‘Knowledge is just a rumour until it lives in the muscle.’ This is what Romy Northover, of No. does. She translates her passionate intellect and particular brand of emotional intelligence into ceramics and jewellery – a true transfer of mind to matter. It’s a visceral craft, physical and gritty, with visible texture, sometimes even the echo of a handprint, left behind in each unique piece.
Ceramics is something that transcends borders: between nations, centuries and cultural practices, and is as significant in the art world today as it was an everyday necessity of ancient cultures. How perfect it is, then, that Romy seeks and finds inspiration from her international familial split (her family living in Europe while she and her husband hail from NYC), and a rich array of references and stories. Her ‘ancient future’ style is evidence of this: earthy and humble pieces refined by a deep consideration of the dialogue she exists within.
The first time I encountered her work in the flesh was at Sydney’s China Heights Gallery at her exhibition, ‘Continental’, curated by fellow creative, Kara Town. The entire show was an example of how the ancient art of ceramics can permeate the contemporary sphere with such elegance and intrigue.
It is safe to say that Romy is someone who is informed. She has studied art her entire life, believing it to be in the eye of the beholder, changing as we do. Perhaps this is why she works predominantly in clay – ceramics are a way for her to make permanent her dreams and thoughts and impressive list of references she calls upon when she creates. And Romy is a creator. She adds to culture from nature’s basic resources, and has an inherent talent for imbuing each piece with knowledge and emotional energy. It makes sense, then, that she lists her own body and intuition as her constant inspiration – her body is her tool and the earth is her material. The rest is just a rumour.
Sophie Flecknoe: Firstly, introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Romy Northover: I’m the owner of the Ceramic design house ‘No.’ I work primarily with clay.
What were the origins of your craft for you personally?
Ceramics moves me in a way I can’t really articulate with words, which is why I continually try to demonstrate it through my work. For me the process and transformation is profound, philosophical. I see working with clay like music in a way; you can approach it from so many different angles, intuitive or scientific. It is incredibly simple but at the same time hugely complex. And when you strip it right back it doesn’t matter where you come from – like a beat everyone can understand a bowl, I love that about it.
Can you elaborate on your ‘ancient future’ style? How do you approach styling and concept development?
Ancient Future is the attitude with which I study. I have great respect for traditions, however I’m a dreamer and I love to project way out into space. Knowing what to take with [me] and what to let go is part of my training. It’s about an experience, a lifetime. Ceramics is an ancient medium as old as civilization. The connection to the body is so apparent, you can literally see the imprint of the hand that made it, and I make pots that will almost certainly outlive me. The earth is where we come from and go to – it sustains us. It’s all part of a much bigger cycle.
Your recent ‘Villa Del Lupo’ floral installation earlier this year references the Romanticism of white on white. Is there a particular period of art or culture to which you resonate with?
I’ve studied art my whole life, in one way or another. One thing I’ve learnt is it’s all about where you are in life as to what resonates with you, that’s why you can look at a work of art at age 10, 25 and 30 and see something different each time. Art evolves as you do. It’s so essential. I can’t tie myself to any one thing because it shifts… That said, I never tire of white, and what is ever present is the call of the wild!
How did your collaboration with Calvin Klein come about? How do the two brands, as well as the aesthetic of John Pawson [who designed the CK space] interact with or impact each other?
This is what I love to do, work with people/ brands that have a strong identity because it gives me a framework so I can focus and dive deep. I researched the history of the brand in great detail, and the spaces designed by architect John Pawson. I inherently understand and relate to what they are talking about with their vision. The pots that I made were in response to what I felt in that space.
Can you tell me about your recent exhibition, CONTINENTAL, at China Heights in Sydney?
