When voicing the themes and ideas that feature in their works, Colin J. Radcliffe’s list appears endless. “Sex, dating, gay hookup culture, identity, heartbreak, ghosting, LGBTQ+ slang, pop culture, coming of age, chronic illness, Queering nature” – these are just some of the subjects Colin’s series Lovers interacts with. This is because Colin’s sculptures aim to capture the varied and diverse nature of contemporary Queer relationships; the dynamics of homosocialising, and the impact dating apps and technology has had on intimacy. The result is really quite wonderful; a colourful series of ceramic figures full of character and playful tenderness that provide a pertinent look at modern forms of connection.
Lovers is a series closely tied to Colin’s own experiences. Many of his sculptures refer to situations and relationships from his own life, devised from his personal photo and video references. “If I have an experience that was impactful or has emotional weight, that will typically lead to a sculpture,” they detail. For Colin, creating these sculptures is a way of working through his own emotions, a form of creative catharsis. “Clay has memory, and in a way can absorb and contain the emotions that are put into it. So it can be very cathartic, especially when I’m working through something traumatic like a breakup or being ghosted.” To pay homage to each individual experience, Colin will include personal signifiers on each figure, like gestures, jewellery and tattoos.
Colin is entirely self taught and found himself attracted to the medium while in his final years studying at Bard College in New York. Through his own experimentations, Colin leaned towards using porcelain, for it being “the most impressionable type of clay” and therefore offering “very little resistance in transferring emotions or memories into the clay through touch”.
When sculpting is complete, Colin explains that the piece needs several weeks to dry. But rather than waiting, Colin takes pictures of the piece, then digitally colours over them to plan the glaze. Favouring vibrant colours, Colin says that his choices often revolve around a number of potential factors: the colour he most associated with the individual; their favourite colour; or the colours evoked through Colin’s feelings toward the scene. However, as any seasoned ceramicist will tell you, glazing is a notoriously unpredictable step, with colour sometimes turning out nothing like expected. “It’s a literal trial by fire,” Colin jokes, “not unlike real-life relationships.”
As each piece is such a long, laborious process, Colin tells us that, although each of his sculptures holds a special place in his heart, the most recent one usually ends up being his favourite of the bunch. But importantly, they also try to not get too attached: “it’s easy to have many favourites when your work is so entwined with your emotional and social life, but I try not to get too attached to any of my sculptures.” In fact, such an approach is tied in with Colin’s process of catharsis. “Letting go is a major component of my work so that I can move on, heal, and love again better and more deeply than before,” they detail.
On how they hope people will respond to their work, Colin primarily hopes people will be able to “connect” both emotionally and intellectually. And who knows, perhaps Colin’s work has the potential to help people in their pursuit of romance. “Ideally my work will hold a mirror up for people to reflect on their own relationships and strive for more fruitful, and fruitier, relationships in the future,” they conclude.
Colin J. Radcliffe: Strawberry Kiwi (Copyright @ Colin J. Radcliffe, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.