Healing Hands-On Art at Bethlem Gallery

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‘Touching the Surface’ is a new solo show of joy, pleasure and healing told through over a hundred ceramic sculptures by artist Keith Clapson.

‘Touching the Surface’ is abundant with Maximalism through artist Keith Clapson’s persistent sculpting and glazing in clay. Filling Bethlem Gallery with over a hundred works, the pieces are inspired by Clapson’s obsession with Madonna and a desire for more. ‘Touching the Surface’ represents Clapson’s recovery from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) through the multitude of tactile, highly glazed ceramic sculptures. It is curated by Rina Sagoo and Amanda Glynn.

Curated by Bethlem Gallery, ‘Touching the Surface’ brings together a substantial body of ceramic sculptures made by artist Keith Clapson between 2017 and 2023. In an act of generosity, Clapson invites viewers to touch his highly glazed, folded and voluminous ceramic sculptures. These highly tactile new works are formed by hand in clay and glazed experimentally and abstractly, with intense colour and lustre.  

Clapson turned to Maximalism through wanting to produce work “with no restraints on colour, texture and quantity, more is never enough, and the 1990 Madonna track ‘More’ on the ‘I’m Breathless’ album sums up Maximalism for me.”  

Consisting of mainly hand-built sculptural forms, Clapson uses ready-made glazes alongside his own glaze mixes applied on earthenware and stoneware and fired at higher temperatures. On pieces that are ‘saggar’ fired, Clapson includes other materials such as glass and metal that melt into the surface. He says: “I tend to stray from the rules and always use a degree of artistic license when creating my pieces. enjoying them as a canvas for glaze experimentation, sometimes working on five pieces at a time.”

Clapson’s sculptural ceramic works appear formed around air, with the folds and creases representing constraint, some pieces bubbling with colours with glaze oozing from their openings. The effect is produced from Clapson’s ‘overflowing emotions’ squeezed out through pressure, representing the start of something new and colourful. These pieces were developed from a personal experience of the limitations Clapson has endured for almost 20 years due to extreme OCD and chart his recovery over a six year period. 

Keith Clapson began his art practice in 2017 as part of his recovery from OCD at Bethlem Royal Hospital’s Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit (ADRU). He says: “OCD had taken my life away from me, triggering depression and anxiety, I had lost everything except a very dark sense of humour and an obsession with Madonna. The teachers and therapists encouraged and embraced me, letting me work on what I wanted and when I wanted to, without any pressure or judgement, this experience helped me thrive and I suspect has had a big influence on my recovery. I wouldn’t have recovered without ADRU Art Occupational Therapy. From the broken remain of the past I want to make new; bright, beautiful, colourful, bold, funny, sarcastic, crude, drips, blobs, gloop and glaze, the overflowing emotions and colour symbolise the start of a new life living free from this anxiety disorder, which kept me dark and hollow inside.”

Sophie Leighton, Director of Bethlem Gallery said: “Keith Clapson approaches his art from many angles – as a useful practice that has supported him to live well, to explore notions of what is abject, and also to bring joy in the beautiful glazes and forms he creates. It is such a pleasure to work with him on this exhibition and to connect with both the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and City Lit as part of the programme. It will be incredible to see the gallery full of so many of these sculptures, luring people in to experience them by both looking and touching.”  

Bethlem Gallery, Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, London, BR3 3BX from 20 September to 18 November.

Times: Wednesday to Saturday 9.30am to 5pm. Admission: FREE.


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