myCornwall talks to ceramicist Keith Johnson at his home on the Lizard Penninsula to learn more about his unique mosaic creations.
Nestled in a peaceful setting on the Lizard Penninsula lies the beautiful stone cottage and picturesque home of mosaic artist Keith Johnson. It’s here deep in the Cornish landscape that he creates his pieces by combining vibrant tiles with other rustic materials such as driftwood and slate.
Once inside one’s eye is immediately drawn to the royal blue tiles of a lobster hanging in the hallway, one of Keith’s first creations and it is strikingly apparent that he holds a proud, personal connection with the crafts that he creates, be it a small mosaic mounted on driftwood or a large tabletop.
Keith’s early working life could not have been more different having worked in both the building and fishing industries since he left school at the age of 15, he never imagined he would one day be a ceramicist. “If you had said to me ten years ago that I would be making ceramics I would have laughed, but what I love about my work is that there are no rules, I basically started this myself, I didn’t go to art school or college etc… it’s self-taught, so there are no limits, no-one can question my technique.”
It all started when at the age of 50 Keith received some news that would see him leaving the fishing industry and send him in search of a new career. “12 years ago I was diagnosed with Lymphoma and I found myself sitting around at home with nothing to do. Having worked all my life it was a shock to not be working.” It was during an afternoon sat at home that a friend planted the idea of painting and Keith realised that he could put some of his accumulated skills to good use. “I thought what can I do, I’ve worked with copper and did quite a lot of tiling over the years but it wasn’t until during a visit to Treliske Hospital, that a very large mosaic caught my eye and really inspired me to give it a try.”
Shrouded in greenery at the bottom of the garden is Keith’s studio, an unassuming shed coated in the dust from his angle grinder, and it was here that the very first piece was created. ‘I used a rough piece of driftwood, and cut pieces of tile with pliers and that’s really where my business began.’ explained Keith.
From that moment on Craft Ceramics has evolved from starting as a hobby to becoming a successful business with pieces on display in galleries such as The Roundhouse at Sennen and stalls at local craft fairs, including being a part of the ‘Made in Cornwall’ scheme. Keith explains that the business ‘has really gone from strength to strength. But the strangest point of it all is if I had never been diagnosed with cancer, I would never have known that I could have done something like this and unearthed such a creative talent.’
When seeking inspiration for a new piece Keith often turns to the great outdoors, ‘the landscape inspires me, some of the wildlife I see whilst walking around the Lizard Penninsula often sparks new ideas, but obviously trying to transfer that inspiration in to tiles is no easy task. I’m like an artist, an artist is always trying to paint the perfect picture. I’m trying to translate what I see in my head in to mosaic and tiles which is extremely difficult because you don’t have a brush, you can’t rub it out, once you’ve made it you’ve made it. I don’t think I ever actually achieve what I set out to do, but near enough.’
The pieces themselves range from simple designs on driftwood to pieces which are quite intricate, table tops, swimming pools and mosaics on the side of houses. Like many artists Keith is always looking for work that will challenge his creative talents. ‘I love a challenge, I love for people to say to me would you make me so and so. I tend to go for the nautical theme, but if someone comes along and says they want something a bit unusual made then that’s good, because then you’re challenging yourself and I enjoy that.’
Mosaics are traditionally made using broken tiles with straight edges but where Keith’s technique differs is that he works more with curves. ‘I like to create more movement in the picture and I love colour in my pieces too, but not everyone likes colour, and you have to go with what the fashion is in peoples houses. I have to really consider who will buy my work and strike a balance between what I like and what the people who buy my work will like.’
As the conversation shifts to talking about the future it is clear that Keith would like to see his work reach a wider audience. ‘I would love to see my designs in galleries up and down the country but in the short term I just want the business to keep progressing and I’d like to think I can do this for many years to come. Ideally I’d love to own an art gallery of my own, which may well be my next step.’
Keith’s Work is available from the following galleries:
The Seine Loft
The Cove, Coverack, Helston, Cornwall TR12 6SX
01326 280 003
The Lizard, Helston, Cornwall TR12 7NU
The Roundhouse and Capstan Gallery
Sennen Cove, Lands End, Cornwall TR19 7DF
The Customs House Gallery
Commercial Road, Porthleven, Cornwall TR13 9JD
The Orchard, Bruggan, Ruan Minor, Helston, Cornwall TR12 7LQ
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