Roxanne Thomas - Horatio Clay

Between Order and Chaos
In the past few decades, physics has undergone a significant transformation in its understanding of nature's apparent lack of structure and unpredictability. This shift was propelled by the revelation of deterministic chaos, which introduced the idea that natural systems, as they evolve and learn from their interactions with the immediate environment, can display both structural order and dynamical chaos. In these systems, the present may determine the future, but the approximation of the present does not necessarily approximate the future. This concept of chaotic behavior is observed in various natural phenomena, such as fluid flow, irregularities in heartbeats, as well as in weather and climate patterns.
Who is Roxanne Thomas? What magic power do you bring into this world?
My magic is chaos. I think it took me a long time to realize how powerful, strong and magical chaos can be. I thrive and survive in a state of chaos, and those who truly know me either ride it out or simply trust that I have it under control. Although I describe my magic as chaos, it's not truly chaotic. Everything I do has meaning and reason. My mind and processes operate at a rapid pace, around 10,000 miles an hour, making it challenging to always explain the what, why, and how. However, despite the apparent chaos, everything falls into place, and people eventually understand. So, I encourage others to welcome their own chaos, ride it out, because it's immensely powerful and like pure magic.
And what about Horatio? What 's the story behind the name?
Horatio is actually my grandfather's name, Hubert Horatio-Thomas. He came from the Caribbean to settle in the UK in the '50s something, landing in Stoke-on-Trent, which is pretty much the epicenter of ceramics in the UK—home to brands like Wedgwood, Spode, Clifford and more. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time helping my grandad in his allotment and garden. Digging up the soil was like uncovering a treasure trove of ceramic fragments, pipes, bits of plates, tiles, because of the history of that place. I collected them like an archaeologist, and they became precious little treasures for me. I'd use them to line the flower bed in my grandad’s prized vegetable garden. While I had dabbled in ceramics during art college, the desire to really dive into it grew in the years leading up to his passing. It felt closely tied to Stoke-on-Trent, especially because after he passed, we had to sell his house, and it felt like losing a connection to that place. So, I decided to name the brand after him as a way to remember a great man and my childhood in the UK.

As for the bird symbol, it doesn't have a deep meaning. I like to pretend it does, but really, I just prefer having a symbol over a name. You know, like I'm Prince or something (laughing). The bird is actually a ring I picked up in Japan. When I was taking ceramics classes and everyone was busy scribbling their names on the bottom of their creations, I thought, "Why not stamp this bird? No one else has this ring." So, that's how the bird ended up becoming my signature stamp.

Where are you rooted (on this planet)? And how did you end up in Belgium?

Honestly, when people ask, I usually say I'm from Leeds, but I've lived in so many different places since I was a kid; moving around has always been a thing.  I was born in Stoke-on-Trent, the place where my grandad decided to settle when he moved from the Caribbean. When I was really young, my mom and I lived in the Caribbean for a few years. I think I moved a lot in my childhood because my mom, who was a single parent and a nurse, had the flexibility to go where her job took her. 

I ended up in Belgium for work. One of my first jobs after university was in Brussels, and then I lived in Amsterdam, London, and Antwerp. So, I've had my fair share of moving around. But I really enjoy living in Belgium. The community and network here are great, with some really nice friends. Plus, it's such an easy place to live. Being an English person in Belgium doesn't feel weird or different to me at all. 

 You touched on it already, but when and why did you decide to embrace the art of ceramics as your carreer path?

Ceramics and the respect for them have been a part of my life from the get-go. Not in a hands-on crafting sense, but because I grew up in my grandad's house. The cool thing about living in Stoke-on-Trent was that back then, you could go around and snag seconds from the factories' skips. They were producing so much in the city that there were tons of ceramics stock-sales. Factories produced so much, they even tossed things out. Also, my aunts and uncles worked in ceramics, bringing stuff home. My families’ cupboards were packed with Wedgwood, Spode, Bridgewater, Churchill, Royal Dalton, …. all these fancy ceramics that many people reserve for special occasions. And we've got bits and bobs of all of them, making it our everyday stuff. It was funny, cute, and charming the mishmash of it all. 

Ceramics captured my interest from a young age, but it really came back into my life during art college or even earlier, back in school when I was a teenager. After that, I ventured into the fashion industry, thinking that would satisfy my creative side. However, as I climbed the corporate ladder in the fashion world, I found myself craving more challenge. So, when I moved to Antwerp in 2016, I decided to dive into ceramics. I knew I needed something both creative and technically challenging for my brain and ceramics filled the gap perfectly.

Why do you make your Ceramics the way you make them? Observing you, it feels like a surgical endeavor, is that a conscious choice?

Yes, it’s a conscious choice for sure, hand-built ceramics often have that wabi-sabi look, and my goal is to make them look as refined as possible. I'm always trying to make a hand-built cup appear like it came off the wheel, although I haven't quite mastered that yet. Precision is crucial in hand-building; you must pay close attention to details and nail the timing of every step perfectly. 

While some people might see ceramics as just a fun, creative endeavor, in my classes, I'm closely watching how students handle the clay. Clay has this elastic memory, similar to dough. If you bend a sheet of clay, it's likely to dry a bit bent. I vividly recall making plates where I pulled them off the mold prematurely, and I had to bend them slightly back to have them come out correctly. The clay remembers your mistakes or impatience, reverting to its comfort zone where it's been stretched to the max, and making it dry differently. So, precision plays a significant role in my ceramics. However, in the initial stages when trying out new pieces, I'm just playing around and there's a sense of carefree experimentation. It's a balance between finding perfection and letting it flow freely. When it comes to glazing and finishing, I bring in some extra playfulness and room for experimentation. 

