Friday, 3 May 2013



Keramik Conversations extends the dialogue in the permanent collection,

in the form of a friendly infiltration of the brown pot brigade' by 'foreign (ceramic) agents'…

These 'interlopers' are clearly marked by figurines and by a number which identifies them on a free hand-out available in the gallery.

View of 3 infiltrations (top shelf of next case) seen through a Cardew-filled display case.

The 'visiting' works ('Interlopers') are listed below as encountered in the exhibition; moving clock-wise, and starting on the right, as you enter, where works by Lucie Rie and Hans Coper are displayed:

Picture (above). From left to right: Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, Schäffenacker.

1. Schäffenacker pottery [West Germany] Triple vase. Slipcast stoneware.

Acquired for the permanent collection.

2. Gramann Romhild, Vase. Hand-thrown stoneware decorated with white and pink lava on pitted grey matt glaze. 1950s-60s.
Below left:

3. Atelier of Louis Giraud, Bowl. Stoneware decorated with grey, white and pink lava glaze. 1950s-60s. 

The addition of a hand-thrown vase by Gramann Romhild, and a small bowl by Louis Giraud — both produced for a wide market, but using craft skills for serial production — shows that works of artistic integrity could be produced economically, retail at affordable prices and, thus, reach a wide public.

A more individually and exclusively produced studio vase by Steen Kepp, wood-fired according to the Tanegashima/yakishime technique (i.e. 'designed and fired without loosing the natural feel of clay, water and fire', in the words of Sister Johanna Becker), at La Borne (France) during the mid 1980s, represents a limit case on the scale of ceramic technology: from 'traditional' to 'high tech' (symbolozed on the right by a slipcast base from Jopeko (germany):

In the Virtual Gallery the Steen Kepp vase, fired in La Borne (France), in a wood kiln [click to preview film] over a period of ten days, is shown in dialogue with an industrially-produced vase — by Jopeko Keramik — decorated with a rich, red lava glaze fired in an industrial kiln. Two extremes on the spectrum of firing technologies. Two different aesthetics…

Second most recent vase — after Cedric Ragot's 'Fast' porcelain vase, designed for Rosenthal in 2004 — the Steen Kepp vase (c. 1986) closes the series of 'interlopers' (nº 27) chronologically, by returning us to the start.

next display case (on the right — in dialogue with/as an echo — of Reginald Wells' group of blue 'Soon' ware, on the left):

4. Raoul Lachenal, Vase. Hand-thrown white clay decorated with 'Egyptian' blue glaze. c. 1920.

Whereas Wells emulated Chinese models, in this piece Lachenal emulated the Ancient Egyptian blue found in recently excavated tombs and displayed in popular exhibitions and in museum collections. His second source of inspiration was Isnik ceramics which had been re-discovered by Theodor Deck and others: 

5. Wim Mühlendyck, Vase. Hand-thrown stoneware decorated with pattern of incised marks and brown matt glaze. 1950s:


6. Langley. Vase Hand-thrown stoneware decorated with cut concentric lines and blue crystalline glaze. c. 1931.

The smooth finish of this hand-thrown vase, decorated with a discrete and refined crystalline glaze, — from the Cavendish series, designed during the early 30s by art graduates — contrasts with the surrounding 'studio' pots, which deliberately/ostentatiously emphasize their hand-thrown quality. Whereas the Langley, although thrown on the wheel, emphasises its architectural form and perfect symmetry attenuated by the running and the different levels of transparency of the glaze.

Produced during a very brief phase, around 1934, when art graduates were employed on a part-time basis, to design an 'Art range', this hand-thrown and cut/turned stoneware vase, exudes a sense of architectural modernity reminiscent of Frank Lloyd-Wright, which makes it stand out in starck contrast with the ruralist tone of the surrounding studio pots made in the wake of the ceramic revival instigated by Leach.

