Concluding my brief and unrepresentative personal view of the Art in Clay fair at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, last weekend.
If you watched “The Great Pottery Throwdown” on BBC TV, you may recognise Richard: he was the technician who had the unenviable task of firing the competitors’ pottery to broadcasting schedules rather than ceramic schedules. I featured him last year but didn’t have a good picture of his pottery. Here are three of his highly original pots. True originality combined with craft excellence and artistic vision is difficult in studio pottery but Richard has achieved it in these towers with crowns and impressed and illustrated sides.
I said that the white glaze and blue transfer-printed images reminded me of Delft ware, even though his pots are not copies in any way. Richard said that I was right: his father was born in the Dutch East Indies and there are references in his ceramics to Dutch colonial history.
Figurative ceramists are in the minority at Hatfield, but their work is popular and it sells well. Hatfield tends to be a showcase for traditional studio pottery which once had no place for modelling, but figures have been part of ceramics since people first made things out of mud – in fact they are older than clay vessels. Jean’s figures are inspired by toys from the Museum of Childhood in London. They are charming, funny and odd.
If ever the overworked adjective “vital” could be applied to ceramics, it applies to Ruthanne Tudball’s luscious, touchable pottery, which looks as if it has not been manufactured but grown from seeds. She achieves this effect by working in soft clay and forming vessels quickly. I have seen her demonstrate the making of a teapot, in which all the parts are thrown and assembled in twenty minutes – it’s normal to let them harden for a day before joining them together.
Her surfaces are ridged and textured and then picked out and patterned by the soda glaze. Soda glazing is dramatic: the pots are coloured with metallic oxides before going into the kiln but left unglazed. When the kiln reaches 1260 degrees centigrade, she sprays bicarbonate of soda into the flames. (When I once did it with a potter who used salt, the kiln produced a sudden gush of dense white smoke when the salt was thrown in.) The material volatilises and settles onto the surface of the pots, where it forms a glass when cool.
You will forgive me for including Vilas Ed Silverton for the third year running, but I love his ceramic sculptures, which are like nothing I have ever seen. This may come partly from his unusual motivation: “My work is based upon and flows from my inner life of self enquiry that encompasses prayer, meditation and service,” he says. “In my practice I concentrate on the spiritual heart, which encourages a simplicity that guides both my life and work.” This year he exhibited figurative and narrative objects coated in gold, a most “unceramic” material, but if it results in things like this, who cares?