other days by appointment
The JOANNA BIRD GALLERY is delighted to announce its Summer Exhibition, Rites of Passage. The Exhibition will run from 8th June – 19th July, Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00am – 5.00pm.
We are pleased to be showing a selection of outstanding contemporary work set alongside that of historic masters. The work on display draws on a wide variety of art and craft disciplines: sculptural ceramics, porcelain, hand cut glass, and studio pottery. The artists represented in Rites of Passage include: Richard Batterham, Emmanuel Boos, Michael Cardew, Carina Ciscato, Hanne Heuch, Akiko Hirai, Tom Perkins, William Plumptre, Lucie Lie, Matthew Warner and Gregory Warren Wilson.
The exhibition includes a beautiful catalogue with words written by the artists themselves, who were asked to reflect on the various ‘rites of passage’ which have brought them to where they are today: outstanding practitioners in their own right. The result is a unique insight into the personal journeys of each of these exceptional artists.
This virtual exhibition features a few select pieces, although there is more work available from each artist exhibited. Click on the three arrows, bottom right of each image, which will take you to works in this exhibition. To see the full artist’s page click on their name at the top of the page or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
RICHARD BATTERHAM (1936–2021) was introduced to pottery while at school at Bryanston. His teacher, Donald Potter, had worked with Eric Gill and had learnt his pottery largely from Michael Cardew and Ray Finch at Winchcombe in the early 1940s. After serving a two-year apprenticeship under Bernard Leach in St Ives, he established his own studio at Durweston, near Blandford, Dorset. There he built an oil fired, two-chambered kiln, later extending it to three.
Batterham’s pots are often regarded as the finest domestic stoneware in the Leach tradition, though he also exemplifies the teaching of Michael Cardew. His pots are made to enrich life, rather than to adorn it, his work is deeply assured and full of authority without being in any way self-conscious.
The film, ‘Richard Batterham: Master Potter,’ was made by Alex J Wright for the Joanna Bird Foundation in 2017. In 2021–2022 a retrospective solo exhibition of Batterham’s work was presented at the V&A Museum, and the book, Richard Batterham, Studio Potter, was published to accompany it.
The film depicted Batterham as an accomplished and determined potter: fiercely independent yet modest by nature, this gentle man insisted on the need for quietness of living, humility and respect for materials. He was dedicated to the work he loved for over sixty years. Although he never signed his pots, the works that survive him are recognisable for their simple and authoritative form.
“Coming of age”
Before apprenticing with Jean Girel, a French living national treasure (Maître d’art), I lived and worked in mainland China. It was in the early ’90s. Chinese ceramics were nowhere to be admired. There was no museum in Shanghai (or elsewhere in South China) showing them. None at least which I came across. Was it the fault of the Nationalists who had fled to Formosa with many Chinese treasures in 1949? Was it the cultural revolution which destroyed the few treasures that remained or forced them into hiding? Maybe it was just my own ignorance.
Paradoxically I discovered Chinese ceramics later in France. There is no paradox in this. Émile Decoeur (1876–1953), one of France’s greatest ceramic artists of the first half of the 20th century had been nicknamed “Le Chinois” (The Chinaman) because of his glazes. Jean Girel (1949) followed in his footsteps and contributed greatly to the aesthetic, technical and also ethical understanding of Song dynasty ceramics (5th–13th century). Girel is an authority on technique and science. I became his (mature) apprentice. For me he became both an attractive and a formidable figure. I rebelled against what I then thought was my master’s desire for control and power. I celebrated materials and processes against man’s will and obsession for power. Strangely, doing this I became a lot more like him and my work now shares with his, a taste for monochromatic glazes and simple forms. It consists of an exploration of the artistic potential of ceramic glazes. It is not about mastery. I long to marvel at the surprises of glazes. Girel does the same as if he too had remained an apprentice to the material world.
