Robin Levien graduated from BA Ceramic Design in 1973
Why did you choose ceramics?
In a way ceramics chose me. I was a 14 year old schoolboy whose favourite subject was art. A new art teacher arrived and brought a kiln and clay to the school. He told us to draw what we wanted to make. I found a book on Chinese art and drew a seated Buddha. At the class the following week my teacher said ‘isn’t that a bit ambitious Levien but go ahead if you must’. He explained the basics of ceramics and I started coiling. A couple of weeks later the kiln door was opened and my 30cm tall Buddha sat resplendent in the ruins of the other students pots. They hadn’t let their pieces dry out enough. I got a pat on the back and that was it I was hooked. I have worked with ceramics almost every day since, that’s 50 years.
What is your worst memory of studying at CSM?
I made a piggy bank for a girlfriend. It was in the kiln room waiting to be biscuit fired when I found it in pieces. There was a suggestion that our Gilbert Harding Green had given it a sharp tap with his walking cane. I am sure if he did that his judgement of its aesthetic merit was correct but his way of letting me know felt a bit harsh.
How did the course shape and define your future career?
I learnt to design through making at CSM and I have applied this methodology ever since. Even now with the amazing techniques available in our digital world, a model is handmade of every design that I am involved in developing at Studio Levien. All five of the designers at Studio Levien are ceramics graduates.
What were the creative influences on you at the time?
Richard Slee as mentioned previously was an influence. ‘Funk Art’ in America which challenged the status quo in ceramics made an impression on me. Kitsch became important to me, the fashion brand BIBA was just blooming in High Street Kensington. I was interested in exploring good and bad taste through my work.
Why have you continued to work in ceramics?
I have been designing ceramics nearly every day for the past 40 years. I work in both the bathroom and tableware industries, as a friend kindly pointed out: ‘so Robin you design products for both ends of the alimentary canal’. I got hooked on ceramics as a teenager and have loved working with it every day since.
How do you perceive the value of ceramics?
Ceramics is the medium about which mankind has the longest continuous record. What excites me so much about ceramics is the amazing variety of qualities that can be achieved both in the body and the surface.
Working very closely with one material for a long time and really getting to understand it can be a springboard to many other things. The patience, skill and sheer determination required to create beauty with ceramics has set me up to tackle any design project.
What excites you about ceramics today?
It is the endless diversity of ceramics that excites me. From a perfectly flat floor tile the size of a door to a hand thrown bowl in a Tenmoku glaze, one the antithesis of the another, both beautiful, both ceramic.
What do you see in the future for ceramics?
The durability, the cleanliness, the coldness, the warmth, the beauty of ceramics guarantees its future benefits. Imagine a day without it. Maintaining a belief that art, ceramics in particular, can somehow influence or change the way we live and relate to the world we live in may sound like a hopeless cause, but someone has to do it.