Articles

Phil Rogers 'Drawing in the Air' feature ceramics documentary



I came back here to Raider because my grandparents had passed away so there was a cottage sitting empty and I was penniless really had nothing I'd spent everything I had on a kiln in a wheel that was the law and so we had this little cottage to living for I think we stayed in there for about 18 months while we got going and I've now been here for 35 years and it's a beautiful place to live I've got the most amazing view from my yard across the mountains towards Aberystwyth the river why is two fields away so I and I always tell people I live on the banks of the why but it's a very long and slow bank and I happen to live only two miles from the eland Valley where there's the range of lakes that go up most beautiful scenery and once you get up onto the top of those hills it's like primeval you know there's nobody there and in winter there's certainly nobody there except the Sheep Raider and this area literally around between here and chagarin was the one place in Great Britain that the red kite clung on we got down to about ten pairs I think just at the time when I came to live here so in those days if you ever saw a red kite it was a real event you know now I go outside and it's an event if I don't see one I mean that they're absolutely amazing the way that they've managed to increase their numbers and I can remember clearly back in the late 70s when the Gurkhas were were placed in trees around mid wales to guard the eggs in case poachers came so there were trees with Gurkhas in them ready to pounce hot hot poachers – looking for the eggs to steal the eggs but now I mean I the record out in my field over my field eighty red kites that's my record they're difficult accounts they keep moving but it was around about eighty yeah people sometimes tend to think that a Potter sits in a sort of rural idyll and just sits at the wheel all the time making pots and that's not how it works I mean I think I spend probably less than a quarter of my time actually making pots come on this way this way my day starts quite early and usually up by seven and my first job is to is to check emails and to write back any correspondence oh if I get that done then I don't have to worry about it all day so I do that that's my first thing then I take the dogs out that's that's next thing they'd they know when it's time to as soon as I put the lid on the top of the marmalade they know that's their signal so they're ready to go pitch to me pitch day yep and I'm usually in the workshop by sort of 9:30 if it's a throwing day I'll throw all day and maybe I'll finish around 6:00 sometimes it's a clay mixing day sometimes it can be glazing mixing glazes sometimes it's kiln packing it's an awful lot of hard work being apart really to make pots full-time for a living it is hard work and a lot of it is drudgery you know a lot of it is cleaning clean shells mixing clay all of these things are laborious and not particularly creative I'm quite happy working in a it's not so much a tradition it's I think it's more of a genre and my influences are many I mean sometimes people look at my work and they kind of mistakingly see just a very small influence but in fact the influences are many I'm influenced I've been influenced by Korean pottery always since since starting I ended up married to a Korean lady but I was interesting Korean pottery right from the very beginning certain Japanese pottery not all Japanese pottery by any means but certain Japanese pottery late medieval German salt glaze 17th and 18th century English slip where American settler pots pots that were made all up the east coast of America from North Carolina right up into New York mostly pots made by German and Dutch immigrant so there was a huge connection between what they were making because they've made it first of all in Europe all of those influences fed their way into what I was trying to do and then much later on I became influenced by Bernhard's pots it the pots themselves and by and by Amida particularly and here this one that's that's a Bernhard leech and I I really like this pot because apart from the fact that the decoration is so immediate and so simple in many ways but quite sophisticated in others I also like the fact that it's an ash glaze and I've always worked with ash right from the very beginning I work wood wood ash so that's that's an ash glaze that Bernhard made using wood ash and local clay the red clay from sin earth which is near Singh Liars and this one is ha murder and I I make quite a lot of press molded pots some years ago I had a period when I had a really bad back and I wanted to get off the wheel for a bit I wanted to move you know bending over so I made some moles and started making press molded bottles so that's why I've sort of picked this one out really because it's press molded but such vibrant brushwork you know brushwork done not prissy it's not done with your tongue between your teeth you know it's just bad out there but it's it's the confidence and that little