The work “Spine” is an allegory of my ceramic practice: an investigation of the visual and material qualities of celadon glazes and porcelain bodies. I am not trying to tame them. Rather, I wish to establish a playful relationship with them and reveal their artistic potential risking failure: a dialectical cycle of rising and slumping!
MICHAEL CARDEW (1901–1983) was a great potter, and he exerted a formative influence on the development of twentieth-century pottery. He was also an outstanding thinker and teacher who contributed much to the philosophy of his craft. When he died in 1983 he left behind him the unfinished manuscript of his autobiography, in which he records his progress as a potter and the development of his philosophy. This manuscript has since been edited by his eldest son, Seth Cardew, and published.
At the age of 22, with only a very basic knowledge of the skills of pottery, Michael Cardew persuaded Bernard Leach to take him on as one of his first pupils. Cardew spent three years at St Ives, working with Leach
and Shoji Hamada. Then, in 1926, he moved to Winchcombe, in Gloucestershire, to establish a country pottery in the tradition of the old English potteries. His aim was “to make pots which could be used for the purposes of daily life, and to make them cheap… I wanted the pots to be warm and direct and above all natural.” In the generous slipware he made at
Winchcombe, Cardew achieved all that and a great deal more. During these years he produced some of the most exciting English pottery of the twentieth century.
One morning last year, just outside the studio, I found a bag of black clay. Since the end of my apprenticeship with Julian Stair in 2003 I have been working with porcelain – a pure white clay body – throwing, cutting, tearing and assembling. But during the three years I spent with Julian, it was different, we had numerous clay bodies and one of my main roles was to research, mix, and test different colour combinations.
We made hundreds of permutations to create a wide colour palette. And Basalt – a pure, deep, smooth, black clay body – was number one. Although Basalt is a rock formed from volcanic larva, the name has been linked with pottery produced from Ancient Rome to Wedgwood. I first encountered Black Basalt clay working for Julian, who had researched Wedgwood Basalt recipes while in Camberwell College of Art, decades earlier.
Opening a kiln was always very exciting, we would sit and discuss how to move forward with the next batch of tests, four or five at a time. The pots were beautiful and potential combinations infinite. I was so close to the work that I would often want to take it home with me. It was difficult to let it go.
In 2017, fourteen years after my apprenticeship ended, I started to experiment with my own clay bodies but in a different way to my work with Julian, I used my own porcelain as a base to introduce textures and colours, using the knowledge I had gained as my guide.
But never Basalt, Black Basalt and Julian are too intertwined.
Until last year when the bag of black clay landed at my front door. It was time. It was time to try.
It is rough, it is dark, it is beautiful. And it is not Basalt.
The making of these pieces is a balance between precision (experience/craftmanship) and improvisation (jazz-attitude).
Each cast porcelain-piece is like a sheet of paper perfect for drawing/painting as brush-glazing utilizing real paper torn to various shapes and sizes as means for semi-planned composition. Colours and glazes are few and simple – one matt and one shiny – and the way they mix – or don ́t – and the way the glazes deform the shape, is part of my signature.
The making of these pieces is a true joy: the balance between knowing exactly when to use muscles and when my hand must touch like a butterfly.
The balance between risk and control is for me a way to keep the thrill at all stages. If I hit the balance, the pieces are meant to be seen as 3D paintings and my label may be “The necessity of beauty” (Renzo Piano, Italian architect).
Industrial porcelain has interested me since the beginning of my ceramic studies (mid-seventies) and still does. I cast and bisque fire in my studio, and I have the privilege to fire my pieces at NTP / Norwegian Technical Porcelain, Fredrikstad – firing really slow to 1280o reduced atmosphere, using the clay, glazes and tools as in the factory ́s advanced large-scale production.
The magic of ceramic materials and methods is an everlasting challenge as well as the unlimited ceramic heritage, and I constantly seek the balance between patience and the opposite.
I liked writing since I learned writing. My skills have not developed much but it has given me a lot of pleasure to do so. So I continued. I sometimes imitated the writing style of the books I liked or just experimented with words. I even attempted to write novels, but it was seemingly more difficult than playing with words to write short stories, as my life experiences were so limited and I did not have much understanding about the dynamics of the world.
