The Solitary Creator

Bernard Leach
Bernard Leach pictured in a corner of his studio. If only the life of a studio potter was really this relaxed!

There is great difficulty in balancing the process of creating art and running a studio. Even before I’ve made a single pot, the demands of planning, setting up the workplace, and managing finances take its toll on the imagination. I’m conscious that working alone has the effect of separating the creative flow from the whole process of making pottery, forcing one to focus on the mundane aspects of business. Of course, I know that you can’t have your cake and eat it; if only it was possible to have complete freedom to make whatever you want and not bother with the practical aspects of managerial control and direction. Perhaps it’s only the very rich and the unemployed who are able to do this!

Trying to balance aspects of the Eastern artistic philosophy and that of the West is incredibly difficult. The asceticism, austerity and spirituality to which I aspire is almost impossible within Western society. Short of finding a cave and living in it as a hermit there is no way of filtering out every tendril of western influence. The only way to proceed is to accept it and make the most of it, using whatever aspect of modern culture you can to help you, while trying to keep the simplicity, economy of style, and of course the spirituality, within one’s art.

Bernard Leach once stated that modern society has ‘increased the tempo of industrial slavery’, and although one may argue that is no longer the case in the twenty-first century, we are still shackled in many senses to the treadmill of institutional monotony, even in within the ‘freedom’ of our smartphone, internet-driven, selfie-obsessed modern world. My hope is that, as a craftsman, I am not ‘obliged to live parasitically or precariously because I have no recognised function’. §

§ See A Potter’s Book by Bernard Leach (Faber and Faber 1940, 2011)

Earth Pig in Buxton

Now for the exciting news! Earth Pig will be opening a studio in the middle of November at The Arches Artisan Mill on Fairfield Road in Buxton, Derbyshire. The Arches is a beautifully converted Mill in the centre of the town and is home to several small craft businesses. A base here fulfils our need for  place in a thriving town that is close to the inspirational countryside of the Peak District National Park.

As you can see from the photos above, there’s quite a lot to be done to get the place up and running in six weeks! The wheel and kiln will be in one arch and the gallery will be in the space opposite. (By the way, those aren’t my paintings in the picture – they’re someone else’s waiting to be removed). Of course, we’re planning to sell pots, but also run classes and, on selected days, have ad hoc taster session for visitors to the studio. So, if you’re a novice and fancy having a go at making a pot on the wheel you can just drop in! We’ll also be selling artwork – paintings, prints and greetings cards.

It’s an astounding thought that in a matter of weeks the studio, which has been little more than the germ of an idea for as long as I can remember, will finally be realised. Needless to say, developments will be posted in this blog. Watch this space!

A Studio Visit

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A relief by Jim Robison, depicting elements of Holmfirth’s cultural and historical heritage

It’s a surprise to find a great potter living almost on your doorstep. Today I visited the studio of Jim Robison, an American-born ceramicist who has his gallery in the outskirts of Holmfirth, West, Yorkshire. He has lived and worked in the area for over forty-five years and his pottery reflects the beauty and harshness of the moorlands as well as its industrial heritage.

Jim is a quiet, modest, affable man who talks about his work with an enthusiasm that belies his seventy-eight years. He produces both functional ware and larger scale sculptural pieces which are exhibited not just in his gallery, but in various places in the town – local schools and the Civic Hall to name two. As I arrived at the studio, pieces of his work are everywhere – as you drive up to the gallery, on the patio, beside the car park, in the nearby fields. The site is more like a ceramic park – smaller pieces inside, larger pieces sited strategically outside.

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Another relief in the same series above .

Much of Jim’s contemporary work is slab-built. He does little throwing these days; most of the functional pieces that come from the studio are thrown by his assistant. He prefers to concentrate on larger slabbed work, built from large, flat sections and extruded forms, either rolled or hollowed. Some of the pieces have been textured by throwing clay against stone wall sections to give a rough surface which he integrates into larger works, often depicting elements of the landscape. Some are turned into garden pots, planters, hanging plant pots and window boxes. Almost all his slabbed work is stoneware, and has been outside for years without any sign of frost damage, cracking or chipping.

His smaller functional ware has a Japanese look, (one of the things that first attracted me to his work). A dripped cross design is Robison’s trademark, a motif which is repeated on many pots in the manner of Shoji Hamada’s ‘sugar cane’ pattern. The forms he tends to use are simple – slender cylinders, mugs, jugs and plates – and the glazed design equally uncomplicated, as though seeking perfection of one item in a Zen-like way.

The smaller pieces are, of course, less original than the reliefs, but nonetheless they possess a restraint and honesty which is difficult to fake. Jim is candidly offhand, almost dismissive, about his thrown work, as though it’s something that has to be done in order to pay the bills so that he can continue with the sculptural work. However, it’s fair to say that I liked almost all of Robison’s work and I intend to pay another visit in the near future.

To contact Jim Robison visit http://www.boothhousegallery.co.uk

He is also the author of couple of excellent books:

 

Studio Beginnings

In the last few days I’ve been out and about making notes on the landscape and textures I find interesting. I don’t have to go far; in this part of the world there’s always something that catches the eye, a dry stone wall, old brickwork, a shady corner of woodland, the gnarled bark of a tree. Inspiration for pottery designs.

I’ve also been in the studio working on some more finished pieces from sketches I did last year on holiday in Exmoor and North Wales. Drawing is fuel for creative ideas when it comes to pottery. Designs are easier to come up with when you have a bank of material to work from. Besides, it’s a habit that’s difficult to get out of once you start. For me it’s something of a necessity. The pieces below were worked in various grades of pencil, charcoal pencil and pastel pencil. Details from them may find their way onto pots eventually. Maybe not.

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Wall and hedgerow, Exmoor. Mixed media on paper.

 

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Corner of the garden. Mixed media on paper.

 

Clifftop path
Clifftop path, Nant-y-Big. Mixed media on paper.