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Earth & Fire International Ceramic Fair in Welbeck

What a day packed full of images and impressions!

Firstly, I was dreading the train journey across the country from Preston to Creswell in Derbyshire which involved a bus, four different trains and a taxi ride. But due to Pam’s expert organisational skills (HUGE thank you) it went without a hitch and we got there for 11 o’clock. Even the weather was with us on the day: no rain but also not too hot and sunny. Perfect!

As said, so much to see and take in with over 120 stands mostly showing the works and wares of different potters. During the limited time of one day I could only take in some of the great stuff on display. I probably missed many potters and their work which didn’t grab me for some reason. Sorry.

What was interesting was that I saw pottery which I had seen online and printed in books and magazines that was disappointing when viewed in real life. However, other pottery, which I would not have paid much attention when reproduced in 2-D, really stood out when seen and handled in person. So, some pots are more photogenic than others! Also, pottery I had seen in indoors in London at CAL looked very different in the surroundings of the walled garden here in Welbeck. I conclude that the more ‘arty’ ceramics sit better in gallery spaces than in a more natural surroundings of a walled garden.

I was interesting to see how differently the exhibitors showed off their pots. Everybody had obviously put some thought in how to stage their displays best. Some went for “less is more” approach with limited number of pots on out on the table. Other tables had loads of stuff out not only on the table and shelves but also in boxes on the ground. The best displays were when one didn’t notice the staging nor the props. Too empty could draw attention to the gaps left between the pots. Too full and it would be so busy that I couldn’t see the individual pots. Something to think about!

There were so many good and a few not as good stands that I it is difficult to pick out any definite or least favourites. It will probably take some time to process this experience and see what I can take from it.

Here is my choice of six potters and their pottery which stood out for me for various different reasons but all somehow relevant to my own making at the moment involving surface decoration and patterns. This selection does not a neccesarily representative of the sort of pottery I liked most. I also really like much more traditional pottery which relies on the materiality of clay and much more natural glazes.

Craig Underhill

His pottery was interesting as he uses the surfaces as carriers for his paintings. I also liked the contrast between very matt and dry surfaces against the shiny wet areas. His pots have depth of combining muted colours with textures and mark making. I like the traces of handwriting included. Just like paintings these pots seem to be telling stories and invoke moods whose meanings are not immediately obvious.

Françoise Dufayard

Her large platters act as carriers of bold surface decorations. These also have a very painterly quality. I like the sharp contrasts between the pure and solid black areas against the painterly coloured areas which show up lots of brush work marks. Her pieces seem all to have a shiny glaze which reminds of the high sheen of Chinese lacquer work. Because of the contrast between the dark black areas the blues, browns and greys don't look dirty by remain vibrant.

Kyra Cane

Her pottery is quite minimalist decorated with a very minimalist colour palate. I find it intriguing how she manages to invoke a sense of landscapes and maybe geological formations by the way the greenish back colour sits on the surface of her bowls. It has a similar quality of quietness and minimalism as old Chinese and Japanese brush work.

Kyra Cane beakers

I was also interested how she used the egg yolk yellow colour on her beakers. They sit like yolks in the bottom of the beakers and sometimes just on the rims. There is something quite luxurious and daring about the use of colour here.

Kyra Cane bowl

Jean-Paul Landreau

His display certainly attracted lots of attention because his pottery was some of the brightest and most colourful on show. Personally I am still decided about whether I like them or not. I think, if I had bought one of his pieces, they would cheer me up because of their playfulness. However, I may grow bored of them as they hold little intrigue and I'm not sure there would be any secrets to be discovered by looking at them over a prolonged amount of time. Note to self: try to make your own decorations less obvious.

Pollie & Garry Uttley

To be honest, their stand packed full of these highly patterned pieces scared me off. As my work is a lot about patterns and I too am borrowing from other cultures this felt too close to home. This is not my cup of tea. I find the translation of patterns to literal and too busy. Even the more monochrome pieces are for me - am I allowed to say this?! - too decorative. By that I mean that I cannot see any qualities in the decorations that reach beyond their love for India and her patterns. Note to self: when going for patterns find some restrain and add quite areas for the eyes to rest. Again, I find them to two dimensional both physically and metaphorically.

Colin Jowitt

Now his pottery should appeal to me but somehow it didn't grab me. I think it felt a bit cold and too perfect. I would have preferred the shapes of his pots to be more organic and a variation in scale to his decorations. I think, personally, I would enjoy the more graphic elements if they were paired and contrasted against areas of free flowing glazes.

I could go on about all the other brilliant stands but not without a special mention to the makers’ stands related to people I know through our MA course:

The UCLan MA in Ceramics (year 2 students) stand showing pottery by Rebecca Barwell, Ann Davis, Adele Davison, Alexander Devol, Pamela Hunter and Katie Timson was a lively place to visit. Their stand looked really good and got a lot of interest. We all wished them well – lots of sales, interest and positive feedback. When they return we’ll pick their brains as it will be our turn next year to show our wares, yikes.

Just noticed that I totally missed out Rebecca's birds, which brought lots of positive attention by some serious pottery lovers.

Rob Parr & Lanty Ball’s stand, both MA students finished last year

Oops, I don't know why or how I managed not to take a photo of their stand. It was good one!

Wendy Lawrence, our tutor

Wendy had a superb corner plot that showed off her large sculptural pieces to their best. The figures on chairs are by Meri Wells.

Anna Lambert, our tutors

I think Anna's work looks as good here as it did in the exhibition in London.

David Binns, our course leader

David deep in discussion explaining his process to two visitors. There is nobody else here displaying any similar ceramics.

I managed to catch one of the talks given during the day given by Roger Lewis on “Developing Ideas with Clay: How one idea can lead on to the next”. Roger Lewis showed images of his slab made ceramics and his pillow pots and talked us through how they were linked and how ideas interlinked and developed over the years.

His approach is fundamentally based on making time to play around. At this stage one should be totally open minded and not restrict ones experiments by practical questions such as for example how much time it would take, what its commercial appeal may be or the financial viability. These are all issues that stand in way of creativity and should only be addressed later down the line of an idea development. Many of his clay experiments wouldn’t lead to anything but some he put on the backburner. Years later he would return to them and develop them further.

The quote I take from his talk was roughly along the lines of “You create your own problems to solve”. Thus, creativity is always about trying out new things and expanding your boundaries, which inevitable mean that you encounter problems. Working to solve them will bring you along and keep you fresh.

Roger Lewis works on different styles of pottery at the same time or in short phases. According to him he cannot just work on one range or style of pots as he gets bored. I can emphasis with this.

I knew I’d be tempted to buy loads of pots so to prevent myself from going overboard I aimed to buy a cup and a little handless creamer. I was successful on both accounts and have come back with beautiful little creamer made by Sarah Went and a decent sized mug by Daniel Boyle.

My purchases

I like the clean and simple display of Sarah Went's stand. There was a real cohesion to all the pottery displayed here which shows off her delicately slip decorated vessels in different blue and green tones.

Sarah Went's stand

Daniel Boyle's salt glazed mugs caught my eye from the very beginning. The shapes of the mugs couldn't really be any simpler but they show off the layered colours of the glazes. They are very self-assured and masculine.

Daniel Boyle's stand

I got home totally shattered but happy and continued to dream about pots during the night!

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