Those stories were fundamentally lacking the realities and very pretentious. Well, this might just be one of the characteristics of juvenile.
When I left my over-protective home in Japan in my early twenties, I was still gullible and naïve. I made tons of mistakes that should have been done at younger age. Back home, “making mistakes” were non-reversible, unfavourable things to do. So, the possible solution was always inaction. This isn’t an only behavioural tendency of mine but also a cultural tendency that can be seen often in the Japanese sport players who play in the international games. They often avoid risk-taking tactics while other nationalities do more often. In fact, there are even some studies that are reporting this Japanese “timid gene”. I think that living in the U.K. brought me to develop my ceramic work although my aesthetic is very much influenced by the Japanese culture.
When I make pottery, I tend to make a short narrative. I somehow need a “concept,” otherwise I cannot be excited about the work. That does not have to be described precisely in words, but work cannot be only visual.
I like the objects that are used in your everyday life and become a part of your life. I am not trying to make something “sublime” like big sculptures, though some people think my “Moon jars” are a little more decorative than “ordinary” domestic ware.
Instead of writing, I try to make narratives with ceramic objects focusing on small nuances that objects have. I do admit that some ceramic objects can be very pretentious and self-assertive, that does not mean bad after all, although I like more stoic and selfless kind of work. If my pots appear to be so, I have not probably grown up from my juvenile state.
BERNARD LEACH (1887 – 1979) was the pre-eminent potter of the Studio Pottery Movement. After studying drawing at the Slade School of Art with Henry Tonks, he went to Japan in 1909 as an etcher, and later began working with clay in Tokyo. Leach became part of the Mingei movement, developing an appreciation of the aesthetics of craft. With Shoji Hamada he established the St. Ives Pottery, which became England’s single greatest ceramic institution of the twentieth century.
Leach’s most celebrated and influential book, A Potter’s Book, was published in 1940. His work has been exhibited worldwide and is included in international collections, both public and private.
LUCIE RIE was born in Vienna and studied ceramics at the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule under Michael Powolny and Robert Obseiger from 1921 to 1926. She exhibited her work in various exhibitions concerned with the products of the Wiener Secession, including the Paris exhibitions of 1925 and 1936. She emigrated to England in 1938 and established her studio in Albion Mews, West London where she remained.
Her earliest English works were ceramic button, brooches and tablewares, which after the war, she made with the assistance of Hans Coper. However, wartime exigencies and immediate post-war austerities over, Lucie Rie was free to develop her ceramic style, bringing to it an infallible sense of style combined with a certain ‘English’ sense or relevance between body and glaze. Even after Hans Coper left to set up his own studio in 1958, they continued to exhibit together and their work, although very different, represented a new departure from the East-Asian influences which until then had been the British studio potter’s sole source of reference.
A book I plucked from the Chelsea Art School library was about the life and work of Shoji Hamada, a Mashiko Potter in the Tochigi Prefecture, one of the photographs showed Hamada Sensei standing in the garden at his workshop surrounded by a recently unpacked glaze firing from a “climbing kiln”. The photograph struck a chord with me and I was intrigued and curious as to how Hamada Sensei worked in such a different way to anything I had seen before, it was a far cry from the cramped and dusty plaster room at art school where I was making, among other things, moulds for a teapot.
The chord came to fruition and four years later, a stone’s throw from the Hamada workshop, I settled into a Japanese workshop and began throwing Unomis. With very little Japanese language and no English from my Sensei, Takeo Sudo, the conversation did not flow. How was I to learn and how was I to be instructed? I wasn’t, the format was simple, I threw Unomis all day and once a month I had an opinion from my boss. It went like this. The Unomis was either too heavy or too light and that was all I gleaned. I threw Unomis for almost a year and in the passage of time I came to understand that my observations and constant vigil of what I was making changed on a daily basis, by the time I had thrown a similar shape for almost a year I had less variation and certainly more speed in the creation.
