Tessa Robinson, the founder of Sak Beh Pottery, talks to Obby about how she got started in the world of pottery, her love of teaching, and how Obby has helped her find success.
Meet the sculpture, ceramic and fine artist behind Sak Beh Pottery, Tessa. Using her skills and background as a fine artist in clay sculpture, Tessa opened her own pottery studio in North London, with the aim to create a comfortable, homey place to work and be creative.
Here at Obby, we wanted to sit down with Tessa to find out more about her story, how she started and how she finds success.
Tell us about the first time you worked with clay and what intrigued you.
The first time I remember working with clay was as part of my art A Level. I would spend hours shaping and creating small figurines, placing them in structures that resembled Mexican retablos or altarpiece art. In retrospect, I realise that I was ‘unconsciously’ creating sacred images. The act of working with clay transcends the mundane, it very quickly moved me into a sacred space. That’s what intrigued me most then and still does now.
How did you get into teaching and what made you join Obby as a teacher?
After finishing my postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Art, I set up studios in an old, disused building on three floors, in Hackney, together with other Royal Academy graduates. The building had been a Police Station, or so we were told. We quickly formed ourselves into a community of artists and approached local businesses to sponsor private views in our studio and also sponsor the community events we hosted. These were primarily educational, such as inviting local schools to visit us as a preliminary to the workshops we intended to put on in the schools.
The theme of one of my workshops was exploring the idea of self imagery, using Frida Kahlo’s paintings and Helen Chadwick’s composite images constructed from photocopies of her own body. The result was a huge mural sized artwork made by a group of schoolchildren. The children had a powerful and instinctual sense of composition and a deep bond to their own self image. Some asked their friends to trace out their bodies, as they lay on the canvas, and then painted in the rest; others left imprints of hands and feet, reminiscent of prehistoric art.
I watched two children deciding to arrange their photocopied head and arms as a single body, flying in the space above the rest of the group. They negotiated their deep friendship by creating an image of conjoined twins. The entire mural was so extraordinary, and the level of focus and investment by each child so intense, it made me realise just how important creativity is to our understanding of self, whether that is as a child or adult.
When a person, or group of people, get in contact with creativity, the atmosphere in the room changes. Being witness to that is what inspires me to teach. I think Obby is unlocking the opportunity for people to become creative and to explore the hidden landscapes that are within us.
What’s your favourite part about teaching?
I think it is definitely that moment when someone contacts their inner creativity and they forget time and place. The most common refrain I hear in Sak Beh Studio is “How did the time go so fast”.
Where do you find inspiration and where do you encourage your students to find it?
I find inspiration everywhere but maybe that reflects the fact that I grew up without the internet. Most of the people who come to Sak Beh Pottery belong to the internet age and are used to looking at devices for inspiration, often as part of social media. Pinterest is a good starting point but then the process of working with clay quickly turns them inwards and the journey begins.
What’s your favourite piece to throw or hand-build?
Throughout my fine art training I have used clay to create anthropomorphic forms. The human body was the inspiration. Now I am less interested in the human body and it’s recreation as a recognisable form. Instead, I am drawn to the idea of the body as a receptacle. The human body has been reduced to an abstraction, a receptacle which holds and contains things hidden. For me a thrown bowl has all the drama and portent of a person, something like the idea of the holy grail. I love to throw bowls. It’s my favourite form, perhaps because it is the perfect receptacle.
How does Obby make your life easier?
I think the online platform created by Obby is very easy for teachers to use and makes management so much easier. It’s also great to know that there is someone always available to turn to regarding help with the platform. Obby is very responsive to both teachers and customers alike.
Want to learn more?
Check out more blogs featuring Obby teachers and their stories below: