Pottering around. In conversation with … Steve Harrison

Here I am today typing away on my blog, but mostly I am so happy to announce that I am launching a new periodical column/post with a selected collection of interviews with great potters and ceramicists, makers and dreamers …
And I am delighted to start with Steve Harrison, a potter that I have been admiring for a while now. His pots are a dream and his passion and attention to detail is the essence of his mastercraft. This conversation will hopefully create curiosity amongst people that don’t know him and add some stories for the ones that have already discovered him. Special thanks to Nigel Slater via Instagram where I first spotted the Steve Harrison mug. And don’t miss a trip to the whimsical stationery and paper shop in Covent Garden, Choosing Keeping. Go and check the tables …

POTTERING AROUND. In conversation with … Steve Harrison

1 . How did you start your pottery journey?
At school supported by my grand parents who let me set up a pottery in their garage.

2. Handbuilding or on the wheel? Or both? And why?
Both – although the wheel has a rhythmic seduction which actually centres not only the clay but you as a person. The hand part involves accoutrements such as spouts, handles and maquettes sometimes being resolved in plaster. I’d rather be led by an idea as opposed to a formulaic process.

3. Your favourite type of material?
Stoneware and porcelain offer the most versatility within the salt glaze process in combination they are ‘King’ in my mind but it is so difficult to attain this aesthetic.

4. Functional ceramic or sculpture? Or both and why?
Always functional because born from use and handling we see things that are different from observation alone. Seeing with your fingers is different from seeing with your eyes.

5. Do you prefer making in ‘solitaire’ in your studio or being part of a group?
Solitaire’ is the only way for me – the only accompaniment is the low drone of BBC Radio 4. Music is too distracting.

6. Working with clay is therapeutic; what is your relationship with clay?
Clay is like no other material – on one level it can support life – protoplasm, yet when you work with it as the platelets slide offering extraordinary plasticity it feels as if it is alive. Moving, changing, warping, drying – it is in constant flux until it is fired. No other material has this quality. So often when I work with any other material it feels like chiseling, scraping, cutting out of a block whereas clay moves between the fingertips and it feels much more emotional than technical. Therefore, who you are as a maker can be captured within the clay.

7. Do you have a routine, a typical day, a structure, when you are ‘playing with clay’?
I never ‘play’ with clay! More often than not the clay dictates the day. It needs to be looked after and responded to with regards to the ambient temperature so the only structure is to start when I wake and to end when I sleep. Sometimes I try and fit in a run or a dog walk but I often find these are interruptions.

8. What are you in the process of making at the moment?
Maquettes for new handles – I am interested in revisiting a handle I did 10 years ago which was related to a structure of bones and how they fit and function together.

9. What has been your highlight over the last year?
Two exhibitions in Japan – ‘Big – a Study of Proportion’ and ‘Travelling with Tea’ (London and Kyoto).

10. And what’s coming next? What is it that you have been working on?
An exhibition at The Blue Mountain School in Shoreditch which will involve three rooms – the first room will show a film called ‘Orange Peel’ – a film about life in Wales firing my kiln, the second a ‘Fantasy’ Kiln Firing – and room 3, an empty room with table and chair.

11. Any tips for a new entry/student in the pottery world?
Be prepared to give 100% commitment to your art and don’t think it’s something you can do 9-5 five days a week.

12. One (or as many as you like) potter/artist that inspires you?
Mick Casson in my early days was a great friend and mentor. Recently Picasso has given me a great insight for a new way forward and a freedom to side step the known potter’s orthodox. Vincent Van Gogh is a constant!

13. A museum/gallery that should be a must-visit. Or a book to inspire you?
I tend to like the places that are ‘museums’ where the artist lived and worked from the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire, to Kanjiro Kawai’s (Potter) house in Kyoto. With regards to books I often think the things we stumble across accidentally are the richest. I found a very simple publication called We Do Not Work alone – the thoughts of Kanjiro Kawai by Yoshiko Uchida, who had spent a year in Kyoto talking with Kanjiro on many visits and it is a reflection of those conversations.

And last but not least .., just add what you like, if you like.
“Uniqueness comes not from what you do but how you think about what you do.”

Photo Credits: Steve Harrison

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