Essay

At Home and in the Studio: Becky Richards of Mud Studios

I’d been talking about wanting to open a shared ceramics studio for a couple of years. There is a lack of these kind of spaces in Auckland. Wonderful as they are, our community pottery centres don’t often have the resources to support makers looking to push their work to a larger scale. Most often, ceramicists end up working solo in a garage or shed. I wanted to build an environment that could foster the generative dialogues you find at art school, but without any of the competitive pretentiousness.

During the last lock down, I found extra time and energy to send towards my practice, and hit critical mass with what I could do in a shared living room. Having had a metric tonne of clay delivered to the doorstep of our flat, I soon found my bedroom so filled with raw sculpture that it was difficult to move.

Anyone working in clay who isn’t firing their own kiln knows the fraught process of loading a hatchback with tubs of greenware pieces, then driving at a nervous crawl over speedbumps and pot holes. When level 4 lifted, I was truly over it, and needed to hit go on finding a suitable studio. After weeks of sending imploring emails, and some shameless rallying over social media, Catherine Spence and Naomi Allan joined me in the quest to find a warehouse for lease. Naomi and I dressed in our least-muddy outfits, and went along to site viewings, pretending to play hard-ball with real-estate agents. Within a month we had secured a suitable space in Elleslie (happily, just around the corner from The Clay Centre, run by Nadine and Dave Spalter, who have been endlessly supportive).

So began Mud Studios Limited; home to a collective of six female makers – uniformly hard-working, and experimental in our approach to clay. I look around my studio now and wonder how all this stuff ever fitted in a bedroom. Some days I still have to pinch myself to check it’s all real. When our first kiln got delivered in July, I waited for the freight drivers to leave, before jumping up and down and doing a lot of happy yelling.

The extra space is allowing my sculptures to grow, and there’s such liberty in finally being able to make a proper mess. The communal aspect to Mud is wonderful too, we can make and chat together, sharing our overlapping threads of research.

During this recent dive into level three we have been very careful, with individual studio time slots, sanitising protocols, and QR code check in posters. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to still get in here, and I’m sure my flatmates are relieved too…

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Becky Richards (b. 1988) is an Aotearoa New Zealand maker, writer and educator. She grew up in Ōtautahi and is currently based in Tāmaki-makau-rau. Richards holds a BFA(hons) from Ilam school of Fine Arts, and an MFA(first class hons) from Elam School of fine Arts, University of Auckland. She is the founder and director of Mud Studios Limited, a shared ceramics studio focused on supporting contemporary process-led-research in clay. 

Richards is the current editor of Ceramics NZ magazine, and a freelance writer, with recent texts published in Ceramics NZ magazine, and online for Eye Contact, and Objectspace. Her creative practice bridges sculpture, installation, ceramics, words and workshops. 

Recent exhibitions include Sand-pit, 2020solo exhibition, RM gallery, Auckland; CATCH, 2019, group exhibition, curated by the artist, Tinning St Gallery, Melbourne and To watch, with your mind’s eye, the world floating quiet, 2017, solo exhibition, Blue Oyster Project Space, Dunedin.

Myself and some hand-made friends

Objects in progress - Becky Richards

Our second-hand Paragon kiln

A workbench that would never have fitted in the living room...

A tall freshly-thrown vessel by Naomi Allan

Our hand-painted signage, courtesy of Naomi

A base for a stacked sculpture built in segments