Contemporary Ceramics is located in London, opposite the British Museum. At the front of the gallery, a retail space sells studio ceramics from over 80 makers, who are members of the Craft Potters Association. This is complemented by a dedicated gallery space which hosts regular solo and group exhibitions. From a membership of nearly 400, five new makers are selected to be featured in the gallery every two months. This blog highlights their inspirational stories and tales of ceramics.
Ian Byers 'They say that curiosity killed the cat...'
"They say that curiosity killed the cat, and if I am the cat then of course life is a dangerous business but there is also joy in discovery, in trying new things and it’s a game that we are all in."
They say that curiosity killed the cat, and if I am the cat then of course life is a dangerous business but there is also joy in discovery, in trying new things and it’s a game that we are all in. The game seems to start with destruction and taking things apart to see how they work. I remember as a small boy being given a watch and taking it apart, much to my parents dismay! I had no idea of value and I was curious. Making, to become good at it involved a lot of unmaking and failure but when exploring materials, how they felt and performed, another way of communicating opened. Feelings and ideas that could never be spoken or described with words became accessible.
"I liked clay as a child it was messy, dirty, slightly dangerous, enjoyable stuff,..."
Some materials like wood had form and structure, which had to be assessed if you wanted to change it visually, whilst clay could be formed and moulded by nature but also by human touch. It was very responsive and direct as a medium and just gripping a piece of soft clay could give it a shape, a response. Clay could be altered at will, mistakes made into something new perhaps made better if you watched what was happening in front of you and worked instinctively.I liked clay as a child it was messy, dirty, slightly dangerous, enjoyable stuff, and thank god for that!
"I see ceramics as an area to explore and exploit not in a random way but with an understanding of materials, associations and history. "
Today we seem to have a glut of possessions and functional objects but there was in the nineteen fifties and sixties a need for more variety and good lively design after the austerity of the post war period. My training at the Central School of Art in London gave me a good basic grasp of clay’s potential for expression, with its openness to new ideas both in the functional pottery realm and also as a sculptural medium. I was interested in both and my work has ranged over the two areas sometimes fusing both. I see ceramics as an area to explore and exploit not in a random way but with an understanding of materials, associations and history. Ceramics with its long association with pots and utility plus familiarity can be accessible and sometimes challenging to a wide audience. Some of my favourite works were made by the artist Picasso. He made painted and modelled work at the Medura pottery in a French pottery town called Vallauris in the 1950’s and drew by his influence many artists to work there. Picasso was not afraid to destroy and recreate carefully thrown forms using and delighting in clay as a plastic material. It is his life affirming playfulness and sculptural/pictorial invention, which always makes me, smile.
I don’t think there has been a particular seminal moment in my work, rather that the work flows and suggests the next move as if it had its own life. Raku firings allowed me to work in an all over way throwing away the words like foot ring and base. My work has since had a central sculptural core even though visually it may have moved from pictorial to more abstracted modes and I have always held fast to trying to work as a sculptor in three dimensions.
My ways of making have changed in regard to what I wanted to investigate and follow. There have been periods when things were made quickly and spontaneously and others when it involved a slow evolution through plaster models, moulds, casting and firing. Recently I have introduced ceramic elements to other materials in sculpture assemblages, using the qualities of ceramic where it seemed natural to express a visual idea.
"Recently I have introduced ceramic elements to other materials in sculpture assemblages, using the qualities of ceramic where it seemed natural to express a visual idea. "
I have sometimes made decisions about work after dreams. One dream was of a simple life on a beautiful island within a traditional community making pots but in the dream I always had to leave. The leaving was always to an inescapable, uncertain future.