Thidaa Roberts is a strikingly multidisciplinary practitioner. London-based, she is an architect, painter, dancer and, for the past year and a half, a potter. This latter part of her work (which she operates in as Blue Guy Pottery) will be on display this weekend as part of Community of Craft, a project organised by design brand Shinola and Jocks&Nerds, Disegno’s sister publication, that looks at the practice of contemporary crafts.
From 29 to 31 May, Roberts will be designing, producing and selling pottery at Shinola’s London store on Newburgh Street. Robert’s work with a potter’s wheel and the small, functional objects that she produces – in some parts glazed, in others left raw and clay-like – bear testament to their making process. "I make weird stuff and wobbly shapes, but I think that’s why I like it," she says. "There’s an honestness about that which I think people respond to.”
What is apparent in Roberts’ work is the artisanal nature of her output; her pottery is rough and its origins on the wheel apparent in its structure. “I still consider myself a beginner and I’m not planning anything with my shapes,” she says. "The hardest part for me, and a lot of beginners, is getting the clay on the wheel and keeping it still. If you don’t centre it, it flies all over the place. But people like that process; if they didn’t, they could just buy a mug from Ikea.”
This focus on making – and how the end result becomes visually indivisible from the process that produces it – is endemic to ceramics. It was a point considered by Hans Coper, one of the most significant practitioners of studio pottery in the 20th century, in his introductory text to an exhibition of his work at the V&A in 1969: "The wheel imposes its economy, dictates limits, provides momentum and continuity. Concentrating on continuous variations of simple themes I become part of the process; I am learning to operate a sensitive instrument which may be resonant to my experience of existence now – in this fantastic century.”
Roberts is not nearly as gnomic as Coper, but she too is sensitive to the appeal of creating pottery on a wheel. “What really hooks me is the wheel; I think it's a speed/efficiency thing that might be an architect’s gene,” she says. “Handbuilding takes forever to build one pot and I don’t think I could do that. But once I started on the wheel I became obsessed.
"The other weekend I was at a lock on the canal and it’s the same experience: people will stand there just to watch the water rise and fall in the lock. They know what’s going to happen, but they fixate on it. It's mesmerising, just like watching someone on the wheel.”