Sharon Griffin b1975, Telford, Shropshire, UK
Sharon (born sharon Massey) grew up in the 1970s and 80s in Telford, with her Mother (Jan) step father (Tony) and siblings (Sara and Lee). Her story is typical of the area, with divorced biological parents, a diverse extended family and a history of domestic violence. Schools were comprehensive, education was limited and pubs were plenty. The Telford New Town was designed to provide low skilled, low paid employment; built specifically to provide alternative, affordable homes to the people living in the neighbouring cities; Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Liverpool.
The council estates where Sharon grew up in; Brookside, Woodside and Sutton Hill were situated on the outskirts of Ironbridge, a scenic tourist destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Silkin Way; a network of pathways and walkways through woodlands surround council estates, linking the rural countryside with factory buildings.
Telford is the fastest growing town in the UK and thrives off industry. It also had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe in the late 1980's.
A Love and Hate relationship.
Fond childhood memories of adventures in woodlands mixed with violent physical outbursts from parents, neighbours and family members; this was a constant nerve wracking experience. The woodlands surrounding the council estates provided an endless rural playground. Family dog walks, fruit picking (for home brew) den building with Sara. Playing out. All of these experiences had an undercurrent; a feeling of being unsafe. The family home was secure in terms of it being clean (my mother prided herself in her housekeeping) and there was always food on the table. Memories of the fence being ripped up and smashed through the kitchen window in the middle of the night as a reaction to Jan shooting her air rifle at the wild pack of dogs which roamed the estates, however wasn't giving off a feeling of safety.
At times, life at home was difficult. Jan was often ill and so school and peers were a great distraction. Taking up Drums as a musical instrument at school and seeking refuge in the art rooms (with an endless supply of paint, paper and clay) helped to drown out the unsafe feelings. The loudness of the drum kit, the physical beating and immersive element to the rhythms in terms of sound and touch was very much needed. I inadvertently created my own safe space, preferring to escape to the padded practice rooms and art workshops in school to home life. Taking up art was a natural progression to my career choices and I attended New College (Wellington) and then Shrewsbury Art College; finally choosing to study Ceramics at the University of Wolverhampton.
The experience of attending college and University was so alien; so new and so different, it was at times overwhelming. I worked alongside students who lived outside of my own community, who had never heard of Telford. They spoke another language and came from countries I didn't know existed. I was hungry for knowledge but still afraid of my own shadow.
Renowned Potter and Ceramicist Melanie Brown, provided a much needed support within my last year of my ceramics degree. Mel listened to what I had to say and I felt that I was being heard; really heard. Being listened to was also quite a new experience. I found my voice; and was shown how clay could help me communicate this feeling and express emotion; include stories and narrative in my own artwork.
At this time, my pots were a direct response to my experiences of working in a factory which produced car parts. The environment there was bleak. It was dirty, smoky and dangerous. It was hard work physically. I worked 12 hour shifts; nights and days to help fund my degree and I worked during the summer and in between semesters. It was this experience which led me to be curious about the men who were employed full time there. It was an insight into what life could be like for me. I became very fond of the men who worked in this factory. I had an insight into the unfairness of the hierarchy system in which these men worked. A kind of trapping. I wondered if they had been given choices or opportunities and support like I had; would these hard working men still choose to work in this bleak place?
Later, whilst studying an MA, Gwen Heeney, David Jones and Mel Brown provided further support in terms of opportunities for exhibitions and networking events with the Wedgewood Museum as part of the Wolves Alumni.
I had a sell out show with the University at Art In Clay, Hatfield in 1997 when I completed my degree. I made pots in those days.
The factory workers influenced my art greatly in terms of their behaviour and interaction towards one another. Being the only female in a factory setting gave a unique insight into how men interacted physically and emotionally within a confined space. This led to a development in my art and a move towards figurative sculpture.
I went on to study a Masters Degree in ceramics and focused on the theme of identity; exploring this theme using the human figure and face. Personal studies and experiences of working classes in industry helped to form the basis of a collection of sculptural figures in clay. The sculpted forms were used as a platform to voice my own ideas, visually and I hoped that the work would help conversations happen, leading to questions within British Society, culture, race and gender.
Between studies, I started a family of my own and became employed as an Art and Design Lecturer at Telford College of Arts & Technology.
Working as a Lecturer and having a young family took up most of my time and my artwork fitted in when I had a moment to myself; which was rare! My art became an art therapy.
During 2011 I went through a major tragedy with the birth and death of my son which acted as the catalyst for a major focus on my own work full time.
In 2014, I left teaching and became a full time sculptor, setting up a community pottery and focussing on the human form as a vehicle in which to explore ideas, feelings, emotions, stories and my connection with Telford. To be able to work with clay on a daily basis is mind-blowingly brilliant. My search for the essence that makes us human is ever elusive and it will continue to be a fascination and passion for me.
I wish to continue to aspire, to educate and introduce art to a wider audience within my own community and to search for a deeper meaning within my own life through the exploration in clay.
For latest updates of my work and processes please join me on Instagram where I use it as an informal blog. Please do check out the 'featured work' part of this website too.