Having discovered the photo of Taxile Doat so suavely dressed for a photo in his studio, I began to look for photos of other artistic dandies. Here are a few.The first are the Futurists in their bowler hats. Bowlers became a symbol of bourgeois mediocrity but when (l-r) Russolo, Carra, Marinetti, Boccioni and Severini wore them they were still compatible with their aggressive modernity. Marinetti, a mate of Mussolini, who was another another bowler hat wearer, became a Fascist.
Severini looks like an office clerk on the right of the picture but he scrubbed up well for the opening of his exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in London in 1913 (left). At around the same time, Picasso (below left) was similarly buttoned up, with hat, stick and pipe. He was a cool dresser and pretty well invented the fashion for striped Breton shirts. When he came to England in the 1950s he wore English tweeds but gave them a French accent with a beret (below right, with Anthony Penrose, “The Boy Who Bit Picasso”). Before the war bow ties and spats might be seen in the studio, as in the picture of Mario Tozzi at the easel (bottom left), but surely Josef Hoffman (bottom right) couldn’t have gone into the studio with that silk scarf and those kid gloves? Right at the bottom there’s a picture I’ve posted before, Isaac Button, the country potter filmed by Robert Fournier in about 1970, by no means a dandy, but a man who, working alone at Soil Hill Pottery near Wakefield, could throw a ton of clay a day wearing a tie – and, you will notice, sufficiently concerned about his clothes to put on an apron over his boiler suit. Don’t get the wrong idea about Isaac Button: he and Robert Fournier went to the opera together.
My pottery is in the maiolica tradition but I avoid maiolica clichés (birds, flowers, fruit and fishes) and try to make designs for today. The theme I’ve been exploring for some time is the arabesque – a curving line that follows the form of the pot and the shape of the brush. Believe me, birds and flowers would be easier because their shape is given and doesn’t have to be invented. They also have a wider appeal.
The particular problem with decorating a cylinder is to draw a few marks that go right round the pot but which fill the space and look balanced from any angle. The design may look good from one angle but not from another, usually because it’s too empty. Then the temptation is to fill the space with tiny, busy marks, but I don’t want to do that either. I want a loose, open design in which there is harmony between foreground and background. The size of the brush also has to be taken into account in relation to the size of the pot. It has to be not too thick and not too thin, though there are acceptable variations in the weight of line on both small and large pots.
On this pot (above) I’ve got the effect I want after much trial and error. (The pictures show four faces of the same pot.) It was painted with a long, round sable brush with a square end, which gives a slight variation in thickness as the brush turns, keeping the design lively. This couldn’t have been done with any other brush than the one I used. For many years I bought synthetic brushes to save money but now I use sable brushes for most things. They are responsive and hold the paint until the end of the line. For washes I also use brushes with natural hair (squirrel, ox or goat) because they have a soft edge, which suits my style more than the hard-edged synthetics.
Taking a break from working in my filthy overalls, I’ve been looking at old manuals of pottery.
The Arts and Crafts movement stimulated an interest in pottery and other applied arts, and as well as the famous art potteries (like the Ruskin Pottery, Pilkington’s Lancastrian, William de Morgan’s and Bernard Moore’s) there was an upsurge in amateur pottery. Pottery painting became especially popular with women in the 1870s and there was an annual exhibition of their work in London (left). Pottery manuals aimed at the craft potter, amateur and professional, were published from the 1880s, usually with a section on painting. At the end of the century the art schools began to teach pottery and china painting for the craft worker.
The great challenge for the potter was high-fired ceramics. Hard paste porcelain had been discovered in the 1700s by Meissen, after centuries of fruitless experiment, but decorating at high temperatures, rather than with low-temperature enamels, remained elusive. A big step forward was taken at Sèvres by Taxile Doat, who published a series of papers on the topic in 1903, Grande Feu Ceramics, with an American edition two years later. The wonderfully-named Mr. Doat began the development in art pottery that resulted in the reduced stoneware made at the Leach Pottery in the 1920s.
This, however, is just a pretext for posting a picture of Taxile Doat at work in his bow tie, stiff collar and well-polished shoes, which should be an example to all potters and which I intend to emulate.