Kara Town, who invited me to do the show, and I have become great friends over the last couple of years. Doing an exhibition was an important part of the process and exploring ways of presenting the work but it was also so great to work with someone I admire. I made the work in NYC, and Kara took creative control on the curation in Sydney, and Caitlin Melling did an exquisite floral installation. Kara has a very special talent for arrangement and she knows how to offset beauty like no one else. It’s very indicative of who she is, she approaches work and life with a genuine heart and integrity – to me this is the epitome of elegance.
It was a beautiful show, I must say. I was deeply moved, especially by the gold and Moroccan blue pieces. Let’s expand on the Moroccan blue in your Majorelle vase. Have you visited Morocco? I have always wanted to travel to this part of the world – I feel a connection with it even without having travelled there. What’s the story behind this reference for you?
It was 10 years ago since I went to Morocco but I can still feel it – my senses were on high alert. I’m primarily into form, texture and tone but when I do colour I like to go deep. It’s like an opposing force – that vibrant blue is something else – it’s almost spiritual in its clarity. I reference the past with my work and these colours hold strong significance, both to the natural and the civilized world. In Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle you get the perfect example of this. We had read that the colours were incredible in the Moroccan sunlight, but let me tell you it’s incredible in the rain too, that blue doesn’t stop glowing.
You have collaborated with a very impressive list of brands and publications including The Line and of course, Calvin Klein. What do you look for in collaboration?
I specialise in custom-made work so it makes sense for me to work with other brands so I can receive and respond. What I look for is an openness, understanding, and compatibility. It’s really important to work with people who you can get along with. You have to be upfront but also allow for a certain amount of vulnerability, if it’s not a good fit, it’s important to admit that. It’s also a good idea to choose collaborations where you are not going to step on each other’s toes with too much crossover. There has to be good communication and trust in order for each of you to do your job well.
I’ve also collaborated with my film maker/photographer brother Maxim Northover for years – it’s really special when you have that synergy, where you don’t even need to discuss to just get it!
Who or what is in your personal ‘hall of fame’?
The animal kingdom.
What is your star sign?
What are your continual sources of inspiration?
My body – I feel everything so deeply. There is this beautiful saying from the Asaro tribe in Indonesia; ‘Knowledge is just a rumour until it lives in the muscle.’
I haven’t always had a good relationship with my body, but understanding my sensitivity and my craft – that is the gift of aging for me. My physical being is reading all this information all of the time, and how I react sometimes surprises me. So it’s really important, this integration, that I challenge myself, and expose myself to new things, take rest and create space.
What is the first thing you reach for in the morning?
My husband, which usually includes my little Griffon, Bambou. She’s supposed to sleep in her own bed but come the morning she’s in the middle!
How do you greet your day?
Mornings are my favourite time of the day – we get up at 5.30am, which means late nights these days are pretty much out of the question! I recently enforced an early morning phone embargo. I work with a lot of international clients and was getting spun out reading work emails that came in over night, before I was even out of bed. So now I try to take care of the basics first of all, and get outside to walk the dog, before the work day starts.
Is travel a major part of your life and work?
It’s essential, yes! My work is so much about this transmission of what I’m feeling and experiencing and how I translate that. But in the formative years of starting my business I was pouring everything back into it. Travel outside of visiting family in England and Sweden had to take a bit of a back seat. But this has not decreased my huge appetite for travel, the fact that my family is in Europe and we’re in the USA means we are split across cultures and time zones.
Where is one place you’ve found particularly stirring?
Iceland took my breath away – you can feel it vibrating. I just shivered thinking about it!
And where do you plan on travelling next?
I have a beautiful wedding to attend in Tuscany in June – and then Marfa in the late summer with Kara. We are planning a new collaborative project together and this trip will be an incredible source of inspiration.
What’s next for you and your brand?
We’re working with interior designers on exciting projects that are still under wraps – but I am collaborating on a exhibition on tea bowls with Sydney based ceramicist Alana Wilson. The exhibition will show in NYC and in London.
No. is naturally becoming more of an inclusive brand, with custom works, collaborations, consultations and installations. We recently just hired some great new people, which is really adding to the momentum.