Ceramics and pottery mean the world to Lotte Glob, and now a new installation takes her to the centre of the earth
LOTTE Glob and I are sitting in the gallery space at the Watermill in Aberfeldy. Outside twilight is gathering, and the swell of recent rain has made the River Tay roar.
Inside we are talking about the planets, the sea, volcanic activity and the ruins of Pompeii. Earth, air, fire and water have inspired her ceramics for some 50 years and fuelled her remarkable life as an artist in some of Scotland’s most remote and beautiful places.
“I’ve always been interested, since I was very little, in what’s out there,” she says, her voice still leavened by the accent of her native Denmark, and points to the window. “Why is the world going round? And also what’s in there,” she points to the floor. “I’ve started fitting it together like the plates. I’ve been drifting all this time like the tectonic plates.”
Indeed her new show is called Tectonic – Plates And Tiles: a vast ceramic installation of suspended discs that look like planets and glazed tiles with rocky, glittering surfaces that might be rivers of fire, or pictures of the surface of the earth captured by a distant satellite.
As the tiles are purchased, the installation will shift, moving like the earth’s crust. Drift is the metaphor that Glob uses to mean that the world is perpetually in motion. She’s certainly not a drifter in any conventional sense, having carved herself a home and career, first in a disused military base turned craft village at Balnakeil near Durness and then, in the last decade, in her remarkable house and studio on a croft at Loch Eriboll in Sutherland.
She is a traveller, who left Denmark at 19, and a skilled hill walker who spends days alone in some of Scotland’s wildest landscapes, but the word drift doesn’t capture her tenacity or driven nature.
Intensely charismatic, 68-year-old Glob has lupine blue eyes, a deep weather-beaten tan and thick white hair tied loosely in a ponytail. She is dressed simply but practically in a dark blue t-shirt, thick grey cardigan and blue cargo trousers. Her thick striped socks were knitted by one of her ceramic students.
She has the lean body and big hands of someone who has worked physically hard all her adult life. She was only 13 when a school trip in her native Denmark took her to a pottery: “There were five men at kick wheels, sitting throwing pots and they just couldn’t get me away.”
By the time she was 14, she had persuaded her parents she should leave school to pursue her training: “I wasn’t very good at school, I didn’t like it, I used to head out to the fields on my bike. I would always find clay and make something.”
She served two apprenticeships; one with one of Denmark’s most important studio potters was a gruelling exercise in discipline and graft that gave her a powerful sense of aesthetics. There were long days spent preparing clay and sieving ash, and throwing her own pots at night. “If I hadn’t really wanted to work in ceramics,” she says, “it would have killed me.”
The second apprenticeship was with a family who had been making commercial pots for eight generations. “We were making bowls for chicken feed, and rabbits, hundreds and hundreds of them. Behind me there was still the old grandfather, who was 84, doing all these big, big bowls, telling me stories from a long time ago.”
Her experiences gave her balance, she says, but it was the contours of the north-west and the rich mineral landscape that inspired her unique art. She fell in love with Scotland in 1964, the moment she entered the Clyde estuary on a cattle boat from Dublin. “First class at the front, the cows in the middle and second class at the back,’ she recalls. “It was wonderful. Everyone was singing and drinking beer and everything, coming through the Clyde. I just fell in love with Scotland. The cranes were still there. It was one of those still mornings with mist. I will never forget sitting there with my mug of very strong Scottish tea.”
As well as making work for galleries and museums, Glob has also worked unnoticed in the landscape. She has left her ceramic sculptures on remote hillsides across the Highlands and left her “floating stones” to drift untended in isolated lochans and shorelines. These days she is carving out a new landscape on the 14 acres of land she has planted with 4,000 trees and hundreds of artworks. “It’s not a sculpture garden, that’s something nice and tidy,” she laughs, “it’s a sculpture croft.”
In the early 80s she began a remarkable series of experiments, taking rocks and minerals she collected in the landscape and heating them in her kiln. “I even put a big boulder in the kiln, it started melting and fracturing, it looked like a big dinosaur egg about to hatch,” Did she have any accidents? “Oh loads. I would not recommend any student or art school to melt rocks.”
Now on her croft she has begun a new set of experiments, taking the animal bones and skeletons she finds on her travels and fusing them to her clay. At the Watermill this month she will show these works for the first time: the looped neck of a curlew, the shattered spine of a beloved local otter. “They are like shadows, or fossils,” she says. “They are little memorials and reminders that we all turn to dust.”
Art still drives her, says Lotte Glob, and sometimes that relentless drive it is a curse, but in nature, she finds her solace and her inspiration. “If you can’t sleep, go out and look at the planets. If you’re worried, just go out and look at them, because you’re that,” she gestures with her thumb and forefinger just a centimetre apart. “A tiny dot.”
Watermill Gallery, Aberfeldy until 7 October. www.aberfeldywatermill.com/art