Artistic licence?

I’m making some steady progress with my Islay glaze materials – after a couple of months of frustrating results. The balance of materials is crucial; limestone, limonite / bog iron, quartzite, ash, but at last I’m getting a lovely clear – green glaze, which is streaky when thin, but deep and glossy when applied thickly. I have tried a copper splash to add a break to the background glaze, copper having been mined on Islay in the middle-ages / early modern period. I’m delighted with the results, but I want to expand the colour palette a little.

I am drawn to a splash of blue, to conjure up the sky and sea – such a hugely important set of factors when experiencing the island. There’s also that occasional fragment of blue sea-glass washed up on the shore. I think that next steps may well include a blue splash or two on the tumblers. The cobalt necessary for this, however would most definitely be from far flung quarries, half a world away. but it is possible that artistic license may just have to give me the permission here.

Landscapes

Landscapes fascinate me. It’s not just the big sweeping forms, although they are at the centre of the aesthetic that I often connect with most easily, but the almost imperceptible details; the trace of a path, the vegetation, the soil profiles, the archaeology and geology beneath….and the social dimensions that may be almost invisible. I love the way that it is possible, by training your eye to either start to locate clues visually, to work in sharp focus, or to squint and blur the view, so that you only see the big shapes.

Sometimes, as on a visit to my beloved Donegal, you need to blur things, where the scatter of modern houses, left as if by a giant with a saltshaker, can be almost such a distraction as to prompt a disconnect. Other times, whilst walking in those same hills, which on a bleak, grey, wet day can leave the senses potentially numb, just focussing on the flowers in amongst the heather; tormentil, lady’s bedstraw, heath bedstraw, thyme, harebell, asphodel, lungwort, milkwort, you can be drawn into the web of connections that is at the heart of any place, whether they be natural…., social or economic.

The main feature of many of these photographs is the path. I spend a lot of my time walking, at least an hour a day, but more when I get the chance. Walking opens up so many connections and stories, whether through what we see, what we find, or through the people we meet.

These photographs are a start at capturing my obsession with layers in the landscape.

Finally, I include a photograph here of the late, great Mick Wilkinson, taken on an Autumn morning in 2015, where I stumbled across him, emptying out-of-date cherries from small tubs into a bucket for his cows. Mick worked with the legendary country potter Isaac Button in his youth, and was a veritable mine of information. He could tell a story and give you a depth of understanding that is so often missing in the books and web-pages, better than pretty much anyone I have ever met. The gate was his clue for me to find clay that he was happy for me to dig. I will never forget his kindness and enthusiasm.

Sense of place:

A central theme in my work is the focus on place; on the landscape, the environment, the economy and culture and from this – the connections between people, locally available materials and function (for example, tools / buildings / fuel etc.). All human activity has an impact, and yet over the centuries, it seems as if there were occasionally systems that established some kind of balance between the natural world and our actions. Take the countryside of the British Isles for example, where until the development of more industrial approaches to farming following the second world war, the fields were characterised by species diversity – of plants, invertebrates, birds etc. I’m not suggesting this was a panacea – something usually has to give. Some kind of balance also seems to have been established in the management of woodlands for coppicing, creating fuel for firewood and early industrial activity. The coppiced woods created opportunities for a wide range of flowering plants such as bluebells and wood anemones and particular butterfly and bird species – whilst also creating a carbon neutral source of fuel.

Whilst it may seem almost impossible to re-create these systems to serve a world with a growing population of 7 billion people, it does inspire me – and the whole concept of sustainability deeply underlies my work. How could these more balanced systems inform our future actions and innovation? It also means that as I explore landscapes, with ceramic materials in mind, I know that I need to think carefully about the relationships that I will have with both people and place, if I am to stay true to my own values and commitments.

 

New beer beakers made from Ockeridge clay…..

There’s a lot more to follow on this, and another of my small books available to tell the story behind these beakers.. They’re made from the clay dug In my good friend Mick’s bit of woodland, and have become a bit of a talking point at my local pub, The Plough on Deansway, Worcester, where my prototype is used by yours truly several times a week……