Anna Barlow’s deliciously playful ceramic ice creams

Ceramic Art London, an exhibition of work by over 75 leading ceramists, was held at the Royal College of Art last weekend. The show, put on by The Craft Potters Association in partnership with Ceramic Review, has been running for several years and is one of the most important events in the ceramics calendar. Each artist’s work is displayed on a stand a bit like a market stall and, although non-functional ceramics are strongly represented, there is no room for very large pieces or for installations.

For my money, these were some of the best exhibitors, whose work shows development and an engagement with new ideas.

Matthew Blakely. A completely new range of work inspired by the geology of Britain, rougher and wilder than his previously exhibited ceramics.

Jack Doherty. Porcelain fired to produce subtle colours of earth, sky, sea, copper and iron, gradually evolving in its form and glaze.

Clare Crouchman. Tiles, slabs and tablets exploring repetition and variation in a mathematical way. She is not tempted to make vessels. She is also a print maker.

Delfina Emmanuel. Exotic and complex objects hinting at strange life forms. Painstakingly made and full of detail, her work gradually moving away from the teapots she started with.

James Hake. Within the Anglo-Oriental tradition but taking tenmoku and iron glazes to the point of abstraction.

John Higgins. Hand building, basing his structures on thrown forms. The glazed piece pictured herewas not as successful as the rough engobes and oxides he also showed.

Myun Nam An. Making curious and original forms, referring to eyes but also reminiscent of diatoms and bon-bons.

Valeria Nascimento. Grey white and black floating slivers of clay, as far from the vessel form as you can  get. Despite her small exhibition space, she almost mounted an installation.

Elke Sada. Innovative slab built forms decorated in dripping polychrome, looking more like household paint than glaze. A portfolio reveals an artist fizzing with ideas. Awarded the Ceramic Review prize for best in show.

Barry Stedman. A landscape painter gradually evolving his ceramic forms and colours and showing something subtly different at every exhibition.

Each year you will find a few new artists alongside the core of regular exhibitors. If you go every year, you will see familiar work by exhibitors who, it appears, want to remain in the same place. Against that background, it was good to see artists on a journey or with new things to say.

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Madeira, the flower island, popular with British pensioners, has gardens, volcanic scenery and a visible artistic community. The town of Funchal encourages public art and there are hideous sculptures along the marina promenade. Much more interesting is Arte Portas Abertas, the art of open doors, a recent initiative by Martinho Mendes in which residents of Funchal old town, along the Rua Santa Maria, have been encouraged to make their front doors into art works.

Martinho’s idea was taken up by João Carlos Abreu, former Secretary of Tourism, and supported by the Funchal chamber of commerce, who donated paint. “Thus began the task of bringing new life to the gates of this historic part of Funchal”, says Martinho.

The first door was painted by Mark Milewski in April 2011. There are now a hundred painted doors in the Rua Santa Maria and others in the Rua dos Barreiros, Travessa das Torres, Travessa João Caetano, Rua Portão São Tiago, Calçada do Socorro and the Rua do Corpo Santo.



Emmanuel Cooper (from Online Ceramics)

Emmanuel Cooper, one of the leading figures in British studio pottery, died recently at the age of 73.  He was the founding editor of Ceramic Review in 1970 and continued editing it until 2010.  He was a writer, teacher and curator as well as a potter and served the Craft Potters Association and the Crafts Council.

I first met him in the late 1960s at the Fonthill Pottery in Finsbury Park.  Later he moved to Primrose Hill, where the Fonthill Pottery has a shop front in a good position.  The last time I passed it, the window showed recent pottery, work in progress and his motorbike. 
His pottery was urban and modernist, but functional rather than conceptual.  He became a fantastic innovator in brilliantly coloured glazes  with textured surfaces.
He was one of the potters I approached for advice and to ask if he would take me on as an assistant.  Although he couldn’t take on anyone at that time, he was one of the most helpful and encouraging potters I met. Later he was an external examiner at the University of Westminster when I studied ceramics at Harrow.  Our interviews there were more formal than our first one, but he was good at putting students at ease.  I was very critical of the work I showed.  Emmanuel didn’t tell me to relax my standards but reminded me that when one stops being self-critical it’s time to stop making.