element of genius that hammered I had that create something like that and this one a bowl is not an easy thing to make it's an easy thing to throw a bowl it's almost the first thing that anybody makes when they get on the wheel is a bowl but to get the tension right between the rim and the form it's almost something that you can't describe that tension that exists in a rim in its relationship to the to the volume of the pot how murder was a genius there's no question about that I mean he just made it look easy the fun part for me is the throwing what keeps me interested in making pots is working on the forms and making the forms work so if I if I get an idea for something the challenge to make that work that's what keeps me interested and I much enjoy that aspect of it I don't design on paper very much I do draw and I do sketch shapes and ideas but generally throwing for me is like drawing in the air you are creating a line in the air and that line is alterable you can change it that's the nice thing about clay because it's soft and you can change it immediately I could never become a metal worker or a wood worker because you have to really put some effort into changing anything and it's not immediate I can poke my thumb into the side of a pot has changed it split-second you know so that's the nice thing about clay that it's immediate the drawback in pottery is that there is so much that can go wrong every stage there's something that can go wrong and we as Potter's when you're you're you're working to make a living from pottery in the way that I do and people like in this country like Mike Dodd and Richard batroom and Jim Malone and people who work in the kind of genre that I work in we have to know an awful lot you know we don't just make the pots we know we have to know how to make glazes we have to have a an understanding of basic geology we have to know about fire and and draft and pyromania and all of these things that go towards making up a Potter and it is a lot a lot of work it's a lot of knowledge that you have to kind of to gather together I try to use local materials if I can I find that I'm somewhat limited here because most of the rocks that surround me and it's rock that we use to make glaze that that's the basis of glaze most of those rocks are iron-bearing and so it's kind of limiting there's very very little clay around here where because it's we're all on the rock so but I do try to use as much and all of my glazes Weatherall but pretty nearly all of my glazes contain wood ash and so the wood ash comes from the fire in the house I use a clay which I dig from the woods on the other side of town and I use that as a slip it's not a clay that you can throw with it it's a terra cotta very not not very plastic clay so you can't throw with it but I use it as a slip so this is one of the few local materials that that I can use it's a very very coarse earthenware clay it fires to a terra cotta flowerpot color even though it doesn't look like that now but it's got quite a lot of iron in it and I use it as a slip particularly for when I do the finger wiping to get that nice sort of red color it just acts as a thin surface on the clay to highlight that that redness I have tried throwing with it but it's very very coarse and it's almost like throwing with sand very fine sand it's not not a not very plastic although that did roll into a sausage which kind of proves that at least it's clay I'm not a big decorator I mean I'm not a decorator in the sense that you know I use lots of brush work or or many different pigments and and different sort of techniques complicated techniques of wax resist and layer on layer III I'm not very good at that and I don't do it on the other hand I find it very difficult to let a pot go through without some form of decoration so most of my decorations are in the clay either in the clay or through a coating of slip so I might draw through a white slip to reveal the body underneath I might coat a pot in a in the local clay slip which is a sort of reddish color and then glaze it and then wipe that glaze away to reveal the slip underneath something that I call finger wiping sometimes I can I'll use stamps and impress the pot with stamps or use a wooden tool with a comb on it to draw on and most of the decorations are there too to give the ash glazes which are quite fluid something to work on something to pool in and to change color to change texture and any decoration I do in the clay particularly if it's through a white slip those those glazes will highlight it so you get this effect where you have a glaze that's pooled in a drawing changed color become darker become shinier and that highlights that little drawing in front of a sort of lighter misty a background firings don't always come out perfectly well I've got two kilns at the moment either three kills but the two kilns that I'm using at the moment and the one is normally very reliable and the other one the wood kiln is largely reliable but not always right dog let's go see what we've got in the kiln come on when