Interpreting Ceramics | issue 12 | 2010

Articles & Reviews

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Book Review by Douglas Phillips

Modern British Potters and Their Studios

Author: David Whiting
160 pages
A&C Black, London, 2009
Recommended Retail Price in UK £30.00

Contents | Home


by Mary Drach McInnes

The Convergence of Parallel Tangents

by Timothy John Berg

Time, Place, and Perception

by Lawrence A. Bush


by Rory MacDonald


by Michael Jones McKean

Interdisciplinary Mind, Deft Hand

by Annabeth Rosen

To Eat, To Die, To Play

by Linda Sikora


by Linda Sormin


The Hare with Amber Eyes

by Michael Tooby

Modern British Potters and their Studios

by Douglas Phillips

A Guide to Collecting Studio Pottery

by Juliet Armstrong

Ceramics Film Festival

by Leah McLaughlin

Getting it Right

by Alan Wallwork

NB. A Word document is available to download at the end of each article.

Not another pottery book! I think, and this from someone with more than a passing interest in the subject, an addiction in fact, be it bricks to tea ceremony wares, mud houses to high tech kilns. I also have an extensive pottery library and a love of all that knowledge, history and information that so many dedicated people have immortalized between hard and soft covers, but I am getting to feel, as Grayson Perry concluded in his recent BBC Radio 4 programme on creativity, perhaps we have had too much, too many pottery books, too many pots. However, on the first page of this book, my spirits lift. There is an honesty and clear sightedness that draws you in. This book is a ray of sunshine, albeit a personal one, onto a large subject. This is a concise set of snapshots, by a man who has an intimate and long-standing knowledge of the British pottery 'scene'. He has a sensitivity that reminds me of the young Leonard Cohen (then just known as a poet) talking of the world around him – of pure observation – devoid of ego. One cannot escape the feeling that his early exposure (the son of a fine potter) to a potter's work, working and workplace, must have had a most profound effect on him.

The preface clearly states where Whiting is coming from and the introduction is comprehensive and sound. From the potters I personally know in this book, I can safely say that Whiting knows his stuff and so I can fully trust him when it comes to the potters I know by/in name only. It comes across that Whiting really knows his subjects; no way is he rehashing hearsay.

On seeing the Goldmark connection, my first thought was that this is another promotional move in the selling of the Goldmark Gallery stable. If there was any intention along those lines, Whiting has, by the standard of his writing and perception, thankfully made it irrelevant. Jay Goldmark's photographs echo the clear-sightedness and intimacy of Whiting's writing and as portraits stand on their own. The photographs of the individuals' work (by Jay Goldmark and others) are of the usual high standard we have grown to expect in art books.

Although Whiting may have missed out or bypassed a good few potters equal to the twenty-four included, he has by his choice and his rich description, shown how wonderfully varied and how deeply committed are the potters of Britain. Through this book, Whiting has introduced me to makers I either did not know or knew by name only. With pleasantly few words, he has painted a concise picture that intrigues and inspires one to seek out their work and expand the reality. The balance of contrast within each section also adds illumination. The asides, historic, cultural, technical and literary references, are well measured providing added depth without clogging up the narrative.

The Japanese potters have a saying: 'The glazes are the glasses through which we look at the clay'. This book could be said to be pots and potters seen through the eyes of David Whiting. Here we are spared the over-intellectualized ramblings all too common among the commentators and critics of the ceramic 'world'. Whiting has a good historic perspective, a clear eye and a love of his subject. This book shows well, in its personally focused, if restricted way, the rich ceramic hey-day we are fortunate to be living through. This is no comprehensive survey, but that limiting fact actually gives the reader a clearer overview. I would have liked to see more young makers included, to show how the field is developing. The book appears a bit top heavy in the age range but perhaps Whiting and A&C Black are working on volume two. I do hope so, for Whiting’s perception makes this a valuable tome and one I shall happily, nay enthusiastically, recommend to students, fellow potters, collectors and every day thoughtful users of pots. This is a rich book, well worth squeezing onto the shelf or adding to the coffee table pile. It is relevant now and I think will become a worthy time capsule record in the future.



© The copyright of all the images in this article rests with the author unless otherwise stated


Book Review by Douglas Phillips • Issue 12

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