JUG WITH SAW HANDLE 2001
Dimension HEIGHT 19.4 CM Media EARTHENWARE
Colin Saunders is an unusual sort of role model. As a ceramic artist, he occupies a kind of limbo, merging associations of craft and industry, pottery and sculpture, utility with the surreal. A maker who, until now, has scored low in name recognition, yet whose work sends a remarkable set of creative signals with a timely contemporary relevance. Within the cosy arrangements of the ceramic world, Saunders work challenges some of its most ingrained assumptions, stemming largely from his choice of techniques and making processes, but also from his radical search for sound principles of design.
When people first see his work they may be tempted to smile, as if the pieces deliberately set out to amuse. But the reaction is from surprise rather than humour: Saunders’ pots stand out from any group of studio pots. Their shapes are inflated, funky, bulbous, arresting, provocative. Their arch-funk tone challenges the bounds of propriety (at least of ceramic propriety) while their gloriously full designs deny any hope of reproducing by mass methods.
These are potters’ pots of a singular kind and show up qualities that mass-produced wares have failed to provide. Where the industrial sector has sought to use the skills of slip-casting to reduce the number of processes – the level of design detail and the quantity of materials used in the production, for instance – these concerns are not shared by the studio potter, for whom generosity of time, skill and materials comes as standard. There is no real reason why Saunders’ shapes should seem extraordinary, other than for the fact that most industrial products are so mundane by comparison.
The essential features of his work is that it is mould-made and slip cast, not for the sake of uniformity and low production cost – the usual reason to slip- cast clay objects, but because of the rich associations that belong within the industrial traditions of slip-casting and the positive clarity of statement that the technique allows when unfettered by the demands of mass-production.
Slip casting and mould-making are still thought of as being essentially anti-craft- denying the craftsman’s love of the plastic clay experience and removing the unique touch of the final shape; replacing these with cold mechanical processes developed during the Industrial Revolution. Or so 20th Century prejudices would have it.
But the issue is about being creative or not creative. Slip-casting is an essential ceramic activity, using clay’s material properties in a clear, practical way. Creativity is to be found in the maker, not in the means of production. So it is deeply unfortunate that slip-casting, for creative purposes, has gained hardly a token presence within an establishment that favours the potter’s wheel and direct hand-building techniques as a means of distancing itself from manufacturing industry. Such opposition has resulted, on the one hand, in few arts graduates being trained to work in manufacturing and on the other, only pre-industrial or primitive methods being seen as carriers of aesthetic and creative experience. It appears that the mood is changing with many more young makers seeing slip-casting as part of a new creative process and being recognized by organisations that look to promote craft and design.
I believe that a good piece of work should entail an intimate feel for the craft and would prefer my pottery to relate more to the everyday world we live in. For instance, rather than featuring the mark made by the potters wire in the soft clay, I would prefer to make forms which look outwards to the artifacts we live amongst : The pavements we walk on, the door handles we push open, or the basins we wash our faces in.