LONDON — Jonathan Anderson honored the eye, the hand — and the heart — on Thursday at the second annual Loewe Foundation Craft Prize during an emotional ceremony at London’s Design Museum that saw Dame Helen Mirren — and a few others — shed tears.
“I’m sorry to be emotional about it, but I am an actress, so that’s what I do,” said a choked-up — and Loewe-clad — Mirren before revealing Scottish ceramist Jennifer Lee as the winner.
Lee’s spare and elegant white clay vessel, which she made using ancient techniques, wowed a 10-strong team of judges who included Anderson, Spanish architect and industrial designer Patricia Urquiola and Enrique Loewe, honorary president of the brand’s foundation.
Mirren described the work of the 30 finalists for the prize as “deeply and profoundly” moving. “I’ve always loved craft because it seems to me that it carries our human history, I’ve always found engagement with the human hand a very, very profound experience in this world of so much violence and destruction. It’s very beautiful to see creativity.”
Lee, who is in her 60s and whose work is on show in more than 40 public collections worldwide, said in her brief, tearful, acceptance speech that in “the age of the digital and mechanical, it is mind-boggling to see posters about this craft prize on the Tube.”
During an interview later in the day, Lee said she’ll be using the 50,000 euros in prize money to extend her home studio in London. “It will be good to have a bit more space,” said the ceramist, who doesn’t use any glaze or other decoration in her work. Instead, she mixes metallic oxides into raw clay — sometimes decades in advance — and uses heat to draw out and fix the various colors that emerge as she creates her ceramics.
For her winning work, “Pale, Shadowed Speckled Traces, Fading Ellipse, Bronze Specks, Tilted Shelf, 2017,” Lee used ancient pinching and coiling techniques, wooden and metal tools, and burnished her vessel with stone.
“There was something quite peaceful about her work,” said Anderson in an interview after the prize giving. “You could see that she had built a language out of material, which I think is incredibly difficult to do — and it felt right. I am always fascinated by ceramics. I could never make them, so I look at them with awe.”
Some 30 craftspeople of various ages and nationalities competed for the prize, and their work will be on display at the Design Museum until June 17.
Honorable mentions were given to two of the candidates: Takuro Kuwata, for his porcelain, platinum and steel work; “Tea Bowl, 2017,” and Simone Pheulpin for “Croissance XL, (XL Growth), 2017.” Pheulpin worked thick strips of cotton and muslin into what resembled a large geological rock slab.
“What I noticed this year was a tranquility about the works, and I think the pieces were very emotional. Things were either breaking out, or resembled organic forms, and then there was this idea of stillness — different from last year. There was more of an emotional quality to the work,” Anderson said.
Other standout works included Marie Janssen’s “Shrouded Furnace,” which was based around Germany’s traditional tile stoves and the ideas of home, hearth, heat and how humans can blend into their environment.
Poland’s Sara Gackowska also created a thought-provoking work — a series of four small stone brooches called “Craquelure, 2017.” Gackowska works with hematite, reduces it to dust and builds it up again with bio-resin. She sculpts and cuts her new creations, exploring human fragility and the intersection of stone and metal.
Asked why he and Loewe insist that applicants come from a broad age range, Anderson said craft moves at its own pace, creativity is timeless and young people aren’t always the most talented.
“The biggest thing I have learnt through the Craft Prize is that you have people who have worked all their lives to get where they are, to create the ‘one’ form,” Anderson said, adding that seeing people through the lens of a demographic was foolish.
“I don’t think there should be this thing in society where we have to chase a generation (like Millennials). That’s why I asked Helen to give this prize, because for me she represents youth to all age demographics. She’s inspiring. If you’re inspiring, it doesn’t matter what age you are.”
He also said the prize was about “enjoying the people who make things. Speed is fantastic, technology is fantastic, but sometimes you have to take a deep breath and think, why don’t we enjoy what we have, and enjoy what we see.”
Anderson may be working in one of the world’s fastest-moving industries, but he’s absolutely committed to the prize — and to the slow and deliberate pace of craft.
“Craft is so important because it is brain-to-hand. I don’t care who you are, where you grew up, what age you are, what part of the world you’re from, everyone has the ability to make something, even if it’s a sandwich, or going to a park and finding things and making something. That’s what we do. It’s an emotional gesture. As a society, the more we become detached from emotions, and the touch and feel of certain things, the more we are going to need craft.”
The prize is on for next year, although the venue hasn’t been revealed. “It could be China, it could be Paris, it could be anywhere that’s willing to have us,” said Anderson. “I think for me, the whole point of this exercise is that I want to do it in different cities around the world, because I want to be able to bring it to people.”