I usually list my top ten potters from the annual ceramics festival at Hatfield, but this year I’m just posting a picture of a vase I bought from Susanne Lukács-Ringel. Her studio is in the south of Germany where she fires in a multi-chamber, wood-fuel kiln. The variegated surface on this beautiful faceted vase is created entirely by the flying wood ash, which volatilizes at high temperatures and then condenses on the pots, colouring them with random patterns from the minerals it carries.



The owner of two Dora Billington vases has given them to me because she is moving house and has no room for them. They are signed and of good provenance. They are important pieces because there is little studio pottery by Billington still extant and none that I know of this size. The grey vase is 27 cm high, the black one 26 cm.


They are hard to date, though further investigation of the signature may give a clue. Billington started making high-fired stoneware in the late 1920s and probably donated these pieces in the 1950s or 1960s. They are heavily potted, and so may be early works.

I plan to give them to a museum in due course. I am curating an exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre about Billington’s life and work, to be opened in 2020, and these noble vases will be exhibited there.


IMG_20180808_145651861‘Expanded Narcissistic Envelope’, Toby Ziegler

Only a week left to visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which is the best I have ever seen. It was co-ordinated by Grayson Perry and reflects his wit, irony, topical interests and attention to the vernacular. The older generation, exhibiting for fifty years, are there – Hockney, Tilson, Allen Jones, Antony Green and others – and there is the usual sprinkling of amateurs, some of whom have almost no artistic ability.  Among the clever and the weird there are conventional paintings that might have been exhibited a hundred years ago.

This is the largest ever summer exhibition, the selectors considering 20,000 submitted works and choosing almost 1,400. They are spread throughout Burlington House, including the recent development which allows you into the RA Schools. All the exhibits are online, but this is my personal selection.

228 Scream‘Scream’, Sophie Jansson

artwork_52026_1_disp‘The Bored Horse’, Henry Bateman.
Who chose this?  Indeed – who bought it?

artwork_66637_1_full farage - 260‘Nigel Farage MEP’, David Griffiths.
Devotional but does not capture the subject.

artwork_67067_1_full fortitude parkhouse‘Fortitude’, Sarah Parkhouse.
Hung high in the gallery but the first work you see.

franz hals embodiment - anastasia belous‘Franz Hals Embodiment’, Anastasia Belous.
One of the works in the show that make you wonder, what is the point of art?

Gallery IIIGallery III, hung by Grayson Perry.

Gloria Neave - Mrs Margaret Neave”Mrs Margaret Neave’, Gloria Neave.
Another of the traditional portraits in the show.

grayson perrriesA selection of the many, less conventional, portraits of Grayson Perry.

Heather Nevay - The Party‘The Party’, Heather Nevay.
Reminiscent of Richard Dadd and the Brotherhood of Ruralists. Creepy.

IMG_20180808_150046949_BURST000_COVER_TOP‘Untitled (Triste), Charles Avery

IMG_20180808_154419075‘Libby Heart’, Sophie Dury

IMG_20180808_150158552‘Star Cluster’, John Maine

unasfhsg‘Unfaffordable Housing’, Carl Godfrey. ‘The All-Seeing’, Richard C. Smith

artwork_63438_1_full okun‘A Man and a Woman’, Sasha Okun

IMG_20180808_155045162‘The Inspection: Kim Jong Un & Kim Jong Il Inspecting Lady Gaga’s Homage to Duchamp Urinal’, David Axtell

john wragg girl in the black dress‘Girl in the Black Dress’, John Wragg

len grey - no 222
‘Good Morning, Mr Corbyn. How are the Speed Trials Going?’ Len Grey

mach burlington ho‘The Battle of Burlington House’, David Mach

mark denton rollers‘Rollers’, Mark Denton.
A subversion of Tretchikoff’s ‘Balinese Girl’, now collectable because of its kitchiness.

