Original Ideas



Alex Shimwell Ceramics Art + Perception 108 2018 Art + Perception Home

I feel I am not quite a potter, at least not in the traditional sense; there are still many skills I have yet to gain and things I must learn. Though I feel my work sits within the classical ethos of British studio ceramics and its Eastern influence, it is not governed by its traditions.

While studying Ceramic Design at Staffordshire University I was fortunate to be introduced, by a mutual friend, to master potter Kevin Millward. who refined my technique on the wheel, explaining the architectural processes within throwing, and the considerations of the future process’ and material attributes that one must bear in mind when designing and creating a piece. I found his help Invaluable and he has, over the years, remained a good friend and source of conversation, both technical and aesthetic.

During my third year of study I went to Miyazaki prefecture, Japan, where I met 7th generation Jomon and Haniwa potter, Numaguchi Hiroki. At his studio we tried, despite the language barrier, to communicate the difference in techniques each demonstrating to the other on the wheel, and discussing a little of the traditions behind, and of, work he made.
After graduating, once I had the ability to return to making the high-fired reduction ware that I love, I began producing body of work in porcelain in pursuit of clean and precise pieces. I became obsessive over accuracy, which was probably due to being in Stoke- on-Trent, the industrial home of British ceramics. Whilst this was a superb method to improve my skills on the wheel, I found that as I developed, I wanted more from my work.

Once I had returned to the Peak District, in the north of England, I began exploring texture, and the uncontrived decoration that is developed through the live environment within the kiln.

Once I had returned to the Peak District, in the north of England, I began exploring texture, and the uncontrived decoration that is developed through the live environment within the kiln and the interactions of glaze and flame with form and clay bodies, that allows the incidental to occur. This freedom is common in the caustic environments of the wood or salt firers’ kiln, and has developed through my participation in such firings with various potters, culminating with a few years spent with Sherwood Forest Wood Firing Society.

Recently I relocated to a professional studio complex in Sheffield, a city famous for steel, and active in its support of the creative arts. The studio is located in the city centre and as it is part of the Yorkshire Art Space Society there are some constraints. This has forced my work into new directions as I have had to adapt as I attempt to achieve results from a pure gas kiln while still encouraging an essence of the serendipity. This has led me to further explore applied slips and textural form.

My porcelain pieces have developed through looking at the textures gained by various artists such as Akiko Hirai, Eddie and Margaret Curtis and Patricia shone. After some experimentation with various texture-forming techniques I found I still wanted a greater aggression to the texture and a greater understanding of how far this could be pushed. I did not want to produce anything that would appear too close to another maker’s work, which is a hole we can fall into from time to time. I discovered, through experimentation, that I could throw thickly into a concave cylinder before pulling fins out from the side of the pot. Then, split with the rib and folded and scraped in quite violent movements, I could create harsh texture. Finally, I bellied the pot, stretching it into the final form, opening incisions and allowing an organic relationship to form the varying thicknesses, pulling at and distorting both in the wet making stage and at pyro-plasticity.

More traditional and harking back to the formative experiences of firing with wood, are the Shino pieces which are fired with ash piled on to them. They are the pieces that I hand over to the kiln and the incidental. Firing with varying levels of reduction throughout the process, some pieces carbon trap entirely, whilst others receive no reduction at all. These firings can be inconsistent in their environment. It is in this way that that I am encouraging the serendipitous, and hoping that whilst there are greater losses, the remainder will be far more interesting. Each firing is still recorded, and results noted, with an aim to gain a pattern of firing that will consistently produce, a high quantity of good quality, unrestrained pots.

Though I feel my work sits within the classical ethos of British studio ceramics and its Eastern influence, it is not governed by its traditions.

Finally, slips high in iron and manganese are applied to the stoneware forms, that are then either left, or glazed with a dolomite white. These pots, when fired past normal maturation allows some of the magnesium crystals to dissolve creating a snowy effect that interacts with the texture and oxides provided by the slip beneath. Or, it can stiffen before a thick porcelain slip is skimmed over the remaining texture, allowing it to gather in places and leave the darker slip bare in others. This manipulates the interplay of the two bodies allowing the porcelain to create a secondary effect in the kiln as it cracks and shrinks over the larger stoneware body. The semi-transparent celadon interacts with this texture and the contrasting slip beneath producing an effect that portrays the tensions inherent in the pot.

Whilst finding a direction, my development has been guided through an interest in the materials and how the various processes and applications affect the outcome. With no core-aesthetic pinned at conception by form of mood-board or ‘house of tradition’, but more a rambling act of discovery. Recently however, as the work has developed further, I have become conscious of the relationship between my work and the limestone tors and their granite edges topped with moorland, and of the white and dark peaks that have been a part of my surroundings for most of my life.


Image Captions

Blue Bowl. Image credit: Sim Davis.
Three cups. Image credit: Sim Davis
Swirly. Image credit: Sim Davis


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