If you’ve been walking through Kelham Island recently, chances are you’ve seen some rather interesting artworks being installed on the 400 meter stretch of wall that forms the Southern Boundary of Little Kelham.  

It’s the Kelham Island Urban Art Gallery, or KurbArt for short. It’s all thanks to KIAC, the Kelham Island Arts Collective, who came up with the concept when we asked them to do something with the big stretch of empty wall that’d really show-off the area’s amazing creative talent & industrial heritage.

In total, they’ll be 13 separate works, from 5 different artists. Joanna Whittle is one the artists, who has created a large painted mural and an installation of over 120 tessellating tiles. We ask Joanna to tell her more about her two pieces for the KurbArt project. 

First of all, tell us what you’re creating for the Kelham Island Urban Art project (KurbArt)

Joanna: I have created one 3x 5-metre mural and have also handmade over 125 ceramic tiles which I am currently installing on a tessellated pattern within the brickwork at one end of Green Lane.

The mural:


The tiles:

You’ve produced two pieces for the KurbArt project, both very different in terms of the materials used. What, if anything, links the two pieces?

Joanna: Both pieces are underpinned by my work as a painter which focuses on landscape, environment and history. They capture the convergence of wildlife and industry and the tension that exists between these as well as the rich history of the area. The painting reflects the undercurrent of nature flowing through and via the river and addresses notions of the burgeoning of this nature. The ceramic piece also reflects these elements and all are explored in the variety of tiles. In addition, reflective stain on the brickwork will echo marks in the painting, again re-emphasising the fluid and motile quality of nature which flows beneath solid stone, ceramic or brick. 

Why did you decide to work with two very different mediums for your two pieces?

Joanna: Many elements of the painting are reflected in the ceramic piece, particularly in the black and white tiles. Many of the scenes depicted are local but all are surrounded by trees or overgrowth in reimagined situations. This serves both to isolate the elements as in the island piece but also to again bring in this natural, fluid, wilder element. I am quite new to ceramics and it has a different context and language than painting. However, in many of the tiles I am bringing in strong painting elements as well as embracing some of the more decorative and formulaic aspects of ceramics. I like to use glazes like paint, to create layered and fluid effects as well as more detailed drawings. Whilst I will always be a painter I developed an interest in ceramics in my childhood as my dad was from Stoke-so ceramics featured quite highly. My dad passed away last year and this piece is made for him as well as celebrating the local history and nature of the local area.  Some of the tiles also reflect the industrial history of Stoke and its development of ceramic processes. I am also interested in the elemental processes used in creating ceramics, with high temperatures altering and hardening clay into stone. I like the similarities with this and the production of steel, with hard impenetrable elements having once been fluid.

Your titles appear differently at day and night, can you talk us through the effect you’re creating here, and how it’ll visually impact on passers-by

Joanna: The tiles themselves will not be altered at night, but the surrounding and integral brickwork will have reflective elements painted on. This will only visible at night in reflected light such as street lighting or car headlights. This means the piece continues to operate nocturnally as does nature, and as do various industrial processes. I like the idea of things going on at night secretly and only becoming apparent in certain light conditions.




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