Lubna Chowdhary, Brave and Bold Ceramic Design

by Becky Hoh in Bespoke stories

‘I’m inspired by Russian constructivism, the Bauhaus, the delicacy of Indian miniatures, the geometry of Islamic art and the linear quality of African textiles,’ describes ceramic artist Lubna Chowdhary, finishing with, ‘amongst many many other things.’

Quite a list, but all inspirations that you can see within her strong shapes, with varying complexities of pattern but always considered and exciting in their composition and colour.

Now working from her South West London studio, Chowdary was born in Tanzania to Pakistani parents and moved to England in 1970 at the age of 5, settling in Rochdale in the North of England. And long before the inspiration list became so varied, her home life sculpted many of her ideas about art. Her parents owned a clothing business and her mother was a seamstress at home.

‘There was always a culture of making in our house, whether it was clothes or food and having an understanding of sewing, patterns, fabrics and the manual tasks involved in asian cooking served me well when I became an artist.’

Handcrafting is intrinsic to her work and she uses an ‘infinite’ palette of glazes, all hand blended and hand painted on ceramic elements, each of which undergoes numerous glaze firings before taking its place in a final composition.

Creative epiphanies also came from visiting the anthropological collections such as the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and The Museum of Mankind in London. ‘These encouraged me to step outside of an expected European perspective and aesthetic in my work. But it was moving to London in 1989 and attending the Royal College of Art , which was a really exciting experience for me and it connected me with contemporary architecture and design in a real way.’

This openness to soaking up creative influences, alongside a clear natural talent and flair for colour and form, have lead to an impressive and varied client list that includes the BBC, Conran and Partners, a bakery in Los Angeles and Itsu Restaurant in Chelsea, who have all commissioned her tile based art works for interior and exterior spaces. Most of her residential commissions are for wall based art or tile commissions, which have been created bespoke for a Grade II Listed house in Hampstead and various private interiors in California; the traditional, yet graphic feel, lending themselves both to period properties and mid century West Coast desert architecture. She is a true bespoke artist, each piece is unique and she does not hold a product line, creating purely for a certain purpose. Chowdhary says most commissions start from a simple email to the website. The client then visits the studio and usually remains involved at all stages, with discussions and ideas evolving from images she supplies along the way.

Chowdhary’s work becomes even more alive in large scale form, a great example is the two 50 x 180cm relief panels she created an installation in the Project Space at the Collect art fair for contemporary objects held at the Saatchi Gallery. An experiment into applying her work into large architectural spaces, they were made using water jet cutting technology to cut her hand drawn lines.

Working more intricately comes naturally too – this 100 x 150 cm piece, Code, was for an exhibition curated by Sony which brought together 13 artists working in different disciplines, all of who drew inspiration from from Arabic calligraphy and geometry. She has also just finished packing up a set of bespoke tiles ready for a new ice cream boutique, Olivogelo in London before embarking on this interview.

With so many projects completed and in the pipeline, what about her own home, does Chowdhary get time to make her handcrafted pieces for her own use?  ‘I have made tiles for my fireplace, shower and splashbacks, but this is only after years and years of living here, I never seem to get around to it!’

You can see more of Lubna Chowdhary’s work at Design Junction in London, where she will be exhibiting 18-22 September

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