I missed Akiko Hirai‘s Open Studio event over the weekend of the 1st December, but Akiko kindly agreed that it would be OK for me to visit her studio at The Chocolate Factory, Stoke Newington, London on the following Wednesday. I am finding that visits to makers like this utterly invaluable as I reconnect myself to the world of ceramics. We discussed her approaches and techniques and I was particularly interested in the way that she uses a variety of techniques to bring the effects of wood-firing through her gas kiln. It is inspiring to visit a maker in their workshop space; to see the creativity possible from a small, confined but perfectly conceived space. Wheel, kiln, work-surfaces and shelving take up most of the space – with her wheel covered as a display table for the Open Studio event.
Photograph – RB courtesy AK
Akiko Hirai’s shelves at her Chocolate Factory Studio.
I’m enormously grateful to Adam Buick for letting me come over and join him as he opened his kiln, discussing materials and processes he uses as we unpacked. Adam’s use of local materials, particularly gravel-sand from Abereiddy Bay as temper / grog, seaweed and a clay from a Aber Mawr (where we both spent much of our childhoods) in his glazes, really interested me. You are on the right lane as you approach Adam’s workshop as you encounter pieces by a gateway, the pond……
Photographs – RB – courtesy AB
Adam’s Moon Jars outside his studio
Aber Mawr glaze
I’m really interested in the possibilities wood firing has both in terms of sustainable use of materials and the effects it has on the clay and glaze.
All photographs – RB – by courtesy of NR, AB and DP.
During September I was lucky enough to visit Muchelney Pottery in Somerset and to join John Leach, Nick Rees, Mark Melbourne and the team for 24 hours during one of their legendary wood firings. I am hoping that wood firing will be a key feature of the way my work progresses over the coming years.
I subsequently also visited Douglas Philips on John and Nick’s recommendation to explore the idea of sustainable wood firing further. Douglas has developed a renowned expertise in this area and extensive experience in using Fred Olsen quick- fire downdraft kilns and developing his own kiln designs (the latest “Dora” proving incredibly efficient and successful).
Through this blog, I’ll be linking to the ceramics that inspire me. My early inspiration came from NIgerian water pots, beer pots from Zimbabwe, shards of neolithic pottery, Sung and Han dynasty tea bowls….. More recently I have found myself drawn to the work of a few contemporary potters such as John Leach (Muchelney, Somerset), Akiko Hirai (working from the Chocolate Factory workshops in London) and Adam Buick (working in Pembrokeshire), for very different reasons. What I feel they have in common is that their contrasting work explores form, function and process in a way that captures my imagination.
As I return to ceramics after an 8 year gap, there seems to be the potential for a growing rift between those who see themselves as production potters, those who see themselves at the pinnacle of their craft, working as studio potters and those who use ceramics as a vehicle to explore concepts and ideas. I have heard of the “death of the Leachian era” that “had a good run”, and that Ceramic Review is in a state of crisis because of conflicting views on what should be represented through it’s pages.
It makes it an interesting, if challenging time to come back to ceramics.