My interest in collections of pebbles and shells started as a child and it was the process of ‘treasure hunting’ for tiny Cowry shells on the NorthCornishCoast with my brother, that gave me immense pleasure. Playing on the beach or at home with Dave, despite the age difference, was relaxing, absorbing and exciting: much like playing with clay.
And so my journey began: collecting pebbles, making pebble pots and now translating the vessel into those collections of memories that are my childhood. It’s free play, often outside and often with Dave that I remember as the most joyful.
In 2010, I stumbled across the work of Chun Liao on the top floor of the V and A, and instantly fell in love. Emmanuel Cooper (2009), himself a maker of collections of pots, describes a series of tall cylindrical pots where she created one pot for each calendar month. ‘It’s a collection that presents a story of shifting moods and concerns’. Her pots are vibrant and bold ‘rainbows of light’ (Cooper 2009, p40) made of pale translucent porcelain glazed with soft celadons. Her pots are joyful and playful, rather than reflective and contemplative as Leach might have preferred.
Initially when I started making ‘Project 23’, I envisaged a shelf of very simple, elegant, reflective vessels, perhaps like a traditional memorial piece, reflective and thoughtful, almost spiritual. I started making a vast collection of pots, some cylinders and some bottles. I had planned to spend hours on each one but it became a playful, intuitive activity. I always was far better at playing than planning.
Cooper (2009, p44) describes Chun Liao’s approach where she is able to express aspects of emotional engagement with the world, reflecting John Constable’s view that painting (pottery) is about feeling. The tiny scale of her work gives a jewel like intensity.
My collection for ’Project 23’, became vast (I must have made 300 pots!), and Dave was on my mind so much of the time. It seems I couldn’t make anything to do him justice if I thought about it too much. What should I make for age 2, 3 or 4? I just couldn’t answer that.
Piet Stockmans’ work caught my eye on the same visit to the V and A, where there was a small wall mounted installation in the characteristic porcelain and blue slip. It was that classic colour combination that I have always found so appealing. His work could be grouped with Liao’s because they both make multiples of the same shape. Twomey (2007, p34) describes how he explores the concept of multiples expanding the edge of craft – thinking by paying respect to the craft object whilst simultaneously subverting it with a’ thoroughly art driven motive’.
Stockmans makes large scale installations in gallery spaces, performance pieces and even industrially produced tableware. A brief look at his website will show how diverse and varied his work is. It is not as emotional or intuitive as Liao’s but nevertheless creative and playful. In ‘Project 23’, I am hoping to combine intimate emotions with a playful twist. Stockmans’ extremely limited palate amazes me as the possibilities are seemingly endless. Paul McCallister (2011) suggested in a tutorial that I limit myself to one or two glazes and ‘get to know them properly’ rather than jumbling around with too many possibilities. I made a decision to do this at the start of this project and was going to simply use porcelain and a transparent glaze which produces a very pale blue under reduction in a gas kiln. I would simply leave tide lines which would describe the shape of Dave’s brainwaves (curved, healthy and spiky, epileptic). It was simple, subtle and reflective. This project was going to be straightforward! And yet it just didn’t work! It wasn’t me, it wasn’t Dave and it was terribly plain. By accident, I one day splodged cobalt blue on to the surface – was this trace of colour a way forward? My collection was growing; I just kept making and thinking or making and not thinking.
The more I investigate makers of collections, the more I remember Gormley’s ‘field’ has a narrative (Twomey 2007, p37) and is site specific. His work is so vast that he employed others to make it in the brickworks, Mexico. Similarly, Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds which were in the Tate Modern in 2010 are a political statement made by a whole village in China. It is significant to me as a maker that although Ai Weiwei didn’t make all these millions of seeds himself, he cared deeply that they were lovingly crafted with skill. Quality and skill matter!
It seems that these makers of multiples have very different intentions, but I have learnt that I am a maker of pots in collections. I want to explore why I make pots and what function they have in the next chapter. I thought this collection would be so easy to make, I’d planned and visualised it and yet it wasn’t good enough; it seems I needed to play intuitively and see what happened.
Cooper, E. (2009) ‘Rainbows of Light’, Ceramic Review. 238.
Twomey, C. (2007) ‘Contemporary Clay’, in Hanaor, C (Ed), Breaking the Mould, New Approaches to Ceramics. Blackdog Publishing.