From Spitting Image to ceramics

The artist behind Spitting Image, Roger Law has swapped politics for pottery and appears at York Ceramics Fair this weekend. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Satirical edge: Roger Law with one of his Spitting Image puppets.

One of the most hard-hitting TV programmes of the 1980s and 90s, Spitting Image delivered satire with a killer punch.

It ran from 1984 to 1997 and during that time artist and caricaturist Roger Law created a whole host of puppets that pitilessly caricatured the politicians and celebrities of the day. This was the era of Thatcher and Reagan, both of whom, along with countless others, were memorably lampooned with a fearless lack of respect.

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“We raised a few laughs in a very difficult period,” says Law of the multi-award winning show. “But I don’t think you would be able to do on television now what we did then.” Some of what they did was very near the knuckle and Law says that when he has watched the show with some of his eight grandchildren, they have been quite shocked. He laughs. “I’m quite respectable now.”

Working on a weekly topical show was demanding – and looking back now Law says he’s not quite sure how he did it. “It was pretty stressful. When Spitting Image finished in 1997 I had done 13 years of deadlines, sometimes we were preparing for three shows at once, and had made over two thousand puppets.”

Since then he has gone back to his roots as an artist and will be talking about his journey from politics to pottery at the inaugural York Ceramics Fair this weekend.

“When I closed the Spitting Image factory gates – and it was a kind of factory, we employed sixty people at one point – I deported myself to Australia,” he says. “One of the problems when you have done something that has been very successful that is all that people want you to do, so I thought that Australia was probably far enough away for me to escape that.” It turned out to be a good move and allowed Law to reconnect with his art.

“I arrived there with very little money so I really had to hit the ground running and I got to know quite a lot of people very quickly and that was interesting too,” he says. “It was marvellous – in Sydney no-one cares who you are or what you do, so I got some jobs here and there and started again.”

He went to study at the National Art School in the city and through their extensive exchange programme went on an eight-week visit to Jingdezhen, China’s so-called ‘Porcelain City’.

“Australia has a lot of cultural connections with China and it was so interesting in Jingdezhen. They make around a million pots a day there and I thought that was wonderful. The workshops were marvellous – it was an absolutely terrific experience.”

That led to him visiting China twice a year to continue making ceramic works in a studio in Jingdezhen. His pieces range from small-scale pots and bowls to larger-scale works. His work will be on display at the fair this weekend alongside that of 40 leading contemporary makers from the UK and beyond. All of the work – which will feature everything from teapots, vases and jugs to quirky figures and sculptural pieces – will be for sale. In addition there will talks and demonstrations from the makers themselves. Law, who is now based in Norfolk, is delighted to have been invited to the fair and says that he hopes his pots are “as engaging and attractive as my caricatures were rude and ugly.”

York Ceramics Fair, York Hospitium, October 6 & 7. Roger Law will be giving his talk on Sunday, 2-3pm.