James Rigler studied 3D Craft at the University of Brighton before graduating from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Ceramics and Glass in 2007. His bold ceramic sculptures are inspired by the language of architectural ornament, and James describes his recent work as being ‘led by thoughts of ruined and abandoned ancient places, romantic landscapes and stage sets’. In 2013-14 Rigler undertook a ceramics residency with the V&A Museum and is included in their public collection. Examples of his work can also be found in the collections of the Crafts Council and Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.
Currently based in Glasgow, James began studying ceramics at the University of Brighton and the Royal College of Art in London. He then spent time as model-maker for an architectural terracotta manufacturer, recreating lost details from historic buildings and developing new features for contemporary projects. James was a winner of the Jerwood Maker’s Open 2012, the New Talent Award at the 2015 European Ceramic Context, Denmark, and the 2021 Jackson Tang Award. His work features in several national collections including the V&A, Brighton Museum, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art.
James’ pieces are created by press-moulding earthenware ceramic, which are then overlaid with a shellac and metal leaf surface and distressed to reveal the making marks in the clay beneath. Much of James' work is inspired by the monumental architecture of Glasgow, like the Shell Sconce which draws on the carved shell motifs on many of the buildings constructed for shipbuilders or shipping lines. Following his participation in the Portrait of Place: Holkham Hall project, facilitated by The New Craftsmen, James created The Wild Beast Table and Comet light. Using a mixture of semi-industrial ceramic techniques, James started by roughly ‘sketching’ the object’s form into clay, before taking a plaster mould once happy with the feel and scale. Casting into this mold he created an exact plaster copy of the original clay texture, allowing him to smooth away imperfections and achieve something closer to carved marble. After firing, the pieces are then been entirely gilded in metal-leaf and lacquered.
1. What motivates you to make?
The ability to make something has always seemed the closest thing to magic that I’ve found. A thing doesn’t exist, and then it does, purely through my eyes, brain and hands - and some hard graft! The physical need to make is deeply ingrained in me, so that it’s an essential part of what keeps me grounded and feeling fully human. intellectually, I’m driven by a fascination with the (dying) languages of architectural decoration and a desire to challenge the hierarchies of objects and places that these languages delineate.
2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
Architecture, the many strange, ubiquitous languages of architectural decoration, the details and forms found in historic buildings and furniture - they’re all sources of inspiration. I’m particularly drawn to unexpected collisions of the ordinary and extraordinary, whether that’s the jumble of an architectural salvage yard, the romance of a grand, decaying old buildings, or the accidental still-life of humble utilitarian objects found in a garden shed.
3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?
I’ve always been drawn to clay’s architectural history and interested in how a sense of monumentality can be brought into seemingly ‘ordinary’ objects. Although I initially created sculpture that referenced functional forms, I’ve gradually come to embrace the potential of making functional objects themselves. This feels a bit like smuggling - being able to distill ideas into objects that then go on to inhabit ‘real’ places and form the backdrop to other people’s lives.
My practical training as an Architectural Terracotta model-maker has stayed with me; I use semi-industrial techniques like press-moulding and slip-casting, where plaster is as important as clay. I’m interested in how these processes can create work with the same neatness and sharpness as mass-produced things; I’ll go out of my way to remove my maker’s marks so that the pieces feel like architectural fragments or repurposed industrial forms. I love how this can blur the boundaries between everyday objects and art objects, prompting us to look again at the architecture and things that surround us.
4. What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?
The opportunity to work with amazing spaces, particularly public ones, has made me very proud - I completed my first permanent installation for Aberdeen Art Gallery in 2019, which was a huge thrill. I'm also very grateful (and proud) to be making full-time, when I know many talented folk having to squeeze their practices into the gaps between life’s everyday demand.
5. What is your dream project?
It’s a cliche, perhaps, but my dream project is a personal one: to build or restore my own house. And I think I mean it in quite a literal sense - I’d love the chance to be hands-on with the crafting of a piece of architecture and its contents, featuring plenty of ceramics, of course!
To be kept informed about new collections from James Rigler, please email [email protected]