The geometric perfection of the Langley vase, produced not from a mould, but designed by artists, then hand-thrown and glazed by highly skill craftsmen (in a platonic search for perfect form?) — in a creative collaborative effort carried out in a factory — contrasts with and exposes the contrived 'archaic' ruralist forms ('rural idyll') of the surrounding studio dishes. 

7René Neve for Hutschenreuther*Plate. 

Stoneware, decorated with painted and sprayed pattern of concentric lines. 1960s. in conversation with Bernard Leachplate, showing an Asian pilgrim in a mountainous landscape.

This conversation is emblematic of the concerns of the exhibition: to demystify some of the assumptions which led to the closure of the ceramic field and the rejection of a modernity which did not conform to the passeist aesthetics inspired by 12th century Korea and 15th Century Chinese models, selected by Leach as paradigmatic.

Top shelf:

8. Louise Duncker, Jug. Hand-thrown stoneware inspired by the Bauhaus style, decorated in green on brown glaze. 1950s-60s

9. Crown Ducal*, Vase. Press moulded earthenware decorated with concentric lines and free dripping red, blue and yellow glaze. (1925-34). 

*Acquired for the permanent collection.

Echoing the shapes of the surrounding studio pieces (including the concentric rings of the hand-throwing marks), this slip-cast vase stands out by its use of color to convey the 'organic vitality' Herbert Read found lacking in factory-produced pots, and identified with the process of hand-throwing.
In English Pottery (1924), co-written with Bernard Rackham, Herbert Read had remarked 'Forms capable of being multiplied without variation from a single original model cannot but have a much smaller interest than those in which each individual piece is the direct expression of the potter's instinct', and concluded that 'such vital quality in the finished work can never come from the passive settling of particles of clay on the inner side of a porous mould' (p. 129) and that cast works are 'mechanical production' useful to produce 'useful' wares such as 'for table use especially, where cleanliness and health are to be taken into reckoning' where they 'must be acknowledged as superior to hand-made wares'.
The problem is that slip-cast works are not necessarily identical ('without variation'); especially when they rely on hand-applied glazes for their aesthetic effect.
In Art and Industry Read formulated a distinction between 'thrown' versus ''cast' pots in functional terms, by postulating two forms of vitality: 'organic vitality' emanating from hand-throwing and 'mechanic dynamism', arising from design; adding that the latter 'should be the invention of an artist' (p. 74)

In cases of works where glazing was the most important aesthetic element, and where it was experimental and applied by hand, this distinction looses its pertinence and becomes void.
This is evident in the lava glazed works by Marei Keramik (Display case 17).

In the colourful Crown Ducal vase (above), the fact that the glazer was anonymous (his/her identity lost in the collective, hierarchical process of industrial production) makes it easier to under value it.
Re-contextualising it, as in this case, surrounded by British studio ceramic 'super stars', invite us to respond directly to their materiality; unhindered by preconceptions.

This alternative form of display retrieves and valorizes the contributions of those anonymous crafts people written out of History.

'Monument to the unknown glazier'?

Crown Ducal is associated with the name of Charlotte Rhead, who supplied many designs of flowers, fruits and geometric motifs, in the Art Déco style. 

Abstract glazes of the type illustrated here represented a very small proportion of their overall production.

10. Anon., Italian factory*. Decorative plate. Earthenware, decorated with white slip on blue, red and yellow. 1950s or 60s. In conversation with Michael Cardew plate, decorated with slip motif of fish.

Next a 19th century pitcher from a country pottery in or around St Amand in Puisaye (or La Borne) faces a 'free form' slip cast vase by Le Vaucour, from Vallauris.

As with the Leach. Hutschenreuther juxtapposition, this conversation challenges widespread assumptions by inviting us to dare compare two very different ways of using slip, from two opposite aesthetic positions; temporarily suspending conventional aesthetic hierarchies.

The intention, here, is to help expand the ceramic field on a broader aesthetic basis, free from arbitrary, conventional aesthetic hierarchies.

