Alma Berrow’s pieces find the humour in the “grossness” of everyday life

The artist is inspired by the “fake real objects” of childhood – in dollhouses or in picture-books – a term which can be aptly applied to her ceramic pieces.

6 September 2021

So your New Year’s resolution was to quit smoking but you’ve not followed through as much as you’d hoped – don’t worry too much. Alma Berrow is here to help you make light of the situation. Her ashtrays are filled with ceramic cigarette butts and ash. The artist uses the medium to represent bowls of nuts and pretzels too, alongside oysters, octopus with a lemon wedge, and steamed asparagus, to name a few. Basically, an Alma Berrow exhibition might look something like the inside of a bougie King’s Road eatery.

The artist’s initial creative impulses arrived when she was a child. Alma loved the book A Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter: “I dreamt of living in a doll’s house for a day and being surrounded by ceramic food and fake real objects, maybe that’s what I’m subconsciously trying to make a reality!” she continues.

Her pieces literally become part of the furniture yet they awaken us to details which might otherwise go amiss in our day-to-day activities. She says that the idea of sculptures in a traditional sense terrify her and fill her with ideas of grandeur. “I always want elements of my work to be humorous and playful. I think that’s why I make everyday objects that almost camouflage into their environment,” she says. “I have a large 35cm ashtray in my house and most people go up to clean it before realising it is my artwork.” The pieces thus inject a little joviality into things we might usually dismiss, helping us perhaps make the most of each and every detail of life a little more. The idea of ceramics holding the ability to tell a story also fascinate Alma and become evident through her creations.

“The chewing gum under the table, a hair-brush full of hair, the teabag my boyfriend leaves on the side… they’re tiny details we see all the time and I think, through being normalised, we lose the comedy in their grossness. When isolated and created in ceramic, they hold their own space and demand you to look again at them. Especially ashtrays – as people throw all-sorts in there, they tell the tale of an evening.”

GalleryCopyright © Alma Berrow, 2021

In a somewhat detective-on-a-case style, Alma carries around a tiny passport-sized notebook and a Muji 0.35 black pen in order to remain inspired: “And I’ve done so for years. I use them to jot down images, portraits, ideas, snippets of conversation, whatever catches me or amuses me.” Often, she’ll work from ideas in her books, she tells It’s Nice That, but mainly she likes to grab a bit of clay and “just start.” She doesn’t mood board or sketch designs like many of her contemporaries, “which is why I think art school never really worked out for me”.

When asked about her favourite piece, she’s unable to give a fair answer, but says that Ifs and Butts, which sold in an all-female Sotheby's auction, is a piece she’s incredibly proud of. “It is my largest singular piece to date and to sit in an auction next to so many insanely talented artists like Tanning, Riley, Hepworth, Sherman. I mean, it was completely insane!”

Because Alma never studied ceramics, she tells us that she’s learning all the time. “I started in lockdown so I had pretty limited resources. My mum Miranda Berrow, who makes ceramics too, helped me so much but our work and process is very different.” When things went wrong, YouTube and Google became the artist’s “best friends”: “I also called Reg from Clayman suppliers A LOT and he has been a dream.”

Alma Berrow has two shows coming up. Among The Pines opens on 16 September at Flaura and Fauna studios, whilst Cracked is on at Tristan Hoare from 23 September.

GalleryCopyright © Alma Berrow, 2021

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Copyright © Alma Berrow, 2021

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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