Keith Brymer Jones--Potter.
Last year saw the second series of a programme I've been involved with as a judge for the BBC called The Great Pottery Throw Down (TGPTD). On the back of the encouraging viewing figures (which constitutes success in the eyes of TV-land people) from the first series, there were great expectations for the second, which I hasten to add delivered and exceeded all enthusiastic aspirations. This was in terms of 'viewing figures' but more importantly for me and my fellow judge Kate Malone, reaffirmed and instilled a real sense of credibility, and an understanding of the creative process within the field of ceramics/pottery and (I believe) in a wider context of all craft- and art-based pursuits. The Great Pottery Throw Down has put pottery on the map as a genuine cognitive experience, and added a sense of value for the viewer, not only regarding the completed work, but in the process required to achieve it.
Even though pottery has become (and I use the word with caution, as I hate it) 'trendy', and is considered the 'new black', it has impacted upon me personally in unexpected ways. It has catapulted me into the limelight in a way that only television can. I've been thrust into a world that, though not completely alien, is a strange and different world from working alone in a studio in Kent, England. It has provided for me a platform from where I can extoll the virtues of all things craft-based. I call it 'Jazz Hands' where I get invited/asked to attend various ceramics events, Lord Mayors Balls, Royal Visits, and a number of charitable fund-raising events. This is all good but it does encroach on time required for my creative process in my capacity as 'Head of Design' for my company, Make International. I am always striving to find a balance between my creative needs, and the need of promoting the creative process. Clay has been my main occupation for all my adult life/career, as well as a large part of my childhood. It is my passion.
One of the projects that's closest to my heart within Make International is pursuing and acquiring a factory in Stoke-on-Trent. This for me would be the realisation of a life-long dream as I am committed to ensuring we do not lose the skill-sets that are involved in a semi-automated factory setting.
I visit China four to six times a year as this is where most of our production takes place. The more I visit the more I get a better understanding of what it is to work with clay and how, even in a factory setting, I am reminded of the incredible skill involved in producing work.
I have also found that the porcelain deposits in China are incredible, so much so that the plan is to bring their porcelain into the UK and therefore produce a percentage of our production in England.
The factory ethos is to marry/connect the two disciplines of making from a 'studio pottery perspective' to a factory-based setting. I firmly believe the two can work within the same environment and achieve work/concepts that maybe would not have been achieved without this way of working. Most importantly, it also needs to run as a viable business and be commercially successful.
The whole factory project came about from my frequent visits to Stoke for various (Jazz Hands) events and from being an ambassador for Stoke, promoting it in the recent bid as 'City of Culture'. Recently, at the BCB (British Ceramic Biennale) held in the China Hall of the old Spode Works site in the heart of Stoke, there was a contingent of South Korean potters, plus various European potters/artists, which gave an opportunity for those who visited to get a feel for what clay can do. There were various local initiatives based on making and connecting with clay through several educational organisations. It was a wonderful experience and one where I could talk with makers, and with the public as I was demonstrating in the hall.
Clay for me is not only my life, but also my passion. It has the capacity to transcend language, emotion, and understanding through its unique qualities. Along with my fellow judge on TGPTD, I have been and am committed to continually sending the message out to governments, schools, and universities of the undeniable importance of the skills/industries, both in terms of a studio level, and a commercial level. We are what we create, and currently this is increasingly communicated through clay --a soulful, alchemistic medium as old as time itself.
Caption: Me with Kirstie Allsopp on stage.
Images Supplied by the author.