In my second year in Japan, and now working as a student for Tatsuzo Shimaoka, I threw more shapes, not many but some. To transpose the Unomis for a different shape came as a “rite of passage”, changing your shape was a big day and all the hours spent on one small Unomis came into other work and pots that I threw.
Pick up a pot and look away, by the time you revert your gaze back to the pot you can understand so much in how it feels in the hand, its weight, its glaze and above all balance. I handled possibly hundreds of many different pots during my time in Japan and from many different workshops, each had its own feel and weight, this closure can only come with time and practice. No clay was ever weighed in batch for throwing in any of the three workshops I went to, all small pots were thrown “off the hump” and larger pieces measured by eye.
Thinking about the many rites of passage one goes through as an artist has reminded me of the incredible opportunities I have had over the ten years of my career so far. Graduating as one of the last five students of Camberwell’s prestigious Ceramics BA course in 2012 felt like a rite of passage in itself. I went on to achieve many more milestones that seemed impossible at first: my first major commission, gaining membership at various craft galleries I had frequented as a student, my first solo exhibition… the list goes on.
The most significant rite of passage has undoubtably been my three-year apprenticeship under Julian Stair. Stair was the first artist or potter that I felt a theoretical and conceptual kinship with; he too believes that there is much more to pots than the utilitarian or the aesthetic. Working alongside Stair made me realise that I needed a fuller and broader understanding of the history of my craft in order to rationalise and contextualise my work. The more I read and the more I learned about the history of ceramics the more interested in pots I became, and my work became more interesting in turn.
In 2017 I decided to start afresh with completely new work, I abandoned my previous tableware and finally let my interest in historical pots and social history direct my work. I began making unfashionable eighteenth-century inspired vase forms, elaborate teapots, and unusual teacups. It was a sudden departure and I don’t think many people saw it coming, but once I began discussing and exhibiting this new work it soon became my signature. I have continued to make the work that stimulates my creativity and reflects my interests.
Once, when I was eight, my grandfather – Harry Weston Wilson – invited me to visit his studio where he designed and made stained glass windows. It seemed an austere and somewhat forbidding place, but this was the first time I’d ever seen a space consecrated to professional creativity. It had rough wooden floorboards, a very high ceiling, and huge windows that looked out over railway sidings overgrown with convolvulus.
The piece he was working on, a Deposition, was resting on an easel in the centre of the studio. I was transfixed. Mysteriously, the darkest colours – cobalt and ruby – seemed to glow with the greatest intensity. He gave me several offcuts of beautiful handmade glass that I keep to this day in one of his wooden cigar boxes.
Many years later I made an artistic pilgrimage to Chartres Cathedral to see the incomparable Mediaeval windows there. These detailed biblical narratives laid out in glass were unintelligible to me at first glance, but the visual effect made by vast expanses of exquisite geometrical pattern was visionary. Moreover, the theatrical drama of the windows was heightened by the sombre vaulted interior. Darkness and light, I realised, were interdependent and complimentary counterparts.
These days, whenever I go to Cambridge I try to visit two places. One is King’s College Chapel, where the windows cast subtly coloured ‘shadows’ that move with the sun, and modulate as they do so. This play of coloured light on pale stone has enthralled me ever since I first went there in my teens. The second is St Catherine’s College Chapel, where my grandfather has two windows: St Catherine and St Christopher. Every time I see them I’m grateful afresh for his having initiated me into a world of glass, colour, and light – a world that is both tangible and transcendental.
Thank you for visiting ‘Rite of Passage’. We hope that you have enjoyed the work by each artist and their thoughts on the theme. Hard copies of the exhibition catalogue are available for purchase.
Thank you to all of the artists and photographer Alick Cotterill.
Exhibition opening hours are Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm. Private viewings with Joanna on other days can be scheduled by appointment.
For all enquiries, please contact: email@example.com or call us on +44(0)208 995 9960.