Lubna Chowdhary at work in her studio. All photographs Jeremy Jeffs
By Jo-ann Fortune
Modernist architecture sees little distinction between artwork and the built environment. Contemporary ceramicist Lubna Chowdhary continues this tradition, exploring the potential of colour and pattern to enhance our experience of urban spaces. MidCentury spoke to Lubna to discover more about her influences and her work.
The bold concrete sculpture and mosaic murals that made an impact on urban design in the 1960s and 1970s are one of the many reasons 20th-century groups fight so hard to protect Modernist architecture. And it’s this way of using texture, bold colour and pattern to create a sense of place in the everyday that makes contemporary ceramic artist Lubna Chowdhary’s work seem so much of the time.
Over the past decade Lubna has become increasingly interested in how her modular ceramics can be scaled and integrated into the built environment. The results can be enjoyed in public spaces including Slough’s Lantern Tower, Brentford Market and Cardiff Quayside to name just a few.
Lubna Chowdhary: lessons from Eduardo Paolozzi
Despite the instant appeal to fans of 20th-century design, Lubna Chowdhary tells me that she came to ceramics and the mid-century colour palette almost by accident.
Arriving in the north of England from Tanzania in 1970, Lubna studied Wood, Metal & Ceramics at Manchester Polytechnic with an interest in the two tougher materials. Initially reluctant to work with ceramics because of “quite fixed ideas about it being very feminine and domestic”, she discovered that she enjoyed the immediacy of clay and being able to work it directly with her hands. Lubna “gave into” ceramic work as a way to explore pattern and graduated to take a Masters degree in Ceramics at the Royal College of Art.
There she was taught by sculptor and artist Eduardo Paolozzi, whose 1980s Tottenham Court Road mosaic she cites as one of the earliest examples of public art to influence her work: “It was one of the first things I noticed in London. The scale and the continuity over surfaces made it feel like it was following you and growing. It really reminded me of the animated Beatles film ‘Yellow Submarine’.”
Earlier this year parts of the mural, as well as fountains designed in 1963 by artist Jupp Dernbach-Mayen, were dismantled and moved into storage due to the Crossrail development. This was despite public campaigns to save the work that, as Lubna says, “everyone has a great fondness for”.
Lubna Chowdhary: a mid-century colour palette
Lubna followed in Paolozzi’s footsteps to explore colour and pattern on flat surfaces and has more recently discovered the work of Brazilian artist Roberto Burle Marx – perhaps best known for his 1970 Copacabana mosaic that stretches four kilometres along the beach front.
“Glaze on 3D sculpture often moves downwards in the kiln but on a flat tile it pretty much stays put, so this allowed me to work much more reliably with pattern and layered glaze colour. I started to pull together as many colours as I could and was using a lot of reds, oranges and yellow glazes that people associate with the 1960s and ’70s.”
Lubna Chowdhary: accessibility and art as a daily experience
The versatility of Lubna’s work extends beyond colour though. For one commission she could be handcrafting and painting tiles individually to achieve more organic textures. The next may start life on a computer screen or be created from pre-existing materials that Lubna builds up architecturally. And occasionally all of these techniques will come into play for one piece. “The great thing about tile is that it’s accessible to all,” Lubna says. “People can have quite small budgets and still commission me. I have a London studio sale once a year so people can buy smaller pieces including compositions, individual tiles and samples.”
It is her public commissions though that Lubna is most proud of. She tells me “I love to create works that become part of daily experience”. And perhaps the ultimate British public art commissions are those for the London Underground. As well as her late tutor’s work, Lubna lists Dorothy Annan’s 1960s communications-inspired murals in Farringdon (now relocated to The Barbican) as formative influences and holds ambitions to create something special for an equally well-used space.
Read the full article Lubna Chowdhary: Enriching the Everyday with Ceramic in MidCentury issue 08
Find out more about Lubna’s work here