Photograph of Ann Stokes hanging upside down from a tree in her back garden at 10 Church Row, 1973
This week we are celebrating 100 years since the birth of the eminent British artist-potter, Ann Stokes. Often depicting animals and natural forms, Stokes' earthenware ceramic sculptures are renowned for their vibrancy, animation and directness. The Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery was privileged to represent Stokes' work throughout the last two decades of her life.
Ann Stokes, Hanging Fish, c.1995, glazed ceramic clay, wire chain, 39 x 35 cm
Ann Stokes was born in 1922 in Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland, to a family of four children. Her father, David Mellis, was a Scottish Presbyterian minister. Following a lively and creative childhood, Ann moved to Carbis Bay, Cornwall, in 1940 at the age of 17 to live with her sister, Margaret Mellis, and her sister's husband, the author, artist and art historian, Adrian Stokes, whom Ann would go on to marry in 1947.
These years of Ann's life proved to be highly formative and provided a foundation from which her artistic practice would grow in later years. She records this time as particularly busy with artist friends coming and going; Ann recalls sleeping in the corridor so that she could give Barbara Hepworth her bed, throwing balls on the beach for Naum Gabo's dog, and serving household meals off seconds from Bernard Leach's Pottery in nearby St. Ives.
Ann Stokes, Salt pot in the form of a bird, 1967, thrown and modelled clay, 10 x 14 cm
Ann began working with clay in 1957. Largely self-taught, she set up her pottery studio in the family's front room in their house on Church Row, Hampstead, where she began producing pots and ceramic sculptures for a number of friends and clients.
Over the following decades, Stokes established a successful career for herself; she was the first modern potter to ever exhibit at the Hayward Gallery in 1985, and her ceramics were sought after by notable collectors - including William Coldstream, Richard Wollheim, John Golding and David Sylvester.
Photograph of the Ann Stokes mural at the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery kitchen, 2a Conway Street
Gesture is an essential presence in Ann's work. Her fascination with line and movement is apparent in her expressive ceramic sculptures - from her boldly moulded tree trunks entrusted with delicate flowers and owls, to her flat, glistening turbot casserole pots with removable lids, and the enormous rhinoceros soup tureen she made for Ernst Gombrich and Ilse Heller.
The movement of her pieces is inspired by her love of dance. She would later write: ‘Pottery and ballet have spin, balance, and line in common.'
Ann Stokes, A hand-painted teacup from the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery kitchen, 1999
Expressively painted and moulded, Stokes’ numerous animal sculptures seek to re-imagine the properties of clay. Her child-size ceramic sculptures of crocodiles, birds, fish and fauna are uncompromising and assertive celebrations of the natural world. Stokes' work draws from numerous sources, from Mediterranean vernacular pottery to the work of Bernard Leach, antique cretan pots and Picasso's Vallauris ceramics.
‘Ann Stokes is a purely instinctive artist,’ wrote the art historian, John Golding, in 1998. ‘She pots as others might sing or hum to themselves, or as we all - quite simply - breathe.’
Image of Ann Stokes in her mirror, 2007, taken by her son Philip Stokes.
Before being represented by the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, Ann used to exhibit her own work at her notorious annual Christmas pottery sales in her basement kitchen at their home on Church Row.
Inspired by this display context, the gallery is exhibiting its collection of Ann Stokes pottery in its very own kitchen - the walls of which are decorated with tiles painted by the artist.