29 October 2017


My preparation for Handmade in Britain is in on track, so I went to see the Rachel Whiteread retrospective at Tate Britain (above).

Whiteread has shown remarkable consistency over the thirty years since her Slade graduation, casting objects and the space around them to give us surprising views of the familiar world. Her high profile works, like House (1993) - the concrete cast of the inside of a house in east London - are familiar, but this exhibition introduced us to less familiar works, made in a series of major preoccupations during the course of her career. Her recent work comprises resin casts of doors and papier maché casts of fences and sheds walls. I particularly liked the assemblages of small objects on shelves made between 2005 and 2010 in materials of different colour, like Lineup (below), reminiscent proximately of Edmund de Waal and ultimately of Giorgio Morandi.

Whiteread began casting in papier maché and plaster and advanced to concrete, but she has cast in just about every possible material and has shown tremendous concentration and impressive craft. For the larger pieces she has drawn on specialist assistance, notably in House, which is described in a contemporary film of the construction process.

House was produced at the suggestion of James Lingwood of Artangel, which works with artists and  funders to produce large creations outside galleries. "We knew the sculpture would generate interest from the beginning," Lingwood said, but  "House was a lightning conductor". It divided opinion among both critics and the local population. Andrew Graham-Dixon called it "one of the most extraordinary and imaginative public sculptures created by an English artist this century", Brian Sewell described it as "meritless gigantism".

The film of house featured the fabricators who are essential to much contemporary art. Glen Adamson has said that the contribution of fabricators is not just overlooked but hidden because it is so important that it may reduce the reputation of the artist. Their role is different from that of bronze casters in traditional sculpture because traditional sculptors made their own models, and the relation of fabricators to artists is more like the relation of builder to architect. If you look carefully at the film of House, you will see that the construction was by Tarmac.

23 October 2017


Photo by Layton Thompson
The tag line on my blog is "I thought, I saw, I went, I made."  I haven't posted for a few days because it's been mainly "I made". This is the busy time for makers and I'm preparing for  Hand Made in Britain, the contemporary craft and design fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall, London, Friday 10 to Sunday 12 November 2017, and I haven't been out of my studio much.

My Berry pattern (above) will be on show, but I'm developing a new range of glazes which I'll be showing for the first time there. The development was halted because the elements in my test kiln failed and had to be replaced - of course, elements always fail at an inconvenient time - and the new glazes have not been perfected yet.

I'll also be showing with the London Potters at Morley College from 21 November to 13 December. I joined them this year and mentioned their AGM in a recent post. One of our members, Jeremy Nichols, has recently been elected chair of the Craft Potters Association, following Richard Phethean, who has just stepped down.

15 October 2017


The London Potters had their annual meeting at Richmond Adult Community College yesterday, with a talk and demonstration by Richard Phethean, who was one of my teachers.

I asked the way at reception. "Past the band and turn right." I stopped a while at the band (above), students of the Richmond Jazz School, who were playing a jazz arrangement of Pharrell Williams' Happy. Most of the musicians had grey hair. Many of the London Potters had grey hair too - they're a mixture of professional ceramists, keen amateurs and people who just like pottery. They all seemed happy. They're my generation.

I thought about the old people I knew when I was a child. They grew old earlier than people do today and many of them seemed to be miserable and to dislike children. They grumbled about authority but were powerless and compliant.

We are really the most fortunate generation. Anyone born in Britain after 1943 didn't experience war, didn't have to do national service, experienced rising living standards (with the standard of living roughly doubling every thirty years), extensive state provision of public services until they were in early middle age and had a good company pension when they retired. They generally have good health, an optimistic disposition and an active retirement playing the saxophone or making pottery. When they are in retirement homes they won't be entertained with renditions of My Old Man Says Follow the Van, they will be doing Zumba classes.

14 October 2017


Richard Miller (above), whose exhibit at Hatfield Art in Clay I wrote about earlier, came to talk to the Dacorum Potters Guild yesterday about his pottery and in particular his tile business, Froyle Tiles. The tiles are his bread-and-butter, which allows him freedom to do his own creative ceramics, but he is one of the leading producers of artisan tiles in this country, gets a continuous stream of commissions from large commercial concerns and he never has to advertise. Many of the plain-glazed stoneware tiles you saw in Fired Earth were made by Froyle Tiles. Froyle made the tiles for Walford East tube station in EastEnders and the finished tiles for 24 Savile Row, a high profile development in the West End.

Richard and his two colleagues are amazingly versatile and willing to take on projects using new techniques, though after twelve years they now have a wide repertoire – plain glazed tiles, painted faience, moulded surfaces and a variety of glaze effects. The EastEnders job required a flat Burgundy-coloured glaze and then, in imitation of old tube stations, dabbed and painted enamels to create a distressed and weathered look, calling for a third firing. The Savile Row contract, directed by Kate Malone, made use of German tiles and several crystalline glazes, developed after lengthy research.

24 Savile Row
Richard is engaging and informal, coming to the Guild in shorts on this balmy October evening. He says he works fast, which is obviously one of the reasons why his company is so successful, but he is a considerable artist and the craft skills of Froyle Tiles are second to none.

