Having met on a foundation course at art college in the Wirrall, tile makers Carlo Briscoe and Ed Dunn then plied their trade in London before relocating to Wales. There this artistic couple have refined their decorative style and won a loyal following from clients including Waitrose.
Briscoe and Dunn really made their mark when they were chosen by Waitrose to design a series of tile panels for various stores around the country. Not only was this a highly prestigious job, but the previous incumbent had been Kenneth Clark, known throughout the tiling world as a master craftsman and ceramic artist who had been working with Waitrose for the previous ten years.
“Waitrose likes to work with one team for about ten years then moves on,” says Ed, “Kenneth Clark called to congratulate us and was extremely helpful when we took the commissions on.”
When the Waitrose work started the couple were living and working in London and were part of an active artistic community, regularly exhibiting at the Chelsea Crafts Fair.
Having studied fine art at Nottingham, they initially worked mainly in animation and it was only when Carlo enrolled on a pottery course that the interest in ceramics began. Trips to Portugal and Spain in the 80s (including their honeymoon!) inspired more ideas, so they set up Reptile in 1988.
Reptile is now based in a former buttery in a sleepy Welsh village. The Reptile style is pattern; the more of the better. Classic images, such as a modern interpretation of Delft tiles, plus the ever-popular nautical themes, birds and animals are central to the standard portfolio.
But, as well as naturalistic images, many of the designs are strong, stylised, and slightly quirky, invariably with patterned borders or infills which ensure that a panel of tiles is rich and detailed with pleasing colours.
In fact, a complete panel creates a strong decorative feature. The sea urchin tiles, for instance, can be used to create an effective repeat pattern, almost like a modern geometric.
Most tiles painted by Carlo and Ed are sourced in biscuit form, usually 100 or 150mm square tiles, although they do occasionally make tiles themselves to special order or just for something different.
Typical are a series of marine-themed relief tiles featuring fishes and shells on a small handmade tile, with the whole piece glazed in a turquoise blue.
The couple creates all their own glazes to ensure they get the colours and effects they want, which also guarantees that their tiles will be unique.
Reptile has undertaken many special commissions for projects around the world, including bathrooms, swimming pools, kitchens, food halls, hotels and restaurants and are used to working with architects and interior designers with exacting requirements. By 2008, their biggest project was a 27 metre long tile panel for Waitrose which featured views of Chelsea landmarks; while other work can be seen in Bermuda, the Bahamas, Japan, Australia and the USA.
This article first appeared in Tile & Stone Journal, May 2008.
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