Friday, 9 August 2013

Wayne Colquhoun-My Work As A Potter

I have been locked in a Police station every Saturday afternoon. The Old Police Station Lark Lane. For two years come rain or shine I have been there every week in a glazed brick cell……. And it’s by choice.

In the corner of, in winter, a freezing building armed only with a handful of muddy clay, with your hands in cold water. I have practised the art of throwing pots.

Sometimes being arrested would be more fun. The frustration can be devilish.

Then other times when things go well it seems worth the effort.

I understand having served an apprenticeship as a Carpenter (the best training anyone can get) the secret of perfecting anything you want to do, to a high standard, is to put the time in.

I was told a long time ago by old crusty blokes with beards, people I had been trained in various arts by, that “its 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”.
It’s the truth you have to work hard and put the time in nothing comes naturally, and anyone who tells you anything differently is a liar.

But carpentry experience does not take into account, art.

John Parker who runs the Lark Lane Pottery looked at me with a wry grin when I proclaimed after a week or two that I was going to do an exhibition of my work, he had heard it all before.

“I want to make my clay look like metal, like work of a French Dinandier”

“Yer what” he said, and I don’t blame him he must have seen thousands of people come through his doors over the years, all of them with different ideas on different levels.

“Start small,” he would say as I threw pot after pot that were a mess over the months using tons of his precious clay.

He would be standing there scowling, calculating how much more work he would have to do to recycle my wasted clay, that never seems to go where you want it, at first. That mud seems to have a life of its own.

But he allowed me to practise.

But I think my enthusiasm won him over and he let me practise and I recycle my own clay, which is a drain

The big incentive in getting it right, is, at least partly so you don’t have to spend ages needing the air out of soaking wet clay on a plaster bat.

Clay is a messy little bugger that gets right up your arms and all over you, so you look like you have been dragged through a lake backwards.

It is the most humbling experience. To be faced with a lump of mud.

A mass of nothing. If you had it on your clothes it is a horrible stain. Yet you have to take this inanimate object and mix in a little bit of water to make it flexible so that you can mould it, upwards, and create something of beauty. There are no prisoners with the punishment that you have to endure, in order to progress to the next stage.

To lump another pound of clay on top to suffer the frustration all over again, then when you have mastered that, another pound of clay.

It was easy for me in the past to sell the art of the potter without really understanding the true skill that is requisite in order to make something that is recognised, as a work of art, when really it is only a vessel.

Year’s back my shop was featured on Flog it, and shortly after middle-aged gentleman and his wife, having seen it came into the shop.

I am a potter he said. I did not know what that was really, even though I sold pots.

Two hours later I went to a private view at the Bluecoat Display Centre to see the work of Duncan Ross and it was he who I had been speaking to in the shop.

I wish you had told me who you were I actually have purchased retail one of your pots which is one of my cherished pieces.

I wish I could talk to him now. I asked him, if he was inspired by Dinanderie and he said he was not aware of what it was.

I recall how, I wanted to make the simplest form almost like an African primitive pot. How do you do that? Google the term African pots and the inspiration is there. But like playing jazz it’s not about studying something, it’s about feeling.

How can you feel what it is like to be an African making a pot to hold grain, or water, with the basic of tools, without a kiln, firing your vessels in a hole in the ground, with fire?

The basic elements fire, earth and water are the most primitive of all needs.

They have a challenge that is hard to quantify. Why do you want to make a pot like an African? Why do you want to make a vessel in the Minoan style, what good is that. Why did the Ancient Greek want to turn a vessel for water or wine into a work of art, into an object of beauty and very often with a narrative?

Why did our ancestors paint the caves with their quarry What is the basic primeval instinct to create? To pit your self against your materials to achieve something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Magdelaine Odondu annoyed me when I met her at the Bluecoat also for a private view. Her pots were on sale for £20,000 and were not worth, in my opinion, a fraction of that. Her manager said he had driven the prices up from $300 to $30,000. Psychology I thought. But I took these two established potters that I had met, as an inspiration, which is still a prevailing influence to what I do now in my burnished work. I leave the tool marks in where Duncan does not. I still can’t understand how he manages, mostly to create such workmanship that shows his patience. Odondu is the same her burnishing is perfect, simple shapes she can feel her heritage. I am not sure how much of that is hype. I am just beginning my journey, but the art of thinking is the hidden jewel in all good potters work. The art of being able to leave something of oneself in your work, that is an intimate connection with the recipient of your work is hard to explain.

I have destroyed more work than I have created but now, and only now, I can feel my work taking shape becoming mine, with the simplest of materials clay and a clay slip, I need to make a shape that reflects the simplest of forms. I think that the philosophy of simple materials and simple forms ties one of your hands behind your back makes it more difficult…….. And I have always liked a challenge.

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