experiences. I made them for myself to start with, I wanted an object to hold and work out an emotion... to represent a trauma and make it a powerful experience rather than a negative one.

We all experience quiet personal challenges and huge grief. I wanted to recognise that... to answer it really with an object that you can make your own... something to represent an event, feeling, intention anything you want to focus on. I think there is an important meditation element to processing emotions and experiences and if we have an object that reminds us of our intended outcome of that processing it can act as a touchstone, useful full stop or a reminder of self belief.

I wanted to remind myself of and celebrate the power and resilience of women throughout history/humanity... that our experiences are a collective to draw comfort from. So many lives and loves and losses have gone before and go on alongside us. It keeps me aware that my individual experiences take place in a much bigger picture and I find that really helpful, it gives me perspective and peace.

What's your experience of being a maker in Margate?
I was born in Margate and my family is based here so I’ve always loved the area. I have received such lovely support from people, especially through Clayspace. I feel very grateful and inspired by what goes on in Margate.

Lastly, you live and work very close to Turner Contemporary. Has our exhibition programme influenced your practice?
The Animals & Us exhibition definitely influenced my work and the creation of Power Animals to accompany my Goddesses. Working alongside a gallery as closely as I do with Turner Contemporary is really stimulating and definitely adds an exciting dynamic to how I work.

Browse an exclusive range of Charlie's House Goddesses here and follow her work on Instagram.