Town and Country An Encounter with the Unnervingly Talented Tish Potter
Tish Potter is one of those annoying people who is brilliant in not one but two entirely unconnected professions. After twenty years of continuous success as an actor, including long-standing and outstanding roles in two of the most successful soap operas in British Television history, Brookside and Holby City, as well as parts in Absolutely Fabulous and Ricky Gervais’ Extras, she decided to add to her professional life the artistic work she had always longed to produce. Within a few short years, she has become a highly sought-after sculptor and fine artist.
Her work and her life embrace the vibrant heart of London and the quietest, timeless corners of the countryside. Story of Home had the pleasure of spending time with her at the beautiful home in Dartmouth Park that she shares with her husband and children.
Describe your sculptures and how you seek to convey the essence of the animals you sculpt.
I make my sculptures in wax, clay or plaster and they are cast into bronze or bronze resin at the foundry in Devon. The partnership between sculptor and foundry is symbiotic. Without them I am merely playing about with materials. My commissions tend to be pets so there’s a wide range of subjects, while the work I do because I get the urge leans towards horses, foxes, hares; animals that move me. The trick to conveying the essence of the animals I sculpt is to give the subject an intention. The animal has to be thinking something or doing something specific.
You choose to sculpt both in London and in Dorset. Tell us about the two spaces.
I make smaller pieces in my ‘studio’ in London (the room in my house that used to be called ‘the playroom’ when the kids were small, that I defiantly re-named ‘the studio’ and we are now in a running battle about whether it becomes ‘the hideous teenage den’).
For larger pieces I am lucky to work from the idyllic studio in rural Dorset of my friend and mentor, the artist Clare Trenchard. She is extraordinarily generous about supporting other artists and I would not be doing this without her encouragement and teaching. I am a great believer in working happy, and the fact that the studio is close to my lovely father-in-law and the Foundry just over the border in Devon adds to my love of producing work there.
Tell us about your highly atmospheric etchings.
Printmaking developed out of my lifelong interest in photography and is my chosen way of making images that move me. The etching process allows me to manipulate photographic images to some degree and I find the way in which acid and other chemicals react to zinc and steel endlessly interesting and challenging. Most of my images are of Hampstead Heath, which is very close to our house, so I am there every day with Betty, our border terrier, photographing anything that catches my eye.
Which artists are significant to your own journey?
I’m inspired by the work of Nicola Hicks, Lawrence Edwards, Antony Gormley and Elizabeth Frink, by the breath-taking movement and life in their work. I have surrounded myself with photographs from an early age; Henri Cartier-Bresson, Jane Bown, Eve Arnold and Diane Arbus are all at the heart of my love of imagery. And the paintings of Turner, Lucian Freud, and Ethel Walker remain awe-inspiring to me, as was the recent William Kentridge show at the RA with his prints, drawings and animated films, tapestries and sculptures.
You live in London but is it fair to say that the countryside is a huge part of your life?
I definitely have a foot in London and a foot in the countryside. I grew up on the family farm in Kent where my parents and sister still work and I miss it when I’m away from it. And of course, farm animals are wonderful subjects. I recently completed a bronze of the farm bull, Bob. Having said that, I think I would become twitchy being in the middle of nowhere all the time. I love the energy of London. It keeps you sharp.
What animals are hard to get right?!
My most challenging and exciting commission to date was a pair of life-sized alpacas for a client’s Oxfordshire estate. Alpacas are extraordinary creatures with odd proportions, so there was a great deal of standing back and questioning during the sculpting process. They were cast into bronze and transported on the back of a low loader cross-country from Devon, stirring fond memories of the old fisher price circus train toy from my childhood; the one with the giraffe’s head poking out of the carriage.
Who commissions you? What sort of people and for what sorts of homes?
I receive a lot of commissions from dog owners, which I love and perhaps expected, but could not have predicted the range of other commissions that would come in. Last autumn I did a life-sized portrait of Charlotte the Terrapin, otherwise known as Charlotte the Great, who lives in a very stylish home in Camden. I thought she would be cold and difficult to get life into, but she was a real character, very responsive and outraged by her own image which she tried to attack. One of the many things I enjoy about my work is the mixture of clients and subjects, both urban and rural.
Describe your relationship with London.
I love London. I arrived in 1994, in Earls Court, to go to drama school (LAMDA). Walking around London makes me feel proud to be a Londoner; the variety of people and cultures, the architecture, the many meetings of different minds. I still become misty-eyed at Christmas time walking down Regents Street, then across to Bond Street and down to Fortnum’s to buy cheese and chutney in posh pots for presents. Betty and I walk every day on Hampstead Heath, up to Kenwood. We lived in Camden when the kids were born and I did a daily walk along the canal to Primrose Hill for a coffee before swinging home via the zoo. It is a city packed with my best memories and future plans. It’s a lovely feeling when you realise you’ve found ‘your’ patch of London, where you feel you belong. For us, it is our home on the east side of the Heath in Dartmouth Park.
What do you like about home and homemaking?
We love our Georgian house. It is sloping dramatically sideways but was built in 1792 so I think that’s allowed. It is not huge, but proportionally it is perfect (well done Georgians) so it feels airy and cosy, quirky and elegant. I read house magazines in an embarrassingly obsessive way and three flop through the door every month on subscription so, yes, I am partial to a cushion. I like an antique too, especially from Peter Barrow antiques in Faversham in my Kent homeland. I also love French interiors but with twin 13-year-olds my delusions of style are foiled at every turn and largely covered in laundry.
What are your favourite London haunts?
It takes a lot to persuade me more than 200 yards from my front door but I break this rule to go dancing, to go to the Ivy with Jim, my husband, on our anniversary, to walk the bridges between Hammersmith and Barnes with a stop at The Elder Press cafe for breakfast, to visit any antique fair (Battersea and LAPADA Berkeley Square, in particular), to go to the Royal Academy, to snoop at the contents of sales coming up at Sotheby’s, to swim in the ladies’ pond on a boiling day with a picnic of vegetarian meze from Bistro Laz for afters, and to go shopping at Liberty.
To discover more about Tish Potter’s beautiful work, visit; https://www.tishpotter.co.uk/