I had a good show at the Oxford Ceramics Fair last weekend. Organised by the Craft Potters Association, it selects sixty of the best potters in the UK and attracts a discerning and interested clientele. It’s held at St Edwards School in a large, well-lit hall. My work was well received and sales were good. One of my customers, a senior academic, made a careful and precise assessment and declared that my work was the third best in the exhibition.
As an earthenware potter with a love of colour, my favourites in show were Irina Sibrijns, Patia Davis, Nigel Lambert, Richard Phethean, Jenny Southam, Craig Underhill and Richard Wilson.
Oxford Ceramics is a juried exhibition and never shows anything second rate, but some of the potters were not showing anything new. Much studio pottery is conservative and one experienced exhibitor, who was showing new designs, said that some had been making the same thing for thirty years. After that time you get good at it and you refine your product – a slight re-shaping of the lip here, a slight modification of the glaze there, and so on. Sticking to the same thing works because pottery enthusiasts are more conservative than potters. Specialist shows, as opposed to general craft shows, attract a knowledgeable public who collect pottery by their favourite makers. They are not looking for anything surprising or new. On the other hand, those potters I mentioned above are all developing new things.
Conservatism in studio pottery is associated with materials and methods – generally speaking, stoneware or porcelain fired to high temperatures in flame burning kilns. This style was introduced to Britain eighty years ago. Although the membership of the Craft Potters Association is diverse, and is becoming more diverse, three quarters of potters still use drab colours. Earthenware potters are a minority, about ten per cent. Tin-glaze potters are an even smaller minority, only one per cent. The dominant style is still rough, hard and brown.
Many craft galleries are conservative as well, following rather than leading taste. More than one has told me it likes my work but it’s too contemporary. My ceramics sells best to people who don’t know much about ceramics, who buy things because they like them, who don’t care about materials and methods and don’t buy things because they remind them of other things. And so over the next year I hope to place more of my work in stores selling contemporary design as well as those selling crafts.