• Mary McCarthy

Gone to Pot!

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

How Picasso's pots charmed me...

Graphic design is my business but my first love has always been art.

I attended Wimbledon School of Art and went on to study typographic design at the London College of Printing. I have always delighted in the order and visual impact of graphic design and my love of type has persisted throughout my career.

But in 2015 I took a trip to the Côte d’Azur. For some time, I had wanted to see the Chapel at Vence where Matisse had designed magnificent stained glass windows in his final years. I had seen Alastair Sooke moved to tears in a BBC documentary, when he had visited and had marvelled at the Matisse Cut-outs shown in abundance at the Tate Modern exhibition, this being the technique he had used to create the maquettes for the window design. I love to be surrounded by colour so Matisse and his vibrant palette has always appealed to me enormously. How glorious it would be to see the sun streaming through those panes with heavenly reflections dancing on the chapel floor.



Truth be told, when I did actually get there, it was rather crowed and far less ethereal than I had anticipated…but none the less the colour and spectacle were intense.

This was an organised trip though that also took in an excursion to Château Grimaldi in Antibes where Picasso had a studio in 1946. It is now a dedicated museum to him set beside a glittering sea and dancing in that unique sunlight that draws artists from all over the globe to this corner of France.

It’s true what they say…there is a clarity of light there that surpasses any other.

Everyone knows about Picasso as a painter, but I was not acquainted with his printmaking or ceramics. His plates of ceramic food and quirky pots were a revelation. Many resembled squat figures, their handles looped defiantly, mimicking hands on hips….full of character and humour. I’m not even sure if every form was handcrafted by Pablo but certainly, the decoration was uninhibited, spontaneous and joyful. I was inspired to sign up for a ceramics course on my return….and I’ve been hooked ever since.



It’s a bit of a leap of faith to try something new. To learn to ‘learn’ again or run the risk of failing. We are pre-programmed to say “Oh I couldn’t do that…I don’t have the time” …or “I was no good at art at school…I’ll show myself up” but the truth is that by having a go, you may just stumble across a new, as yet, untapped talent or shock, horror…acquire a skill in or knowledge of, something you really enjoy.

The first monstrous lumps I made were thick, clumsy and non functional…most of which now weigh down grass bags or act as pot stands in my garden but it did not diminish my enthusiasm. It was the effect on my psyche that was most important. I wasn’t struggling through ‘creative block’ in front of the screen or searching the far reaches my brain for another inventive logo solution…I was just ‘being’.

My days of ‘mucky play’ when I can immerse myself in clay, work as a perfect foil to the precision of my ‘day job’. It’s so easy to forget your anxieties or the pressures of every day life and allow the creativity to flow. For me, it’s a bit like a meditation. I simply ‘zone out’. The unpredictability of the kiln brings many surprises…ceramics is after all, pure alchemy, and I like the unpredictable nature of the firing. I don’t yet fully understand the nuances of glazes, cone temperatures and ‘throwing’, but I’m getting there slowly. As I continue to learn and experiment, the pursuit of colour and decoration remains my focus and the joy that ceramics brings to me, I hope is reflected in my continuing efforts.

I was recently welcomed into my local fraternity of ‘Carshalton Artists’ and for the first time was persuaded to exhibit at their annual summer Open Studios Event this month. It’s taken years for me to gain confidence as a ‘Designer’ and it’s a title that sits comfortably with me now and defines me completely. But to be considered as a ceramic ‘Artist’ too, well that would be quite something else….the journey continues.

https://www.thegoodlifefrance.com/the-story-of-the-matisse-chapel-in-vence-south-of-france

https://www.seeantibes.com/sights/religious/chapelle-du-rosaire

http://www.antibes-juanlespins.com/culture/musee-picasso


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Website and Images © Mary McCarthy Design

Profile Picture courtesy of John Cassidy

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Homepage Image by ilbusca courtesy of iStock

Package images courtesy of Aidan McCarthy