Saturday, 30 October 2010

Bedford, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Home

Back in Devon after a lovely few days at 'home' with my parents.

My Mum's feeling much better now I'm pleased to say. It was lovely to see them and we had a busy, but nevertheless, refreshing break.

This little box, in our bedroom at my folks' place, is the first 'pot' I ever made, some twenty-eight years ago, when I was studying on an Art Foundation course at Tresham College in Kettering. The decoration was created by pressing an 'X' from a set of printing blocks, into the clay before it was assembled. It was made from red earthenware clay and glazed with some kind of pea green glaze which allowed the body colour to show through in thinner areas, but pooled and hung in the detail where thicker - much in the same way as I use slip nowadays, although back then it was much more by luck than judgement. I'm glad my first piece was made from the 'dirty red stuff'.

As we didn't go to the caravan, which had been the original plan, we went for days out instead. My parents live a relatively short train journey from London, so we spent a day in the big City, visiting the galleries. Here's Luke outside the Tate Modern.

This is Ai Weiwei's, Sunflower Seeds 2010.

'Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain.

Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.

Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.'

I had hoped to get to see the new ceramics gallery at the V&A, but unfortunately there wasn't enough time and I don't think Hil and the boys would have shared my excitement, so I'll go back there another day with some pottery chums.

Wandering past Central St Martin's School of Art, I glanced through the window and noticed the blue plaque that I was commissioned to make five years ago, to commemorate the first disastrous gig of the Sex Pistols. The gig had happened in 1975 in that very building. It had been moved into the foyer(previously it had hung in the room where the gig had actually occurred). It was funny to see it again and to remember the panic of trying to get the blue paint dry the night before. Here's a review of the unveiling by Glen Matlock, back in 2005.

So I didn't get to the V&A, but I made up for it the next day with a trip to Cambridge to meet up with our friends Jon and Jo and a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum, to look at their amazing collection of slipware and other ceramics. The Fitz have a number of these Pew Groups, which form the basis for inspiration for some of the wonderful work made by my good friend, Paul Young.

The Fitzwilliam also houses a number of fantastic medieval jugs which are well documented in a number of the books that I own on the subject, so it's a bit like visiting old friends.

Almost funky enough to be contemporary

These were made with great skill. I love the beautifully applied handle, perfectly designed to carry this jug when full of liquid.

Oh, there it is again. I'll leave it on here, it's well worth a second look!

On our return journey to the West Country, we made a pit stop at Oxford. This is outside the Bodleian Library
And this is inside the Ashmolean Museum


I went there specifically to visit this pot. This is a pot I've studied in great detail in photographs(thanks Tim), but always loved from afar. I think as a baluster jug it has a perfect form and I always look at pictures of this jug when I'm making such baluster jugs - I only wish that I could make them as well and with what seems to be such ease, as those old medieval potters.
Here's a Clive Bowen version. Clive makes some superb 'medieval' jugs, I'm lucky enough to own a good number of them. You can see a lot of Clive's work in mine, he's one of my foremost influences, as a man and a maker - I've spent many hours of my life stoking his huge kiln. I think that slipware makers in general in this country are greatly indebted to him, as he's made the 'dirty brown stuff' acceptable in the galleries, which had always in the past been dominated by stoneware pots.

Look at the crazy applied deco on this one

Michael Cardew, Winchcombe bottle - the greatest of old English slipware. I love the way that the manganese in his black slip brushwork, bleeds into the galena glaze. I'm biased I suppose, but I can't understand how Cardew was ever satisfied again when he moved on to Wenford Bridge and abandoned the beautiful rich colours of his Winchombe earthenware.

And finally, one from dear old Thomas bless his heart.

Further along on our route home on Friday, I dropped in to Bristol, which is now the situation of my nearest surviving brickworks. I used to get coarse brick clay from a brickworks in Exeter, which I would blend with my smooth clay to make a fantastic and unique throwing body. Unfortunately the Exeter works closed a couple of years ago. The manager at the Bristol works has been hugely helpful and sorted me out a few sample bags of the Bristol clay to experiment with. I tried it yesterday, a blend of gritty brick and the smooth, Valentines red that I've been using recently - it seemed to bring the clay to life beneath my fingertips. More excitingly, I made a mix of gritty brick and the freshly dug Hollyford clay and it threw beautifully. If it fires well, I think I may have sorted out a perfect clay body to suit my needs for ever.

So, with the combination of all the inspiration gleaned from my recent museum visits and a clay that really does it for me, I'm going to be getting back to work this week in a very positive frame of mind - which is a good job, because I've got to make enough pots so that I can fire the kiln in four weeks' time - busy busy!

Have a good week all


ang design said...

hey yeh get to it!! it is rather lovely that the old medi pots are so contemporary in form and style mmmm...:)) have you thought about tweaking the galena so it doesn't bubble??? or would that just be wrong....

Trish said...

Thank you for the pictorial visit through the museums you visited, Doug. My daughter will be in London for a few days in November and I am hoping she can get to the V&A museum.
Looking forward to seeing some pots from the clay you showed in the previous post..:)
Cheers from Alberta.

Paul Jessop said...

what a great combination , a head full of fresh Ideas and a fantastic supply of clay.
all a man needs. well almost!
sorry Marion.

doug Fitch said...

Evening all. I think it's the way I fire it that makes it bubble Ang!The new chimney should help - less reduction. Trish, the V&A is staggering, your daughter will love it, there's everything there. I mixed up a trial of the field clay wth the new brick clay - it's going to be an amazing throwing body. Paul, ha ha, you'll be in trouble! I'll bring you some of the new clay blend soon. Great fancy dress by the way :-)

James said...

Hey - Doug - did you nick a sunflower seed?