Friday, 27 February 2015

Slightly Potty...

Ceramics have been uncovered dating from around 24,000 BC, while common ceramic vessels have been produced for more than 10,000 years.  In an age of mass production it is gratifying to know that  beautiful and useful objects are produced by the maker's hands.  Wandering through galleries, salesrooms and exhibitions there are constant discoveries to be made and coveted.  Here is the tiniest snippet of examples we've recently viewed...



Egyptian Chalice (siliceous faience) 22nd Dynasty, 945-715 BC Louvre.
Below, in ancient Egypt blue (irtyu) was the colour of the heavens, hence representing the universe.







A ninth century Umayyad unglazed Pilgrim's flask, Syria or Mesopotamia (Christie's Islamic sale)



Tenth Century Bowl, Earthenware with splashed three colour glaze and incised decoration, Iran

Unlike many museum quality objects, contemporary ceramics are accessible at all levels.  The first birthday gift I bought for my husband years ago was a pair of ceramic vases bathed in a deep azure glaze.  Their simple gourd form was both elegant and masculine.  Who could resist the lure of the potter's wheel seeing traces of the ceramicist's hands, something created from the very elements that make our earth in a potter's attentive hands?

I've long collected Mark Skudlareks' robust pots, plates and cups.  At the opposite end of the spectrum of museum pieces, his pots are affordable collectibles; his chief desire to create covetable ceramics.  He is prolific in order to fulfil this desire, achieved through seasonal firings in his kiln modelled on ancient Asian designs.


Pots for sale on the porch of Mark Skudlarek's Wisconsin showroom.
An honesty box is still in use for purchases.

Recently I attended The Potter's Guild group exhibition annual show in London at the invitation of artist and ceramicist Arabella Ross.  She displayed three pieces that were a conceptual tour de force.  Although I couldn't get a photo of the two fabulous framed pieces, here is a picture of the vessel she created with life drawings just visible both inside and outside the piece which give it an immediacy and vibrancy that was impossible to capture here.

Woman Vessel, Arabella Ross



Shoji Hamada, one of the most influential twentieth century studio potters, met Bernard Leach in Japan and travelled with him to England and America, eventually founding the Leach Pottery in St Ives.  Often sited as one of the most influential potters of the twentieth century the simplicity of his work belied its urgency and power.
Shoji Hamada at the wheel

A Hamada vessel which recently sold at auction


Gaia (Mark's wife) Skudlareks' grandfather, potter Michael Cardew, who abandoned his family's comfortable upper middle class lifestyle to train under Bernard Leach and eventually founded his own famed pottery in Cornwall. His rare and highly collectible jugs plates and other forms, are everyday utilitarian objects in the Skudlarek household, scrambled eggs and cassoul├ęt consumed daily on these precious works.  Mine would surely be mounted on the wall out of harm's way.
A rare Michael Cardew stool, 1970
The hand built Skudlarek kitchen awash with precious pottery.


An art student's exploration in vessel making and glazes, an earthy appeal

Yet that is the incredible beauty of ceramics.  From the earth they have come and to the earth they will return - as fine white clay or heavy red clay and everything in between.  They are sometimes practical and useable and always works of art... encompassing both requirements of William Morris.  "Have nothing in your home that you know to be neither useful nor beautiful."  And whilst that makes for some truly uncomfortable and squeaky sofas and chairs in my home, it also makes for exquisite visual and functional feasts on my table and on various perches round the house.  Pottery and ceramics are truly where the worlds of domestic life and art collide in wonderment.


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