martin cox afternoon at the angel‘Afternoon at the Angel’, Martin Cox

peter jones bunny‘Bunny’, Peter Jones.
Something always unnerving about dolls and pictures of bunny rabbits.

sharon wilson cabinet membersYet Sooty glove puppets are not in the slightest bit unnerving.
‘Cabinet Members’, Sharon Wilson.

taxonomy‘The Taxonomy of the Cornflake’,  Anne Griffiths.
A bizarrely autistic classification of cornflakes, accompanied by a text that analyses size, shape, edge formation, make, and so on.

rego - human cargo - detail‘Human Cargo’ (detail), Paula Rego.
One panel of a triptych, the most powerful and serious work in the show.



We stayed for a few days with our friends in France, where they have an old farmhouse well away from town in a peaceful spot with roses and fruit trees. In the sweltering heat we preferred to stay indoors, protected by two-foot walls, but the evenings were pleasant in the garden under the vines.


Over the years they have built an eclectic collection of china and pottery, for use and ornament, found in antique shops and brocante stalls, and generally bought for a few euros. Here are some pictures, and also pictures of other items from their cabinet of curiosities.



another europe
Simon Roberts, Dickens Festival, Isle of Thanet from the series Merrie Albion (2007-2017). (Flowers Gallery London)

At Kings Cross Station, London, there’s a street exhibition on large posters of photos taken throughout Europe (above), an EU-funded project called Another Europe. They’re pictures of interesting corners and everyday life in countries some of which I know nothing about, like Slovenia. When we leave the EU there will be no more events like this.

A feature of the EU that has been not much discussed in Brexit is the EU’s promotion of international understanding, equality, social solidarity, and mutual respect. I used to work on EU projects in which international exchange and collaboration were essential. We will lose that.

Perhaps it’s an indication of our semi-detached attitude to the EU that it was always easier to find people from other EU countries to visit the UK than to find people in the UK to visit other EU countries. On one project, I tried to set up a programme with a German schoolteacher that was based on exchange visits between German and British secondary schools and couldn’t find a single pupil in my town who wanted to visit Germany. On another, I couldn’t find any colleague in my council who would join me in conferences in France and Holland. One came reluctantly to Milton Keynes.


I was pleased to be asked by the flower arrangers of St Albans Cathedral to make a bowl for the Lady Chapel in memory of one of their members, and today I went to see how they had used it. Cascades of white flowers under the statue of the Madonna almost obscure it (above), but you can just see it there.

I went through the Cathedral, took pictures of some familiar things, and saw some things I hadn’t noticed before.

The flowers are always wonderful.

The guide told me that the Shrine of St Alban (below) contained the saint’s shoulder blade, donated by Cologne Cathedral in 2002. The bones had been taken to Rome in 429, then went to Cologne at the time of the Great Schism.
The site of the original tomb, the holy grail of archaeologists, is unknown and sceptical historians think St Alban may have been invented to control English heretics, but my guide didn’t agree.

The carved figures and capitals are in good condition and I wondered how they escaped the Puritan iconoclasm. “They didn’t,” said my guide, “They are 19th century restorations.”


I knew the medieval wall paintings in the Norman arches, but there was a smaller painting in one of the chapels that I hadn’t seen before.


Votive candles and personal prayers.


The Health of the Bride 1889 by Stanhope Alexander Forbes 1857-1947

I have been reading Christopher Wood’s Victorian Panorama, a definitive survey of modern-life painting in 19th century Britain, some of which was moralising (like Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience) but much of which was coolly observational (such as Stanford Forbes’ The Health of the Bride, my particular favourite, above).

Wood says that, although many of these paintings were popular with the public, and some sold for good prices, many met with critical disapproval because there was a notion that modern life was too ugly to be a proper subject for art, and – surprising to us – modern clothes were too undignified, especially trousers and top hats. Millais said he could not imagine Van Dyck’s Charles I in a pair of check trousers.