I wanted to write in detail about Make Pots or Die, in BBC 1’s “Imagine” series, but I have shows to prepare for and can only recommend that you watch it on iPlayer (click the link highlighted) in the few weeks that are left. If you’d like to leave your comments I’ll reply to them later.
The Guardian rubbished the programme, saying that the presenter, Alan Yentob, should have asked him more penetrating questions, but de Waal has so many ideas and expresses them so well that it was enough to follow him with a camera for a year and let him talk as he prepared for his big exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in New York and moved into a bigger studio.
De Waal has expressed regret that discussion about ceramics is unintellectual. It’s true, there is an anti-intellectual strand in ceramics, an inheritance of the practical attitude of William Morris and the spirituality of Bernard Leach. De Waal himself has been the victim of it because he is a maker and an intellectual and he’s often sneered at by potters who are just downright. His work can’t be understood without knowing its context. The fact is, no art or craft can be understood without knowing its context, De Waal is just frank about it, explaining his ideas, the history of porcelain, his family history and the provenance of the objects about him.
His next project is a book about porcelain, about the meaning of white. His studio is white (and it will stay that way because he works with white clay), and you notice that he dresses only in white, black, grey and navy. When I have time I hope to say more.