My creative process is all about going with the flow; I don't bother with plans or research. Initially, my inspiration came from Mexican ceramics, particularly their use of black clay, simple forms, and standout decoration—practical yet captivating. Growing up in the Caribbean, our place was practically a ceramic haven, with pieces from a local studio my mom used for therapy sessions, ranging from practical to more figurative ones. There's this one special piece made by a patient that changed how I viewed ceramics—less serious, more playful. That's when I started creating masks, though it's not something I'd mass produce; I'm mindful of appropriation issues. 

The term "mask" holds various meanings, from people masking themselves to ornamental masks tied to indigenous cultures. As I delved into my family history with my mom and sister, we uncovered a diverse heritage—African roots, Caribbean upbringing from my grandad, and a grandmother with a mix of Greek, Irish, and possibly Turkish ancestry. Despite assumptions about my ethnicity, my cultural roots are firmly Caribbean. This ongoing inner battle about how my background influences my ceramics is real. 

Some pieces clearly showcase cultural influences, while others, I admit, are more about looking good. My design process is chaotic, lacking structure. I create, test, experiment, and when something clicks, I go into production mode. Next year, I'm excited for more experimentation, more playfulness—a shift in my work, not because I'm dissatisfied, but because I crave creative evolution. I love the smiley cups and dominoes, but I desire complete creative freedom and experimentation, the kind that brings me pure joy. Yet, there's immense satisfaction in the fact that I can't make enough cups—seeing people buy and love them strikes a heartwarming balance.



How do you spend the rest of your days, besides making smiling cups and domino incense holders? What would an ideal day look like for you?

There's no such thing as the perfect day, but if I had to describe my ideal one, it's all about slow mornings. I usually don't kick off work until around eleven in the studio. I grab breakfast, maybe catch some TV, and tackle emails and admin stuff upstairs. Then, it's studio time. I make an overly ambitious to-do list, like always. Work a bit, take a break around 12:30 or 1:00 for lunch, sometimes with a friend. Most of my socializing happens during lunch with pals who also don't do the 9-to-5 grind. Noodles or the Korean place are our usual spots. If I'm teaching, lunch is a bit longer, then it's back to the studio. If it's not a teaching day, I take a short break, then back to the studio to wrap up some things. If I'm on top of things, I tidy up and prep a list for the next day. If not, I might just drop my tools, head upstairs, and cook dinner or meet a friend for a drink, maybe catch a movie—something low-key. That's a typical workweek day. 

On the weekends, I've got a crucial mission on Saturday: hitting the market for some cheese. After that, I go with the flow. Right now, with Christmas approaching, I'm working every weekend, which is exhausting. Looking forward to a break next year. And that's pretty much it. 

You come across as a calm, collected person with a super wild/playful twist. Can you elaborate on that?

Yeah, on the surface, I appear super chill, but inside, it's like chaos central. Picture a duck, smoothly gliding on the water, but underneath, their feet are going wild. When I started getting into ceramics, my headspace wasn't great, and I used it as a creative outlet. What I didn't expect was finding this sense of calm. It was like my meditation, although it's shifted a bit now that it's turned into my job. But even in the midst of deadlines, there are these moments of calm. I know that if I rush and lose focus, it won't turn out how I want it. So, it's like a pause button for my crazy duck feet and brain, a precious little break in the chaos.

What makes you feel most alive? What is alive in you right now?

Honestly, just being out in nature, I know it sounds cheesy, everyone says it. But, especially since I live in Antwerp without a car, I can't always escape to nature. So, I truly value those moments when I can. 

Right now, what's alive in me is this sense of urgency, that deadline drive. I've become someone who thrives creatively when the deadline is very tight, which is a bit frustrating with ceramics because planning ahead is crucial. But it does light a fire under me, and strangely enough, it's kind of fun.


Put a last spell on us with some last words.

Alright, I've got a couple of top-notch, hilarious memories to share. Last October, after a concert, this lady comes up to me, all excited, saying she has one of my cups or balls or something. She's like, "I love it! A friend gave it to me. Thanks a bunch." I was overwhelmed with joy, and it was just so darn cute. When someone walks up and says thanks for something you made, it's like pure happiness. One of the happiest memories with Horatio, for sure. Whenever someone tells me they use my stuff regularly or give it as presents, it's like my heart is melting. I can feel it right now—this warm, expanding feeling in my chest, like I'm in a sauna. It's just so nice. 

Now, here's another amusing story from a dating app. I matched with a guy who casually dropped, "I have some of your bowls." I was like, "Okay, cool." The chat didn't really go anywhere, but it was just too funny. A bit awkward, but the first one was genuinely funny and cute. Alright, I'm done.

Roxanne is wearing our Kimono in Wool Flannel combined with the new Sultan Pants underneath a black Garden Dress. On her head she has our wool cashmere beanie, on her feet her own shoes and to keep her warm she wore our Nuclear Jacket in Blanket Wool.   

Production & Styling : Gijs Grondelaers
Photos & Text : Wouter Struyf