Ceramic Review is the magazine for contemporary and historical ceramics, ceramic art and pottery.
Ellen Bell reviews On Your Table, a showcase of domestic ceramics at Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales
The modest yet intimate directness of Ruthin Craft Centre’s (RCC) title for its new ceramics show – redolent as it is of a kind of familiar, cosy, rustic, domestic-ware ubiquity – does, to some extent, confute its real intent. Eschewing all notions of comforting hand-held tactility and easy domestic-scale functionality, On Your Table is a masterclass on form.
Showing 22 ceramicists, some from as far afield as Japan and Korea (though all are currently resident in the UK), this is an extensive exhibition. Spread across a series of plinth-topped tables and wall-mounted shelves that fill the entirety of RCC’s Gallery One, the stark whiteness of the space, with its gloriously thrown shadows, serves to sharpen the distinctness of the individual vessels’ structures, while also formalising them. Promoted as domestic ware, the vast majority of these pieces are, without doubt, works of art.
Curated with his characteristic minimalist touch, Gregory Parsons has achieved the impossible, allowing each vessel room to breathe and make its impact. But his aesthetic – a cool-grey, unfussy, pseudo-modernism – is evident. Yes, there are the enduring stalwarts, the traditionalists of the craft such as Clive Bowen, with his distinctive warm brown, wood-fired earthenware, and Ruthanne Tudball, with her slip-decorated, raw-fired, soda-vapour-glazed stoneware. But it is the relative newcomers, particularly those that offer up their work like mini-installations, self-contained on a ceramic slab or tray, that under Parsons’ direction really shine. Borja Moronta’s thrown grey stoneware with a crystalline matte glaze is a case in point. Silence, 2022, with its angled bowl, pourer and bottle evoking the melancholy stillness of a Giorgio Morandi still life, is an exemplar of elegant, skilful restraint.
Julia Pustovrh’s bold decision to exhibit a complete set of 25 pieces enables her to reveal the whole ‘narrative’ of her ‘exploration of the Scottish Isles’. And it works. The carefully aligned rows of tenderly hand-sized plates, jugs, vases and tea bowls that seem to move in tone, like the scudding of clouds, from white to caramel to blue, are exquisite.
Julija Pustovrh, Sandscape collection, porcelain and stoneware, 2022, each piece approx 10x10cm
David Stonehouse, #7 Shoreline, group shot, thrown stoneware with inlaid slip, transparent glaze, electric fired, 2022
Similarly inspired by the sea and its surrounding landscape (though in this case the Suffolk and Pembrokeshire coasts) is David Stonehouse’s Shoreline series, 2022. His grey or buff stoneware jugs, teapots and cups inlaid with a clay slip are subtly marked with undulating lines at their base – a motif that mirrors the ribbon-like thread running across Chris Keenan’s celadon-glazed, Limoges porcelain grouping on a shelf directly opposite. But it is the flattened, hole-less handles of Stonehouse’s espresso mugs, the finial, or knop-less lids of his teapots with their tiny speck of a hole – a paring-down of traditional domestic-ware form – that really pleases.
Indented with circles reminiscent of 1970’s Hornsea tableware, James and Tilla Walters’ thrown stoneware teapots and cups and jugs are both comfortingly familiar and innovative. The un-glazed, raised button thumbpiece on the teapot is a particularly joyous detail. Indeed, discreet yet innovative design and unshowy technological mastery seem to be the lodestones of this show.
Jaejun Lee’s three nests of ten porcelain bowls in white, grey and black are a marvel of perfected wheel-thrown wizardry, while Jo Davies’ porcelain double-lipped flat bowls, shiny and oozing in their translucent milky-ness, beautifully relay her concentrated desire to perfect their pouring technologies. And the juxtaposition of the opposing forces of clay and metal inherent in Sue Pryke’s brass-handled porcelain teapot is a masterstroke in engineering.
PHILOSOPHY OF CRAFT
These are intelligent ceramics – created out of a curiosity to know, to experiment and to perfect. Currently studying for a Phd at Cardiff, the assuredness of Bert Jones’ stoneware pots belies the fact that he is one of the youngest exhibitors in the show. Equally rooted in the philosophy of craft, Derek Wilson’s clear-glazed, thrown porcelain teapot, espresso set and stoneware lidded containers are a Bauhaus-ian joy.
Jaejun Lee, Nesting Bowl Set
Lowri Davies, 'Afon, Môr a Mynydd', 2022
The only anomaly is the decorative pieces. Lowri Davies’ Afon, Môr a Mynydd, 2022, a glazed porcelain and bone china tray with teapot, two cups and vase, embellished with transfers of watercolour drawings do not sit well among this show’s predominantly abstract, stripped-down work. Neither does Irena Sibrijns slip-decorated earthenware jugs, bowl and cups. Though both collections are adroitly produced (Sibrijns light, painterly mark-marking is especially lovely, as is its unexpected continuation underneath the pieces), their colours are too blithe, too bright against the otherwise muted aesthetic.
Due to their limited palettes of Cobalt and Prussian blue, Richard Heeley’s and Peter Bodenham’s collections fare better. A fine artist and ceramicist, Bodenham’s boldly brushed impressions of waves appearing to lap over the rim are simply gorgeous. The icing-sugar whiteness of Sasha Wardell’s Shoal, 2022 series with its tapering pointed-ness is also a little misplaced, as are Mizuyo Yamashita’s metallic-glazed stoneware jars and holders with their high, sinewy curving handles. Alistair Young’s large red stoneware jugs, echoing Walter Keeler’s cylindrical forms, stand alone in their hot, unglazed earthiness. But it is a curatorial aberration that absolutely succeeds.
A traditional white-cube exhibition, that is understandably peppered with ‘Please do not not touch’ signs, the functionality of On Your Table’s exhibits is difficult to test. However, with objects of such superlative design and sculptural beauty that will, and must, find themselves in both private and public collections, perhaps everyday practicality is less of an imperative. As a showcase of contemporary British-based thrown ceramic domestic ware this is a must-see exhibition.
On Your Table, Gallery 1, Ruthin Craft Centre, until 16 April, ruthincraftcentre.org.uk
All images: courtesy of the artists; Ruthin Craft Centre; Shannon Tofts; Dan Barker
Richard Heeley, Teapot