you put an exhibition together like the one that I'm putting together now for for the golden art gallery that takes a little while and the pots for that exhibition I've been collecting putting the best aside for almost 18 months first thing that you feel when you open the kiln I feel anyway is a sense of relief that everything's in one piece and nothing terrible has happened I can see that it's just got a little bit hotter in the front than usual which is a surprise because it's a very tight pack so I didn't think it would get to the front quite as much but it has you can see that Kohn is well down so maybe just a fraction too hot in the front but this one this one's that's about right and you can see that side and that side are quite different and that's this is the hot slightly hotter side but I still think it's a nice to come out well so far it looks okay but I'm always more concerned about the back because the back gets a little bit hotter so if the front has got hot then I'm slightly worried that the back might have over fired a little bit but I put glazes at the back that quite like a little bit of extra heat so hopefully it'll be okay keep this effective you know me yes it's okay what do you think Ethan hmm what do you think good one is it a good one or not yeah okay no stealing the limelight I think that pottery did a bit of a crossroads actually I think that in recent years the colleges in this country some of them have closed a lot of them are closed their courses those that are left are concentrating more on a sort of conceptual path away from making pots and away from using the wheel which I find worrying and a bit sad really I think that you know the way that the colleges have sidelined the wheel is reflected in some of the ceramic magazines for instance which now no longer feature pots anymore and I think that's sad I think that we have a we have a situation where it's easy to think well who's going to be teaching what I do in 20 or 30 years time when I'm gone and when other Potter's in my sort of genre have gone we're all dead and buried was going to be working then who's going to be teaching and on the one hand I think these things are cyclically I think that you know fashions change and I think probably there will be a movement back towards that sort of more earthy and and basic way of making parts that people intend to understand not so much the these sort of conceptual art ceramics that people do often find difficult and I also think that this move of the last 10 to 15 years where particularly urban Potter's Potter's living in central London central Manchester Birmingham and they all seem to be making this rather bland porcelain glazed white or with a very pale saladin table wares and I kind of think well on the one hand people were perfectly at liberty to make whatever they want to make and I would never stop anybody doing that but these things are often I often look at them I think well actually that would be better made in a factory they show no sign of adventure no sign of clay as a once plastic soft material that you know they robbed all that away from it and we have this kind of banal dead and banal sort of porcelain which to me would be better made in a factory these days nobody needs to buy a big jug for a start it's quite rare I think that people would serve a lot of drink from a big jug you know ale or anything like that you just don't these days you buy them in bottles or whatever whatever people don't need them so why are they buying them they're buying them because partly because they they want to feel a connection between the pot and the maker and themselves and partly because they see it in the same way that someone else might see a sculpture it's an object it's got line it's got shape it's got form it's got orchestration all of those things and and people just like to have them around and look at and to appreciate and feel the sort of historic connection in in in the object you one thing you don't need with a jug is it for it to be heavy for its size by the time it's filled with liquid nobody's going to be able to pick it up so with a jug like this compared to let's say a bottle I would always try and do sort of one extra pull at the end to get it as light as I can I tend to use a bank card for my rib for this kind of work I find them the best it's often the case with pots particularly bigger pots I find that the refining of the shape takes longer than the pulling up of the mass so that you know you get the height and then getting the shape right and refining the shape and getting it exactly as you want it takes longer than the actual throwing because which pots this size jugs this size I mean the wall of the pot now is really quite thin because I don't want that extra weight because it's a jug so because that makes it even trickier to to get the shape just right it's quite delicate and I'm always bearing in mind my glazes and the glaze that's going to be on the pot so I'm thinking now okay let's say this is going to have one of the ash glazes the ash glazes rely