11 October 2017


We went to the Nunnery Gallery in Bow yesterday evening (above) to see the paintings of the East London Group and for the launch of East End Vernacular, a book about these pictures and other documentary paintings of the area, published by the blogger of Spitalfields Life.

The East London Group were working class painters who came together at the Bethnal Green Institute in the 1920s and were taught by John Cooper, also at times by Walter Sickert and Phyllis Bray. They painted what they saw and knew well, the streets and interiors of their locality. They were good and achieved some national success before the Second World War, though usually with some condescension to their class and lack of education. Some continued to paint after the war, hurriedly trying to record a disappearing East End.

Walter Steggles (1908-1997) The Scullery, 1927

The Nunnery is part of the Bow arts centre, which exemplifies the changes that have occurred here since the 1970s, with the coming of new nationalities and cultures, middle class artists and intellectuals.

Albert Turpin (1900-1964), Sally, c.1930

The show is curated by Emma-Louise Williams and Michael Rosen, who is an energetic promoter of the vernacular. On sale in the bookshop is his memoir So They Call You Pisher, which records his home life with Harold and Connie Rosen, who had a huge influence on him. They were left-wing academics, they studied language as it's spoken and advocated the use of the demotic in English teaching, which Michael practices in his visits to schools. I liked the funny chapter in his book about his school teachers, because I was in his year at school and they were my teachers too.

Albert Turpin, Lakeview Estate, undated

This picture of the Lakeview Estate is undated, but it must have been painted after 1958, when Turpin was about sixty. The estate was designed by the avant-garde architect Berthold Lubetkin, most famous for the Penguin Pool at London Zoo, whose motto was "nothing is too good for ordinary people". Lubetkin gave up architecture after fruitless battles with conservative town planners and turned to pig farming instead.

The author of East End Vernacular does not sign his blog or give his name. He only calls himself The Gentle Author - I suppose that's how he signed his book. He said that people from outside the East End are always surprised when they discover its culture, but he couldn't imagine a book called "West End Vernacular", nor even "North London Vernacular."

The Working Artist: The East London Group
The Nunnery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ
29 September 2017 - 17 December 2017
Opening Hours: 10am - 5pm

6 October 2017


To reinforce the point about the similarity of Kós’s graphic style to the Beggarstaffs (James Pryde and William Nicholson), here (above) is one of their best designs, a highly original theatre poster for A Chapter from Don Quixote by W. G. Wills, performed at the Lyceum Theatre in 1895 and starring Henry Irving. Irving didn’t like and it wasn't used but it was often reproduced, so it has become familiar. The common elements of asymmetry, strong outline, flat colour and empty space are even more evident in Nicholson's Queen Victoria print (below). (The originals of both designs are in the V&A.)

There is the same in Lautrec's posters (above) and Gauguin's painting, but the immediate source for ­Kós must have been the graphics of the Secession (below). The ultimate source, of course, was Japonisme, and in particular Japanese woodblock prints. So Kós’s renderings of his country's rural folk art also had metropolitan and international sources.

Kolomon Moser, Woglinde, 1901

5 October 2017


The wooden church at Türe (Tiurea).

I wrote about Károly Kós’s buildings in the Budapest Zoo, and earlier about his work on the Wekerle housing estate on the outskirts of the city, mentioning his use of Transylvanian vernacular styles. Like his contemporary Bartók, Kós made studies of the folk art of the region in the early 20th century and several of his illustrations were re-published with a text by András Székely (Kós Károly, Corvina, Budapest, 1979).

Illustration from The Song of King Attila (Atila kiráról szóló ének), 1923

Belfry and entrance to the churchyard at Mezőcsávás (Cenanasul-de-Campie)

The drawings show how closely he based the zoo buildings on folk styles, but they are more than a record of folk architecture and they are beautiful in their own right, ink drawings and linocuts, characteristic of the the period and reminiscent of the graphic art of The Beggarstaffs

Typical Hungarian house at Torockó (Rimetea).

2 October 2017


It may be perverse to go to a zoo to look at the buildings, but that's what we did on a recent trip to Budapest, because the popular zoo is one of the architectural highlights of the city. It's one of the oldest zoos in the world. It made a loss in its first incarnation and at the end of the 19th century it was taken over by the city council, who had it completely rebuilt.

The exotic Art Nouveau entrance and the Elephant House were designed by Kornél Neuschloss; they're great fun and they make bold statements, but we went to see the buildings by his young students Károly Kós and Dezső Zrumeczky.

Kós (1883-1977) was born in Transylvania and was passionately interested in its Hungarian culture. His zoo buildings are based firmly on Transylvanian folk models. He was an admirer of John Ruskin and William Morris and insisted on this vernacular style in his Budapest buildings against the prevailing Art Nouveau and the overblown Eclectic style. Although he was offered the post of professor at the College for Applied Arts in Budapest, he preferred to return to Transylvania. After Trianon, he campaigned for the rights of Hungarians in Romania but did not advocate reunion with Hungary. He was a senator in the Romanian parliament for the Hungarian People's Union from 1946-48.

Bird House

Kós's drawing for the Bird House