Back in Action

I’ve not been away, but I’ve not been visiting, let alone updating, the site.  It has been a busy year throwing, firing, exhibiting, while handling ongoing situations which have nothing to do with the pottery.  However, a couple of people recently told me the site could not be accessed and I thought I’d better do something.  My web designer got it up and running again, but says I need to start again from a whole new platform, as I am dangerously out of date.  I’ll try to do this over the winter and in the meantime I’ll try to photograph some new work and post it.

I did Wardlow Mires again, which was very enjoyable.  I was too late in my application for just about every other big fair – either that, or else the fee to take part would have meant me selling just about every pot I’ve got!  Getting the balance between making and selling affordable “everyday pots” and doing stuff to sell in galleries at “art” prices is a tricky one, but I need to do both.

By the way, since the site was resurrected, almost every contact I’ve had through it has been in Chinese or Russian.  Do other websites get this?  Are these genuine enquiries for pots, or are they from women offering themselves to me as wives, or short-term companions?

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DINOSAURS

In a recent article in Ceramic Review Sven Bayer, the “big potter”, a one time student of Michael Cardew, raised the possibility that he was a dinosaur, one of a dying species raised on a romantic notion of reviving and continuing a tradition of hand made pottery for use.

I’m sure there was an element of jokiness, but I was a tiny bit alarmed. Sven has been one of the handful of potters selling at David Mellor, a shop selling hand made kitchen and tableware alongside knives and forks, kettles and saucepans on the high street (OK, so it’s a posh high street off Sloane Square!). There is an on line store too. Sven made pots in quantity, fired them in a vast wood-fired kiln which gave them the sort of flashed surfaces that some studio potters would feel warranted a plinth or a glass case and a three figure price tag. Sven asked no more for his work than you’d pay for decently designed factory made ware. Was he really now questioning that ideal?

Around the same time that article appeared I took part in Ceramic Wales at Glyndwr University, and listened to a talk by Alex McErlaine on the future of “Domestic Ware”. For a start Alex thought we should call it “Table Ware” and/or “Kitchen Ware”, to get away from the connotations of everyday drudgery in “domestic”. Preparing and cooking food and presenting it well has nothing in common with vacuuming, dusting or squirting coloured disinfectant into the lavatory.

Alex went on to give us a brief history of that branch of pottery in the 20th century and ended, with some optimism, with images of the work of younger potters at work today. I wasn’t entirely convinced that designing prototypes and farming out the making of the pots to the Far East (or Poland, or wherever the best deal could be had) really counted. However I could see that the pots of Fleen Doran and Sabine Nemet were in the “great tradition”, albeit on a smaller, more intimate scale than practiced at Winchcombe (Cardew, then Ray Finch) or at Muchelney (John Leach).

Then, a couple of weeks later, I went to the opening of “Richard Batterham: a Life in Pots” and my spirits soared. Working with a range of forms, established by the late ‘60s, and with only subtle variations and developments of these over the decades Batterham, now eighty, has made a wonderful body of work, entirely around the idea of useful pots. The CAA gallery, where the show was held, was full of beaming potters. Perhaps it was just my imagination that they rejoicing in the confirmation that they were doing something worthwhile. Sven Bayer was there.

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Alan Caiger-Smith at Aberystwyth

It’s nearly a year since the big Aberystwyth ceramics festival, so it’s time I wrote something about it. The highlight for me was the talk by Alan Caiger-Smith which beautifully articulated the “meaning” of decoration, and described the mystery and excitement of rediscovering the art of lustre. Alan was an established potter when I began making pots in 1972, but the “in thing” at that point was stoneware, oriental glazes, salt and English country pottery. Alan C-G at the Aldermaston Pottery was embracing different traditions – earthenware, tin glaze, majolica and, relatively recently at that point, lustre. Young potters in the ‘50s, when Alan started potting, were looking towards the Mediterranean at least as much as the Far East for inspiration (and why not? – think of those joyous works by Picasso of that period, or of late Dufy, or of Brigitte Bardot), but for the young potters of the late sixties more rustic stoneware was somehow closer to the roots (like the blues compared with any music from the ‘50s).

 

I’d already thrown in my lot with the stoneware crowd, but I was teaching near Aldermaston and visiting the pottery quickly appreciated that it was firing with wood, that lustre was at least as much a venture into the unknown as salt glaze (much more so, really), and that pots whose shapes looked simple, almost bland, took on their true form only when decorated. I saw the model of a co-operative pottery workshop, consistent with the traditional rural pottery. It was pretty special then and, at this distance, Alan Caiger-Smith’s Aldermaston, which finally closed in 2006, seems an even more remarkable achievement.

 

At Aberystwyth I bought Alan’s book, Pottery, People and Time, which I had somehow missed when it was first published in 1995. It’s a wonderful read – profound, humorous, generous and practical. My favourite chapters were probably the one in which he describes walking the old pony trail from St Ives to a tin mine (to learn more about this material essential for his glazes) and getting lost in mist and rain before eventually reaching a welcoming inn – “an altogether splendid day”, and Centering, a moving, philosophical meditation on throwing, which begins and ends with an account of Michael Cardew’s burial.

 

Pottery, People and Time by Alan Caiger-Smith, published by Richard Dennis, 1995.

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