on ridges and an engraving or marks of some description for them to pool on and to flow into so I'm just putting a little bit of a concave profile into that RIM here so that the ash glaze will sit on that ledge ledge there and create a slightly different texture in a different color like a black hole of Calcutta and I can't see then I'll turn it away from me and just gently hold it and bring it back up like that it's very important not to disturb that line that you create going around that's very difficult to repair so just try not to touch that after 35 years of making pots and probably having made maybe a hundred and fifty thousand pots in that time the hands are not quite what they were my thumb joints here in the in the specialist surgeon's words worn out you know and I have to have injections in here every every four or five months to keep them going so that might have a bearing on what I do in the future it might be that I might not be able to make so many big pots in the future maybe maybe we be looking at smaller things perhaps I don't know but certainly carry on making and developing and trying to get better we always you know all through the time I've made pots I've always thought the next fire is going to be the best one and you have to think like that if you sit back and think that's it I've done my best you then you might as well give up you've always got to be looking to do something better when I do an exhibition I always like to try and bring something new in if I can so I'm always thinking about something new to bring and that's why I started making soul blaze that's why I built the wood kiln and wanted to keep pushing the boundaries a little bit I also wanted to try everything before I got too old to do it you know hence the wood kiln I mean I think that's a if not a young man's game it's certainly not an old man's game you know firing is a lot of work 36 hours straight firing to an hour three and a half tons of wood it's it's it's quite physical but I love the effects that it gives you this some hukka me or what the Koreans Koreans would call qui l is something I've been working on for a little while now which not surprising as my wife is Korean so I get to see quite a bit of it from time to time and these are the latest and I think most successful that we've that we've managed the clay has a lot of iron in it so it's very dark and what's taken me a long time to get right is the glaze to put over the top of it I needed one for the cool corner of the kiln over there this this technique is if it's fired too high you lose the the color everything sort of comes out the same sort of gray so you need to keep the temperature down one nice thing that you get with these lower temperatures is that if there's something in the clay or the slip that gives you a little tiny pinhole you get these lovely sort of little pink on orange spots and in Korea and Japan you often see pots which are covered in these beautiful pink circles pink blushes and they call them pink flowers and these are certainly the best that I've had yet and then I've been working on it now for probably three or four years but because I only fire this killed twice a year it doesn't give you much chance to to test anything you know so any sort of development like that takes a long time but yeah I'm quite happy with these the kiln is has a cool corner that corner over there is cooler than the rest of the kiln and so it's a convenient spot to put these because they don't need too much temperature you can see here that the difference that are just an extra few degrees of heat makes the difference between the color here and the color here this is sort of paler the glazes stayed sort of slightly milkier because it hasn't had that extra few degrees of temperature here the glaze has become a little more translucent transparent that's the sort of fine line that you're walking with a kiln like this that you can a pot can be successful or not successful just literally from one pot being a twelve inches away from another because the flame and the heat passes through the kiln in much the same way that water flows through a stream it'll go round rocks and so on flame and smoke and vapor rather do the same thing in a wood kiln so pots even though they can be as little as a foot apart inside the kiln can actually be maybe ten degrees different in temperature or maybe more sometimes so you know that's why you get that effect where the same glaze doesn't work quite as well on this one as it has on this one so for future gosh I'm not sure I think I just carry on making pots and and I've been working flat out for the last six months hundred miles an hour and now we have a new baby he's coming up to seven months now and for the first time since the year that John Lennon was killed that was 1981 I think or 82 from for the first time since then I've actually booked a holiday so we're going away for a week to Anglesey next month so that'll be interesting going on the beach with my new son baby son and think about where I want to go with it next you

