Ceramic artist Romy Northover on breaking with tradition
British-born ceramist Romy Northover is sitting in her all-white studio space in Long Island City, in Queens New York. It’s a grey and rainy afternoon, but there’s watery light flooding in from skylights in the 22-foot high ceilings, reflecting from the whitewashed brick walls. Such a spare, bright setting seems an appropriate workplace for Northover – known for the delicacy, lightness and refined palate of her handmade ceramics.
On the shelves surrounding her desk space are samples of some of her pieces – elegant vases with beautiful big bellies, hand-glazed bowls in muted tones and the kinds of bowls and mugs you immediately want to cup your hands around. “It’s very humbling and it’s a very beautiful medium,” says Northover of working in clay. “Equally very strong and rigid, but then fragile at the same time.”
Today, the 35-year-old ceramist is much in demand – having made works for everyone from Calvin Klein to Soho House – but it hasn’t always been so. Born in England, and brought up in Sussex, she first fell in love with ceramics while at secondary school, going on to study art at the prestigious Goldsmith’s college in London. But after she graduated, like so many twenty-somethings, she lost her way.
“I had a period where I didn’t really know how to make art anymore, outside of college or just in general,” she recalls. “I did all kinds of jobs, waitressing, working as a fashion stylist, but never really stuck at anything.”
“If I’m not around clay for an extended amount of time, I don’t feel good, I don’t feel complete. It grounds me. I think it’s partly my purpose in life.”
Romy Northover, Ceramist
It was only after she decided to move to New York in 2010, at the age
of 30, that she began to think about returning to ceramic work. “After
the transition of moving to New York, I was really stripped bare,” she
remembers. “In a city like New York, you either sink or swim. I had to
make all these decisions about what I was doing, where I was going, what I
wanted to be.”
Although initially nervous that she would fail at the very thing she suspected was her passion, actually handling the clay proved galvanizing. “There was something about physically doing something that felt so right,” she recalls. “It was so genuine. I think that that was the key – I felt very strongly about it and so it made sense.”
Over time, her work evolved into her signature style, which incorporates time-honoured Japanese techniques with modern forms and colours, and which she describes as ‘ancient future’. “Ancient because this is a medium that’s thousands and thousands of years old,” she points out. “And then future because the work goes on – a simple bowl can out-survive everyone.”
Northover, who lives in Brooklyn,
only recently moved her studio to Queens, in order to have more space.
In the many warehouses surrounding her studio, there are plenty of
fellow creators – stonemasons and woodworkers, bag makers and small
cosmetic brands. “There’s this energy and buzz, and people really
getting behind things and doing things,” she observes.
Now that her twenties are behind her, Northover remains as committed to her work as ever. “If I’m not around clay for an extended amount of time, I don’t feel good,” she explains. “I don’t feel complete. It grounds me. I think it’s partly my purpose in life.”