When Martha Freud opened her ‘Mixed Messages’ exhibition late last year at the None More Gallery in London, her handmade, imprinted porcelain pieces were not only funny and imaginative, but accompanied by witty wordplay that chimed perfectly with a feeling of post-pandemic rebelliousness.
It was impossible not to chortle over bowls marked with slogans such as, ‘I Licked it So It's Mine.’ Meanwhile, scented candles - infused with notes of rose, fig and amber, mixed to Freud’s specifications - and plates struck an emotional chord with expressions like, ‘Dust yourself off you ain’t done yet’.
Now, some of those one-off items will be remade into a capsule, 16-piece tableware collection, created in collaboration with Emily Johnson, founder of Stoke-on-Trent-based contemporary-ceramics brand 1882 Ltd. Freud joins an impressive roll call of artists and designers Johnson regularly works with, including Max Lamb, Bethan Gray and JW Anderson.
‘I’ve loved her work from afar forever,’ Johnson says of seeing Freud’s porcelain tiles at the young artist’s ‘Light Impressions’ exhibition in 2012. With this range, though, it was Freud’s expressions that she was drawn to. ‘They tickled my fancy no end,’ laughs Johnson. ‘In Freud’s work, you have craft, art, functionality and fun. She captures emotion in a very knowing, kind way.’
While Freud was growing up, her mother Nicola and grandmother June did the cryptic crossword every day. They, as well as her grandfather Sir Clement Freud, the revered writer and broadcaster (and artist Lucian’s brother), were all ‘sharp, witty and brilliant at words,’ whereas she, Freud tells us, thinks of the thing she should have said half an hour later.
Her perfectionism is such that, when it came to setting the letters for her ceramic designs, she travelled all the way to Barlaston (where 1882 Ltd’s factory is now located, within Wedgwood’s works) for just 15 minutes so she could try it herself.
Scaling her ceramics into commercial production needed new methods, including using pressurised gases to guard against the letters smudging when 1882 Ltd’s skilled artisans released each piece from its mould. The white, sea-green and pale-blue glazes are applied by hand. ‘Both of us thought it would be a lot easier than it was, but it’s been a huge learning opportunity and, going forward, it will be much easier,’ Freud says.
‘I hope I produce things that can make people smile or stop them feeling alone,’ she continues, considering the fine line she walks in her work between showing fragility and strength; by expressing those sentiments we all feel but often fear to say aloud. ‘I want to remind people that, together, we’re all part of something so much bigger,’ she adds,‘more complex and much more interwoven.’ ‘Mixed Messages’ pieces from £85, available at The Conran Shop, conranshop.co.uk; marthafreud.com; 1882ltd.com