Christine Preisig meets potter Karen Bunting, one of the artistic pioneers of Beck Road in the 1970s
Karen Bunting and her husband Peter were two of the first residents in Beck Road, E8, in the late 1970s when Acme, a housing association for artists, made 25 of the properties there available for people in artistic professions.
The new tenants were offered short-life contracts in the abandoned properties of the street, which they converted into studios and living space in exchange for low rent.
Over the years, a unique community with more than 40 artists and their families emerged. The houses and surroundings improved tremendously and the near derelict street became a centre for many of London’s progressive contemporary artists.
Karen, a potter, and her family were an integral part of this development and are among around half of the original residents who still live in Beck Road. She has her workshop on the ground floor of their back-yard studio and Peter, a painter, works upstairs.
“I’m not quite sure where pottery came from,” says Karen. She started her artisan path with an evening class and from there, quickly moved on to working for a ceramicist where she learned the craft by just watching him and trying things out. Eventually, she set up her own studio and started selling her pots.
For Karen, the most important element of a piece is its form. But it’s obvious that decorating is an important element, too.
After throwing a pot on the wheel, Karen lets it dry until it can be turned and then works on its surface. Many of her works are incised with linear patterns and reveal Karen’s affinity for stripes and dots in all degrees of fineness.
The decorations emphasise particular qualities in the shape and help draw attention to certain aspects of the form.
“I want them to be integrated into the pot such that it looks as if the whole thing arrived in one go.” Karen says.
The same applies for the glazes, which are kept in muted blues and greys and are often marked out with darker coloured lines.
“I want them to be contemplative”, she says. “They wait for you to come to them. The more attention you give them the more there is to notice.”
When arranged together, as they are in Karen’s Beck Road showroom, they complement each other and reveal a subtle playfulness.
Karen’s showroom is on 53 Beck Road, E8 4RE. Call 020 7249 3016 or contact her by email her at