The Ragged School Museum on the banks of Regent’s Canal has witnessed almost two centuries of change in East London, as a succession of communities have come and gone, each leaving their own traces on the urban landscape. Even the museum buildings themselves have evolved over the decades: warehouse to schoolhouse, factory to museum. There can therefore be few more appropriate settings to host the artist Matthew Raw’s first solo show, Clad – a study of urban evolution, and the migrant populations that drive it, in sculptural ceramic tiles.
Up until 14 May, Raw will be displaying eight specially created artworks in clay, terracotta and earthenware tiles. Each piece is a response to the concept of the urban grid – the framework of streets, buildings, paving stones and indeed tiles, that shapes the cities around us – and the ways in which these grids are transformed by the movement of people over time.
The eight works vary in scale and form. 'Individual Motives' is composed of large, hand-rolled tiles featuring details of etchings found in Dr Barnado’s Night & Day journal, published at the time he founded the Ragged School. Another piece, 'Panel Discussion', comprises four three-dimensional tiles inspired by a 15th-century Italian shrine and featuring a quote from Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew in hand-formed clay lettering. 'Fearful Symmetry' directly addresses the issue of who creates urban grids, while 'Top Table' explores the connections between empire and exploitation.
"From the start it was clear that Clad was a perfect fit for the Ragged School, where a densely layered history is reflected in the variegated surfaces of the building," exclaims Erica Davies, Director of Ragged School Museum. "Matthew's brilliant combination of technique, innovation and research into the past inspires us to consider these hidden lives and forgotten histories."
Before the launch of the exhibition, Raw transported the works from his studio in Hoxton to the Ragged School Museum by a converted barge along Regent's Canal. This unusual journey represents a link to the history of his craft – Britain's father of industrial ceramics, Josiah Wedgwood, was instrumental in the development of the nation's canals, as they were the safest mode of transport for his pottery. Raw said: "I think it's important to understand the past so that you can respect where the future is taking us."
Clad by Matthew Raw will be on show at The Ragged School Museum until 14 May. For more information, visit raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk.
Photography by Marina Castagna