11. Anon., Puisaye (France)*. Pitcher. Stoneware. 19th century 

below, left

Taken out of its original context, the pitcher may acquire a dual significance: as document/monument of popular ceramic history and as a manifesto for a rural aesthetic revival.

In this context, it invites us to reflect about the relation between the aesthetics of objects of every day use (pitcher) and objects specifically and solely created to serve a decorative function (vase). Although able to function as a vase, the 'Vallauris' was primarily intended for display, with or mostly without flowers: as a vase-sculpture.

12. Le Vaucour, Vallauris, Free form vase. Slipcast earthenware, decorated with streaky red and yellow on white lava glaze. 

This glaze is the most common found on Vallauris vases, plates and other ornaments of that period. It consists of two bright colors (often red and yellow; but also blue and purple) running over a white textured glaze over a brown engobe coated by a clear shiny glaze.

13. Vase, KPM, Berlin. Slipcast porcelain. 1974. 

14. Grès de Pierrefonds, vase. Stoneware, decorated with blue crystalline glaze.


15. Anon. (Puisaye, France). Gourde-shaped vase. Stoneware. C. 1910. 

16. Charles Cart, Le Cyclope pottery (Annecy, France. Vase. Decorated in blue and white lava glaze. 1950-60.

17. Anon. Jug. Alsace, France. Stoneware, decorated in blue glaze. c. 1910. 

18. Wim Mühlendyck, Vase. Hand-thrown stoneware, decorated in brown glaze. 1950s.

19. Anon. (Germany)*, vase. Hand-thrown stoneware decorated with Japanese-inspired Shino glaze. 1960s-70s.

20. Studio of J. Massier (Vallauris, France),Vase, decorated with glossy green on matt grey and white glaze. Late 1950s. 

21. Céramique d’Art de Bordeaux, vase. Stoneware decorated with flame light on dark green glaze. c. 1920.

22. Fady (Vallauris), vase. Slipcast earthenware, decorated with ‘écume de mer’ glaze. late 1950s-early 1960s.

23. Anon. (Vallauris), vase. Slipcast earthenware, decorated with ‘écume de mer’ glaze. late 1950s-early 1960s. 

24. Gerhard Liebenthron. Large bottle vase. Grogged stoneware, decorated with free motifs of washes. 1969.

25. Aegitna (Vallauris). Hand-modelled oyster. Earthenware, decorated with glossy yellow and green glaze. 1940s. 

This novelty oyster continues the tradition of 'terres vernissées and shows its persistence, during the 50s and its adaptation to purely decorative items; before Aegitna (like countless other workshops and factories in Vallauris) adopted a more modern idiom; characterised by streaks of bright layers of glazes running into eachother, which became a trademark of 'Vallauris':

26. Schäffenaecker, Amonite vase. Slipcast stoneware, decorated with matt brown and light green  glaze. 1960-70. 

In the virtual gallery Schaffenacker's amonite vase meets with a porcelain vase by Heutschenreuther*. Whereas the Heutschenreuther vase incorporates the amonite motif as part of its decoration, Schaffenacker has turned the vase into an amonite.

In the permanent collection, the Schennacker sits in a group of works displayed/sequenced as a 'cavalcade'; running from right to left:

27. Steen Kepp,  (La Borne, France)
Vase. 1986.
Hand-thrown, wood-fired stoneware

(In Yakishime kiln over ten days).

The reference to Japanese ceramics, in particular stoneware, by European potters, inspired a wide range of practices: (in La Borne, where this vase was made), and earlier on in St Amand en Puisaye: where a stoneware revival was instigated around 1900 by the sculptor Jean Carriès, who attracted in his wake a number of artists to this traditional pottery town, and stimulated traditional potters to make decorative wares in more modern styles.

Eugène Lion was such an artist; who shared with Carriès his technical knowledge, experience and skills,  and was, in turn, inspired — through his encounter with Carriès, and by his works — to redefine himself as an 'artiste-potier'. Official accounts of Carriès and his 'school', in their concerns to promote the myth of the genius, tend to ignore this two way process.

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