Mike's Pots

 Jim Malone - A Point of View - 1985

Jim Malone - A Point of View - 1985

A Point of View

Having been asked to say something about ash glazing I am straightaway made to think of Geoffrey Whiting's assertion that one can come to know a few friends intimately but only ever achieve a passing acquaintance with a crowd, and am reminded that an approach to glazing is but part of a general approach to the work which in turn, is merely an extension of one's approach to life.

Ash glazes began, as I am sure every potter is aware quite accidentally in the East when it was observed that wood ash falling on the exposed ware during firing formed a crude glaze. It was a fairly obvious next step to apply wood ash deliberately to the pots before placing in the kiln, and an equally obvious second step to try mixing the wood ash with some other material. This was initially no more than the body clay itself and, a little later, whatever clay or stone was locally at hand. In this way the glaze; being no more than a re-organising of the materials and processes already in use is completely unforeign to the pot, just a natural extension.

In a society that is in danger of losing its balance at a time when too much emphasis is placed on technology and monetaryism it is not easy to retain intact one's integrity and purity of purpose as a craftsman. But I am encouraged and reassured when I see work such as that exhibited recently by Richard Batterham at the British Crafts Centre, to know that it is still possible, when one is clear enough, honest enough, and in touch with intrinsic values to make work which speaks in a clear quiet voice, without resort to gimmackry, and with a love of life, in spite of the pain, and the joy of just being, and working.

Pots such as these, no less than those historic examples we admire, are the product of an empathy with one's particular environment where use is made, so far as is possible, of what materials are offered locally, acknowledging their virtues, accepting their shortcomings, in much the same way as we do with people. Such pots come to flower, as do wild flowers in time with the natural rhythm of things, unforced. If one is content with a few friends one knows and is humble enough to see that one is but a part of the whole process, and that the materials themselves have an important contribution to make, then it is possible I believe, given, time, commitment and sensitivity, to form a relatiionship with and understanding towards the materials of sufficient depth to enable, (even now in a society where pursuit of fame or profit threatens genuine human expression) pots to be made which have real beauty and can enrich human experience. What is important is the motive, and this surely has to be love love of the materials, love of the work, love of the pots.

"As in their general philosopy the ancient Chinese aimed to co-operate and conform with natural forces, so in their arts they aimed to obtain the results they wanted by cajoling and flattering their raw materials so that in the product the full beauty and character of those materials was brought into play.They used persuasion and diplomacy rather than coercion. The European tendency, at least in recent times, is so to handle and control the material that it will do what it is told to do and not give trouble. We use coercion instead of persuasion" - Michael Cardew

Perhaps we should always remember that in was Bernard Leach who reintroduced the craft of pottery to us in the first quarter of this century and that he learned from the Japanese, who have the wisdom to know that creative endeavour, the pursuit of beauty is what art is, and do not make the supercilious and stupid distinction between function and non function. He brought with him a new aesthetic which placed emphasis on the quieter values - restraint, even austerity in which material is handled lovingly but directly so that the vitality of the finished pot is a direct result of the process by which it was made. There are no unnecessary embelishments, decoration is subordiate to form and the western obsession with clinical precision. and symmetry does not exist. He broadened our concept of beauty and increased our aesthetic vocabulary.

It would be a mistake to allow ourselves to become victims of a philistine public, influenced by "experts" who usually turn out to "deal" in the work of those potters whose virtue they proclaim never was there a better example of the blind leading the blind' It was Bernard Leach who said "The making of the good pot is worth any sacrifice, including life itself" Perhaps we do not have that kind of commitment.

Arguing for simple honest materials I would pose this question. With all our modern technology are the pots we make any better than those made by potters throughout history? who used a few simple materials available to them with respect and understanding.

"....A potter is not just someone who makes for the local market. He is someone who makes objects with a real concern for the qualities of those objects which exist beyond not excluding, but beyond their simple utility Someone who makes pots with love. That is a quality that can be trans." - John Reeve

John Reeve

John Reeve