Best of British Ceramics - Ceramicist Spotlight
Contemporary Ceramics and its recognition as an art form has, rightfully, progressed considerably since 1940, when Bernard Leach wrote that ‘very few people in this country think of the making of pottery as an art’. British ceramicists have played a major role in the changing nature of the art form, from highly esteemed and celebrated 20th century potters, to distinguished contemporary artists working in the UK today.
Jack Doherty, Nicola Tassie, Akiko Hirai, Celia Dowson and Edmund de Waal, are five British ceramicists who continue to explore and push the possibilities of working with clay, achieving magical and very different results.
Jack Doherty has dedicated himself to porcelain for much of his career and has subsequently refined his practice to be as simple, pure and sustainable as possible. Jack is renowned for his innovative soda-firing technique, which has introduced exciting colours, tones and textures to ceramics. A palette of colours reminiscent of the landscape and coastlines where Jack lives and works in Mousehole, Cornwall, are created through the fusion of fire and soda in the kiln.
Jack was a finalist for the Loewe Craft Prize in 2020 for his ‘Guardian Vessel,’ a spectacular work which demonstrates his interest in archetypal ritualistic vessels. The large-scale piece features vibrant turquoise, smokey grey and russet tones and a nuanced, organic texture: a combination that expresses light and shadow.
Nicola Tassie’s ceramic practice is extraordinarily expansive, encompassing still-life sets, installations and sculptural objects, as well as domestic wares. Nicola explores and manipulates the material and conceptual possibilities of every-day objects, investigating the relationship between function and art. Her line-marking techniques create intriguing and unique surface decoration that bring a contemporary touch to functional vessel forms.
‘Folly’ is a column reminiscent of a totem pole formed from glazed pots that reaches 2.5 meters high. Inspired by the piling up of pots in her studio, Nicola recycles domestic wares originally intended for her tableware ranges.
London-based Akiko Hirai is one of the most sought-after ceramicists working today. Akiko was born in Japan, where she trained in cognitive psychology. Her experimentation with clay came soon after moving to England in 1999. Akiko draws on elements of Japanese aesthetics and techniques, but her highly distinctive approach is rooted in the UK, where she discovered and honed her unique skill.
Akiko’s moon jars, which are based on traditional 18th century Korean moon jars, demonstrate her ability to combine Japanese and British traditions and techniques. In 2019, Akiko was a finalist for the Loewe Craft Prize with one of her moon jars, whilst another was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their permanent collection. The bases of Akiko’s moon jars are made on the wheel, and the top is formed through coiling. A multitude of slips and glazes are applied, before wood ash is used to finish and create an expressive, dramatic volcanic lava effect.
British ceramicist and artist Celia Dowson works with porcelain and glass in truly unique and distinct ways. Celia’s porcelain vessels are made using a machine intended for mass-production, demonstrating her interest in industrial techniques. Through marks and gestures the vessels depict movement in nature: evolving landscapes, mountainscapes and seascapes. Polishing the pieces creates a smooth texture and enhances the very carefully considered and applied tones and patterning.
Celia takes inspiration from particular sights and views of the natural world, such as the Mountainscape series she created based on the colours of vegetation and the sky during monsoon season outside of Taipei during her artist residency, and the seascape series that draw on the Welsh Gower Peninsula and Rhossili Bay, where some of Celia’s family are based.
Edmund de Waal
Last but most definitely not least, although we do not represent his work, we thought it impossible to speak of British Ceramics without mentioning English potter, writer, and artist, Edmund de Waal. Alongside best-selling books that have enriched the understanding of arts and ceramics, such as The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010) and The White Road (2015), Edmund de Waal has created an exceptional output of pottery that has altered the face of ceramics with its ingenious fusion of literary sources, western and eastern traditions, minimalism and architecture.
For de Waal, porcelain is “white gold,” the material for which he is most recognized, and which forms the basis of his large-scale installations. Comprised of hand-crafted porcelain vessels, de Waal’s installations explore themes of collecting and collections. They often respond to and interact with specific sites and their surroundings, illuminating the lives and fates of objects.
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