You know when you get a little bit too excited about things and you need to remind yourself to stay cool and be professional – that’s how I feel right now. I am absolutely buzzing to announce that April’s Manc of the Month is ceramicist Matt Cronshaw – from the telly!! Matt was one of the finalists in this years The Great Pottery Throw Down on Channel 4 and More 4. We were rooting for Matt from the beginning and then found out he was from Manchester, so rooted for him even more! We we so happy he made it to the end, and even more happy when he agreed to be interviewed for this months Manc of the Month! So read on to find out more about Matt, about the show, and his very different answer which artwork he’d live in.
Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your work to our Cotton On MCR readers.
Matt Cronshaw: ‘I’m Matt Cronshaw, an ex professional cyclist and current ceramicist, from Lancaster, with a habit of introducing myself like a contestant on Blind Date.’
CO: Hahah! Loved that show. We loved watching you on Channel 4’s The Great Pottery Throw Down, and so happy you got to the final! What was it like to be on the show?
MC: ‘Since starting ceramics, I have been working in a fairly insular community, but being part of the show was a chance to have my experiences broadened.’
‘Each episode had a different task with a different technique that needed mastering in a really short period of time. There was always someone in the group of us who had done something similar before and everyone was really open about their approach and ideas for the task. With all of us being so different in personality, there were always a handful of different ideas being floated around. The days and weeks filming were long, but the open chats about design and practical approach in between filming were an amazing chance to brainstorm and hone my ideas and designs, keeping us all busy and motivated.’
CO: Now that the show is over, what is a day in the life of Matt Cronshaw is like?
MC: ‘Just like before the show – although I have come away from it with a new found productivity. I get really grumpy if I don’t exercise, so I always start the day with a run or going to cross-fit. It really clears my mind and gives me a lot of energy for when I’m in the studio afterwards. When I’m working, I always try to do something at the wheel each day. I really enjoy throwing, so doing a little bit each day motivates me to get in and has built a really positive mental relationship with work. At the moment I’m trying to incorporate more photography into my everyday schedule, as I always neglect it and I have missed bits of my own work that I regret not documenting.’
CO: We saw you won Potter of the Week with a Manchester themed ceramic fire place! Tell us about how you designed that and what it felt like to win.
MC: ‘I’m not sure if I designed it, or it designed itself. For each of the tasks on the show, we got given a brief for us to satisfy with our design. When I read through the brief, the requirements mapped straight to a fact that I remembered or a place I’d visited in Manchester. I tried to think of other ideas, but down each avenue of research there didn’t seem to be a better idea at the bottom. I started reading more about the history of Manchester and I got really excited about the prospect of sharing it and I simply couldn’t justify doing anything else. It took a lot of time to polish up as an idea and make sure that I had sized the tiles to account for the clay shrinkage, but as I was doing it, I did feel like it was the strongest idea that I’d had to that point and I was immersed in it. After so much work, to win the challenge was mostly relief, to have my efforts validated.’
CO: Has being on the show changed how you work, or changed your life at all?
MC: ‘After the first couple of episodes, the show started to feel like small crash courses in different techniques rather than a competition. It helped me break down the show into tiny segments of opportunity and that has definitely spilled over into my work after the show. I’ve become much better at thinking ideas through fully and more aware of the pitfalls along the way and I think my work is more cohesive and consistent since the show. I feel like it’s brought my wife and I closer, too. We were buying a house at the time, which she arranged most of, as I was away consistently. We both needed each others help and support as much as possible and getting through it together really strengthened us, even though it was very testing at the time.’
CO: You’re one of the founders of Manchester Ceramics Collective, what do you think about the ceramic scene in Manchester?
MC: ‘The fact that we were able to set up something like the Manchester Ceramics Collective, is testament alone to the ceramics scene in Manchester. There are numerous teaching studios, members studios, gallery spaces and excellent university facilities, which are the foundations for what the five of us have done with the MCC. We all met at Clay Studio in Hulme, a teaching/member studio, which gave us a space to create, affordably. To look at all the different studios, from the spaces offering weekend/evening classes to our member based production space, you can track a real path through from a hobbyist to professional within the space of a few square kilometres, which I think is really motivating for anyone just starting out with a passion.’
CO: What advice would you give to other ceramists out there?
MC: ‘Don’t let yourself be pulled in a direction you know isn’t for you. When I first started, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but there were things that I knew didn’t feel right, not just in terms of design, but the way I marketed and displayed items too. I had quite a few difficult conversations with friends and family over what sort of ceramics I was making, with them pointing out bits that were selling really well, often being told that I should do that instead, so I could make money. There is a trend to every consumer item and to me it seemed a stressful endeavour to try and keep up. I think that if you start following trends, you don’t get a chance to develop your own style, but it is your own style that will stand the test of time, keep you motivated and the most rewarding in the long run. You know what you want to make, so make it and refine your own idea, not someone else’s.
CO: What has been the best moment in your career to date?
MC: ‘I’m not sure I’ve had a career yet, but every time I sell a piece, it gives me a real sense of accomplishment. I think following on from the last question nicely, because I’ve focused on making the items that I really want to make, rather than what I think will sell. Every time I actually do sell something, it is as though that person is buying a little piece of me and my idea. It’s really rewarding and motivates me a lot to keep pursuing the things that I’m really interested in.
CO: What is the best exhibition you have been to and why?
MC: ‘In all honesty, I haven’t been to very many, but I went to the David Lynch exhibition at HOME last year which was pretty extraordinary. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it, more I was terrified of it. All of the art was so dark, in colour and concept and felt like a portal into the mind of an incredibly tormented person, but that person was me. It was quite invasive, in a way, realising that you were seeing the dark parts of everyone else, but at the same time they were seeing the dark parts of you, too.
CO: And lastly, if you could live in any artwork or painting, which would it be and why?
MC: ‘If I can stretch the question a little and include a piece of music, I would say ‘All my Friends, by LCD Soundsystem’. I’ve played it when I’m feeling low, when I’m relaxing or when I’m warming up for a race, getting motivated. The beat in the background builds monotonously, with a commentary of life over the top, delivered with a questioning tone. It seems to me like the perfect metaphor for a life; an unstoppable nature that always seems to be gaining momentum, but often leading nowhere overlaid with a constant question of if what you’re doing is the right thing and interspersed with moments of clarity and enjoyment. So I would say that I’m already living in it and when I listen to it, there is always a part of the song that I tune into that reflects perfectly what I’m doing at that moment.’
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