Welcome to Ceramic Review

Ceramic Review is the magazine for contemporary and historical ceramics, ceramic art and pottery.

Ceramic Review Issue 327

May/June 2024

The ancient Chinese art of Nerikomi involves layering different coloured clays to create pattern and texture. In this video Barbara Gittings takes us step-by-step through this fascinating process. Discover how Barbara makes her work in the full step-by-step masterclass inside CR 303 (May/June 2020)

I was born and raised in South Africa and after studying Fashion and Design in Johannesburg, I moved to Cape Town. After a couple of years working in the fashion industry, a friend and I decided to open a boutique selling our own designs. We traded successfully for 18 months, but then decided we both wanted to see more of the world.

We travelled around Europe in a very rudimentary camper van for several months, then came to England, where I decided to stay. I was in my early 20s and pursued a career as a designer and pattern cutter in the fashion industry in London.

I came to ceramics rather late in life, having started adult education classes in pottery in 1999. I quickly became obsessed, reading everything I could lay my hands on about clay, ceramics and ceramic artists. Early in my clay journey, I attended a week-long course of smoke firing with Jane Perryman, which set me on my smoke firing path.

Work by Barbara Gittings; Photography by Layton Thompson

Barbara Gittings; Photography by Layton Thompson

At an intensive course at City Lit, I came across a tiny picture of an ancient Chinese Nerikomi bowl in one of the library books and was hooked. I spent the next 12 years learning by trial and error, dipping in and out of various adult education courses. I am now a full-time potter, working from a small but perfectly formed studio in my back garden in Brighton.

I now explore clay as an alternative medium to fabric. In fashion, the layering of textiles and the power of the cut merge to find new balances and forms, the biomorphic and geometric held in tension. My work in clay continues to explore this. I’m drawn to irregular repetition, primitive mark making and soft, earthy colours. I try to assimilate the poetry of things I see in the world and then allow them to rise up in my subconscious to inform the patterns I put through the clay.

The geometry of patterns in nature is a constant source of inspiration to me. Especially as random chaotic forces, such as growth, weathering and erosion push the initial perfect symmetry towards imperfection. I am always exploring this balance between symmetry and asymmetry in my work, trying to capture the imperfect perfection.

The process of Nerikomi is very slow and exacting, and it is always a challenge to make larger pieces. The danger of cracking and warping, as the different colours react to the stages of drying, firing and smoke firing, is always present, but I am continually pushing myself towards larger pieces. All my work is low-fired, unglazed, with the patterns going through the body of the piece.

For more details visit barbaragittingsceramics.com; @barbaragittings; see Barbara’s work at Cluster Crafts, London, during London Craft Week, 30 September–8 October 2020; londoncraftweek.com; cluster-london.com and with Miar Ceramics & Arts, Hove, during May 2020; miararts.com; check website for details

Subscribe to read this article in issue Ceramic Review Issue 303 (May/June 2020)

Work by Barbara Gittings; Photography by Layton Thompson