Issue 93Faith in the Miraculous

The brief for Matthew Raw’s Faith in the Miraculous for the University of Warwick’s Faculty of Arts Building asked for a ceramic mural to mark the inclusive, collaborative ambition of the building. He tells us how it came to be. 

"Faith in the miraculous is a play between city and campus, past and future, a reach back to the modernist vision"  Sarah Shalgosky

The commission for an artwork, that would be part of the University of Warwick Faculty of Arts Building, started with an out of the blue approach by Sarah Shalgosky – Curator at University of Warwick. This was closely followed by an in-depth and collaborative meeting with FCBStudios that made me feel like I was part of the team. This was my biggest project to date and my first on a building that was still in the design stages. Production would be done with the architectural ceramics manufacturer, once they had been appointed.

At this point, with an open brief and supportive client, my process could remain loose and ideas based.

I took a deep dive into context. Coventry has a wealth of public art, and the cast concrete works by post-industrial artist William Mitchell caught my imagination. I visited the Cathedral and was blown away by how radical it still is. The imagery kept folding back into my artwork, anchoring it in the area and the ethos of the cathedral.  I explored Warwick University’s extensive art collection – which is all published online - and met with David and Sarah to walk around the campus and experience the collection in person.

As we walked, we talked about the building as a public building, accessible to everyone. We talked about colour and making art that can talk to the wider community. We talked about the context and anchoring the artwork in the history of the area and its people. The artwork would be something that would stand out from the building, a joyous piece that would talk to a lot of different people.

Form

Fast forward to January 2020 – Sarah, David and I went to the ceramic factory to look at samples for the building’s terracotta façade, and to explore ideas and techniques. I stayed on and made a ‘homage to William Mitchell’.  It was a dead-end, marrying an idea with a technique that just didn’t quite work.

My mind went back to the John Piper baptistry windows at the Cathedral (image 2), the unbelievable colour and the scale organised within a grid of glass panes and contrasting concrete spines. It is an over the top, three dimensional in your face, artwork, that demands that you relate to and interact with it.  

For the mural at the Faculty of Arts Building, a large-scale ceramic panel format was emerging after our visit to the factory, using the parameters of industrial production. The spines of the baptistry window inspired the fins on either side of the ceramic panels, using the greatest possible depth available to the ceramic extrusion to visually break up the flatness of the piece and establish a grid, a common theme in my work. 

Colour

I’d already spoken to a lot of the staff and students at Warwick, but how to get out to the public was something different. During the pandemic, the project was put on pause. I decided to use the time for research.  Sarah introduced me to Mike Tooby, a writer and curator at Bath Spa University and Ben Hayday, community officer at Warwick, as mentors and our conversations developed into a dialogue about how communities can feel and express ownership.

Part of Warwick University's mission is to be accessible to all, and part of the role of the mural is to make the building less ‘intimidating’ as a university building, to allow it to talk to a wider community.

We decided to initially engage with just one school and chose one in Canley – an area geographically close to the University, but culturally a million miles away. At this point, most schools were offering remote learning. Ben, Mike and I developed an interactive activity that looked at Murals - what they are, Coventry’s murals and particular, one that is in Canley, alongside some of the work in the Warwick University collection.

I was thinking about colour in the mural, and how to make it meaningful and asked the children to fill in shapes with different colours and respond to abstract questions: ‘What colour is Canley, and Why?’ 

The response was fantastic. It talked about nature and architecture which was evocative of the place. We decided to roll the activity out across Warwickshire through the University website, resulting in a palette of colours relating to the area.

Armed with the colours, I returned to the ceramic panels, to translate our palette to bright, impactful, coloured glazes.

Melting pots

The Faculty of Arts Building will bring people together in a way that wasn’t happening before. Where previously there was a 15-minute walk across campus between French and Classics, the new building invites cross-disciplinary collaboration, through shared studios, chance encounters, skills and ideas exchange.

The tiles, arranged in 21 columns of five tiles each, could be seen to represent separate silos of knowledge. Where they meet, however, there is an intervention. The fins separate the coloured columns, but each one has a break - carved from the clay by hand – which allows the colour to flow between them. This gestural human intervention into an industrial process allows for an explosion of colour, flowing and mixing and celebrating the chance coming together.

Its title, Faith in the Miraculous, is taken from the Coventry Mystery plays. These industry-sponsored plays celebrate the skills and the products that local people made. They engaged the public in their craft and product. For me, the title also reflects the process that we undertook – the University, the architect and I looking at post-war artwork in Coventry city centre, the Cathedral, the University Art Collection and talking to local people.

Matthew Raw

Mathew Raw is a ceramic artist based in London. He is a founding member of Studio Manifold. His work focuses on people and place, responding to real-life accounts and looking for forms and materials to communicate his thoughts. https://www.mraw.co.uk/

Images

1. The new Faculty of Arts Building for Warwick University. Designed by FCBStudios. c. Hufton + Crow
2. John Piper Baptistry Window, Coventry Cathedral. c. Julian P Guffogg (CC) 
3. Page from the consultation and engagement materials with Canley School. 
4. Ceramic colour samples
5. Sketch for Faith in the Miraculous 
6. Matthew Raw colour mixing glazes on the unfired panels 
7. Pair of yellow/blue panels ready for installation
8. The mural marks the entrance to the Faculty of Arts Building
9. Matthew Raw with the mural Faith in the Miraculous

All images c. Matthew Raw, unless otherwise stated. 

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