45 Comments

  1. ALAN LAWRENCE

    The difference between fine arts and the applied arts like pottery is minimal to none existent. Our ancestors would have wondered what we were talking about. To the old masters, art was commerce and commerce art. Some of the greatest ancient art was painted onto Greek pottery and sold to the masses in busy market places. Now you will only find amphora – ancient Greek pottery under toughened glass in places like the British Museum. More recently we had the super star of modern art, Pablo Picasso, devote years of his life in a Southern French pottery factory, producing work that is part modern sculpture, part traditional pottery painting… The work is the thing, the rest is hot air.

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  2. Joanne Carter

    What a great film, totally beautiful: the pots, the places and the conversation, well done Goldmark and congratulations Phil on your super work👏🏻You are a true potter and the strong ,yet at the same time , quiet pots that you make have a timeless endless beauty! I think I will watch this over and over again, so many little things to dwell on. I also make my living from making pots (I’m an ex student of Jack Doherty and was on his Forest of Dean course back in the 90’s) here in the north of Italy and I can relate and connect to a lot of your reflections on what drives us to want to make a decent pot and how it is that through making pots on a daily basis life somehow makes sense, gains meaning and becomes wholesome🍁
    Will you be at the Potfest near Penrith next summer (2019)? All being well I’ll be visiting this year, happy new year and happy potting.

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  3. Neldidellavittoria

    I've just learnt so much just from watching this video and from listening to this artist. From his insight, from his experience, from his opinions and viewpoints. No fancy kneading, no fancy decoration… and wonderful results. Thank you very much indeed for posting it.

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  4. wookiefable

    I recently went to a throwing demonstration at a festival and watched intently. the style was exactly as phil described from the "urban potters" very bland to my eye pale white or celadon lacking originality and presence . materials are not dug from the ground or made, tooling is bought not given life. "born not made"

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  5. Erin S.

    Wow, I’ve been watching a few goldmark videos and Phil single handedly made my memories working for a potter slap me in the face with good times and remember how I felt when working for her. I worked for Lisa Howe in Phoenix Arizona and she made functional ware and I remember begging for a job and worked for free until she decided to pay me. Ha, I had a good time and wish I could go back to those days. Lisa taught me a great lesson when I messed up really bad. I turned the kiln up too quickly and shattered 30 large bowls (24” wide at the brim). I had just been given this responsibility and she was a bit upset but never showed me what I sure she really felt but when I had been working for her a year and this happened she replied “about time you screwed up…I just wish it had been with something else, now that it’s out of the way, you know what not to do next time”. She was gracious and kind, very much like Phil here. Man, the hard work…I was 17 when I worked in the audio and would have a wood board filled with greenware to be put on stacks to dry…I don’t know how I didn’t break anything (minus those 30 blown up in the kiln) but it was tough tough work. Sanding, glazing that requires holding heavy Stoneware in the air with one arm to get the right drips and boards and more boards stacked over my head….and I’m not the potter!!! You have reminded me of Lisa and the great times I had. I believe potters, artists or craftsmen, which ever you all call yourselves I am finding have a similar temperament and/or personality quirks. Thanks for the amazing video Goldmark. And Mr. Rogers, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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  6. Jane Collette

    Thank you for sharing your work with us, as well as your thoughts and philosophy, they are wonderful. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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  7. SaphiraDragon

    A nice video that I relate too very much. You echo many of my own thoughts. I'm also not a fan of university ceramics. I'm self taught, and when studying forms I naturally gravitated toward Leach and Hamada. In studying Hamada, he said he was inspired by Korean pots, so then I looked there and understood why. I find university ceramics is too myopic. I have never been a professional potter – supporting myself from it. I've only done it as a serious hobby. I greatly respect the risks you have taken, I'm not sure I have the fortitude to do that. Unlike others, I find an honest account of the craft to be refreshing and inspiring.

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  8. Bindas Budiya

    I loved this video coz I always feel that I have some connection with the pottery and makes me feel very happy to see….I do clay paintings and love the pottery. ..Thanks for this video…..

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  9. Phil Rogers

    Thank you to everyone who has commented on this film. You are right…Goldmark do a great job…not just the videos but catalogues, cards, openings…they are such a professional, down to earth and friendly group of people. I appreciate all of the lovely comments and do please call and see us or visit the Gallery……

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  10. ian thompson

    Superb wonderful film. no words to express how much joy i feel seeing such wonderful work in such wonderful surroundings with such wonderful people. brings back great memories of visiting goldmark in 2012. hope to return soon.

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