18 Aug 2022

Donegal artist ‘all fired up’ for first solo exhibition at Artlink

From amazing surprises the ‘kiln gods’ have in store to finding inspiration from our ancient past

Donegal artist ‘all fired up’ for first solo exhibition at Artlink

Matthew Porter's first solo exhibition will run in Artlink

Buncrana-based ceramicist and visual artist Matthew Porter is ‘all fired up’ ahead of his first solo exhibition which will be showcased at Artlink Fort Dunree from December 9 until January 16.

A graduate of Crawford College of Art & Design in Cork, Mr Porter returned home to Donegal in 2017 to set up a studio and his own business ‘Púca Pottery’ which sells modern ceramics inspired by nature and organic form.

Indeed, the majority of his ceramic pieces and artwork are inspired by the ancient past and the hauntingly beautiful landscapes of Inishowen – including its enchanting woodlands and wildlife, and a spectacular and rugged coastline which has been carved out for millennia by fierce winds and heavy Atlantic swells.

Mr Porter first found his passion for working with clay as a teenager studying Fine Art at the North West Regional College in Derry and he later specialised in ceramics and glass whilst undertaking his degree in Contemporary Applied Art at the Crawford College of Art & Design in Cork. During his degree he also won a scholarship to Shanghai University in China to study cast glass.  Since moving back to Donegal he has supported his growing business by delivering beginner ceramics workshops and creating commissioned public artworks.

For the most part, his ceramic pieces are individually hand-built, rather than using a potter’s wheel.

"I mainly use hand-building techniques,” he said

“I like how the slow process allows me the time to discover what direction I want to go in with each piece intuitively. It also gives me a lot more flexibility with the size of the pieces I can make – the only restriction really is the size of the kiln you have. I can create things this way that would be impossible to do on a wheel. I also feel more connected with the clay this way – usually only using a knife, scrapper and my hands.”

Matthew’s love of working with clay also extends to the building and decorating phases and he gets excited every time he opens the kiln door after each glaze firing to see the transformations which have taken place.

“I fell in love with clay very early on in my studies as it is such a versatile medium and its possibilities are endless," he said. 

"I enjoy the building and decorating phases the most because there is always an element of chance through this process. I will always set out with a shape and size in mind but because I like hand-building my pieces the slow nature of that leaves plenty of room for improvisation.

"I usually do the decorating at this stage too while the clay is still semi-soft (leatherhard) either through carving or applying layers of slip (liquid clay) or coloured metal oxides. Through adding multiple layers of slip and oxides the patterns or shapes that I have applied start to evolve and take on a life of their own which I really enjoy.  In terms of a geological process, it’s a bit like how rock or sedimentary layers are formed.

“I’m also always in awe of the unpredictability of the firing process. You learn through experience what a piece may turn out like but you never really know for sure – and there’s always some amazing surprises that the kiln gods have in store when you open the door!”

Mr Porter also explains how local landscapes as well as Irish culture and heritage has influenced his work.

“I’ve always been interested in ancient cultures and living here it feels very close to the surface," he said.

"Ancient Irish pottery is very rare but it was made here for thousands of years. Even the functional wares of Stone Age potters were decorated all over by impressing objects into the wet clay such as shells, bird bones and rope.

"The need to decorate just seems to be in all of us.  However, I try not to overthink where my inspiration is coming from, but our landscape and culture are definitely big factors!”

Whilst Mr Porter is also exhibiting drawings and paintings from his extensive portfolio of work, his favourite pieces which will be on display are ceramics.

“I am looking forward to displaying a number of Raku fired pieces in the exhibition because it’s a technique not many people are familiar with where the piece is removed from the kiln at around 1000º and placed into sawdust which turns the naked clay black and the glazed areas a range of colours like oil on water.

"I’m also a bit obsessed with line and pattern and have made a series of drawings (and computer-aided ones) that I’m also excited to exhibit.  

"For the most part I’m always trying to blur the lines between traditional and non-traditional disciplines!”

Rebecca Strain from the Artlink Team / collective said: “Matthew’s stunning artwork and his exquisite ceramics have featured in various exhibitions the length and breadth of Ireland – which is why we’re delighted to be showcasing his first solo exhibition at Artlink.

“Indeed, this upcoming exhibition will feature an eclectic mix of artwork, drawings and ceramic pieces drawn from Matthew’s love of nature and our ancient past which is the inescapable DNA of the works that will be on view.

“Emerging artists or craftspeople like Matthew need all the support they can get – and I would therefore encourage as many people as possible to visit this wonderful exhibition during December and January. It is not only a showcase of Matthew’s amazing artistic talent and creativity but also an insightful exploration into his natural environment and various forms of life from his beloved Donegal – including for example The Púca / a creature of Celtic folklore!

“However, as is always the case with vibrant visual art or indeed exquisitely-created ceramic pieces and detailed drawings, words alone cannot suffice or do them justice – you simply have to immerse yourself in the exhibition and see the art for yourself to grasp their complex beauty!”

Matthew Porter’s exhibition opens to the public on December 9 at Saldanha Gallery, Artlink Fort Dunree and will remain on view until Sunday, January 16.  

The gallery is open Monday to Saturday 10.30am to 4pm (closing for Christmas holidays from December 22 to January 4) and admission is free. The Saldanha Gallery will also be closed to the public from 2pm to 4pm on Sunday, December 12 for an official opening of the exhibition and will be limited to ‘invite only’ in order to keep attendees safe and comply with government Covid guidelines.

Further information is available at  email or telephone 083 8696513 / 086 4532428.

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