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January 25, 2018

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A short city break: London

November 17, 2017

A break from pottery but not from ideas or other artistic input. This three day trip included visits to four different museums and one concert. I may have squeezed in a bit more in if I had been there on my own. Instead I enjoyed good food and the company of my mother and a friend. So, here is a quick(ish) summary:
 

 NPA: Cézanne Portraits

 

First on the list was the National Portrait Gallery and the exhibition of portraits by Cézanne. I have previously seen an exhibition of his work, which concentrated mainly on his still lives and landscape paintings and must admit that he is not one of my favourite artists. But I'm always open to be corrected especially as I wasn't aware of his portraits.

 

Going around and looking at there portraits I learnt something new about me. I had not realised that I am not really that interested in portraiture as genre unless I am interested in the persons depicted. Then I will engage in the depiction of the sitter and am interested in the facial expression, the posture and the psychology of a painting. Otherwise, instead of concentrating on the faces I tend to look at general painterliness of a painting such as colour, rhythm and composition and texture.

 

 

This was the my favourite portrait of the exhibition. What dominates is the composition with strong contrasting dark and light areas and the rhythm and angle of the books. I also liked his colour palette with the grey blues and browns contrasting against the strong oranges. I have no complaints about the painting of the man himself but find his surroundings more interesting.

 

 

 

 

All the paintings that appealed to my mother, who is really into portraiture, were the ones I least liked. Instead the groups portraits where Cezanne painted the sitter repeatedly were the ones which caught my attention. Individually each painting may not be that strong but as a group they gained more significance through comparison like these portrait of his wife.

[Note to self: Groups of art/pottery pieces make more impact and add context for each individual piece.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day I spent considerable time looking around the Victoria & Albert Museum. It must be about 25 years ago since my first and only previous visit.

 

Rather than trying to cover the lot I decided to concentrate on their ceramics collection and, if time permitted, to take in their Japanese, Chinese and Islamic rooms.

 

What an absolute treat: great pieces presented in a beautiful environment and so very few people there but so, so many pots. Obviously there is no way one to take it all in.

Thus, in the historical ceramic section I decided to concentrate on Chinese, Middle-Eastern and English slipware pottery.

 

Chinese pottery:

This time I didn't concentrate as much on their Celadon ware pottery but picked out some of their more colourful ceramics such as these:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I though theis cup and vase from the Qianlong period (1736-95) made for the imperial court showed how elegantly stylised floral decorations were combined with elegance of form and strong colours. They really have a timeless elegance.

 

As part of my research I am fascinated by the influence different cultures had on each other's pottery production. This was partly because people appreciated the beauty and sophistication of another countries wares. Sometimes, they were just fascinated by the novelty look of the pottery which was possible because of new technological developments in pottery production. Quite often the reason for incorporating other culture's design aesthetics was purely mercenary as adapting one's own pottery production could open up new lucrative markets. These two bowl with Arabic inscriptions and 'magic square' motif were produced ca 1770-95 by the Chinese for the Asian market.

What I have also noticed that certain simple geometric patterns seem to be nearly universal regardless of country of origin. These red patterns can also be found on Iznik and Pueblo Indian ceramics. These pots from the Shunzi period (1644-61) are examples of early enamelling. I think their colours are very similar to the earlier Iznik pottery.

 

Iznik pottery:

Below is only a fraction of what is on show and I was nearly totally overwhelmed by the number of pots. Because there are so many quite a few good examples are shelved away. One needs to be make special prior arrangements to see those. However, there is still so much to see. 

I did have my suspicion that I may actually not like Iznik pottery that much when I see it for real. However, I shouldn't have worried. There was pottery from many other countries on show (such as Spain or Italy) which I really didn't like the look of in quantities because they were either too mannered or to garish. Iznik pottery just stays on the right side of colourful and decorative. This is probably because most colours used are primary colours with a dominance of cobalt blue (one of my favourite colours anyway). The colours seem very clean and clear on the white background. There are really no yellows, oranges or pinks.

 The tiles, which are a major use of Iznik ceramics stick to the same colour palette.

I sometime wonder how I would feel like in a building completely covered with these patterns and colours. Would it be too much?

 

English slipware pottery:

This is really quite a shift in aesthetic perception from all the Middle Eastern pottery. Instead of concentrating on patterns I am now looking at the quality of glaze in its most toffee like qualities. I am really trying to like and appreciate old English lead glazes. I am slowly coming around to them but enjoy their use in contemporary ceramics far more than the 'old' pots. 

 

20th century pottery:

There are too many real treats in the 20th century/contemporary sections to list them here. On a very personal note it was a real pleasure to see some of the pottery I grew up which includes Ulla Procope's brown tableware and her blue 'Valencia' range both for Arabia, Finland or the black and white with gold pottery designed by Piero Fornasetti - all designed about 1960.

All these are an example of the kind of ceramics my grandmother liked and sold through her interior design shop during that time. She was a real champion of contemporary design and also of crafts, including studio pottery. 

 

 

Contemporary Ceramics:

This display in the circular room was impressive. An artist really knows they've made it if they are included here. Each artist is represented with just one statement piece. It was good to see Halima Cassell in the company of the likes of Edmund de Waal or Kate Malone.