Every action starts with an idea; a beginning in the mind. For much of my professional life before I discovered ceramics, my way of thinking was that of the scientist. The sense of mystery or magic that underlies so much of art is not an easy companion to that way of though. My solution to the challenge of crossing the bridge of the "two cultures" is to listen to the mind itself. Behind the discipline of reason and logic is always the psyche. Something altogether animal. Emotion and instinct is not myth, magic or imperfection but a reality of our biology. My aim is to listen to that alone with no bias, reason, mystery or guile. I do this by doing one of the most challenging things in art; to sit in front of a large blank sheet of paper with nothing more than an HB pencil and eraser having done my best to clear my mind. The lines come. Often, they don't work, sometimes they do. Eventually, instinct tells me to stop and something comes together. They are drawn in two dimensions but are imagined in three and I use coded marks to indicate depth and tonal elements. This is how I make most of the decisions that go into making.
I then translate the sketched forms into three dimensional clay vessels. Depending on the form, the piece is made to be either be free standing or wall mounted. I focus on one at a time and create enough work in series to fill either of my kilns depending on the size to be made. My working cycles usually last between one to two months. The only method that has the flexibility for this is coiling, one of the most ancient ways of forming clay, having existed for at least 4500 years. Chunks of clay are sliced from larger balls and hand rolled into cylinders or straps which are then blended together one by one to build the form painstakingly and precisely. I then refine it with a set of tools which I create myself from found hardwood and metal. The synergy of tone and form is very important to my aesthetic and I create a set of contrasting clay mixes unique to each piece. When used in adjacent coils, they create a pattern which accentuates the form where the coils meet and capture the moment of soft plasticity of clay before firing transforms it into a solid.
I blend commercial stoneware bodies with metal oxides, mineral inclusions and in many cases, London Clay which is won from the ground immediately surrounding the studio, which is situated in the watershed of the river Brent. I do this for several reasons. It creates particularly rich and unpredictable tones when blended and fired in light reduction. London Clay is a green-yellow, iron and lime rich surface clay best known for being the basis of London's iconic Stock bricks. It was deposited in the Eocene 56-49 million years ago a time when the climate was radically different and palms and mangroves grew along the Thames. The immediate surroudings of the studio also contains deposits of Black Park gravel, a form of flint and quartz sand carried there by glacier during the Anglian Ice Age some 450 thousand years ago. Not too far from the studio and sharing the same bed of clay is Horsenden Hill, a site of Iron Age earthenware pottery production and hilltop fort and the highest natural point in West London. It can just about be seen from the studio as in the right side of the image on the horizon. By using this clay, I also forge a direct link between the piece and the geological and archaeological history of its place of creation.
After drying, the work is fired in a downdraught gas kiln in neutral to light reducing atmosphere to a temperature of approximately 1300 Centigrade or cone 10. At this temperature, two things of particular note happen. Firstly, the matrix of the clay partially melts into a glassy substance that is exceptionally hard. After polishing, it takes on a huge variety of textures from silken smooth to sandpaper rough. By controlling this, I can generate a variety of textures which complement and accentuate the form through the sense of touch. I do this as the imagination suggests not only form and tone but texture as well. Secondly, the metal oxides are dissolved into the matrix and react with the oxygen or carbon monoxide in the kiln to be transformed into different compounds which strongly accentuate contrast and richness of tone. My self-built kilns are highly customised to ensure uniformity of firing, minimal impact on the environment and precise control of atmosphere by an oxygen probe. After some trials of different configurations, I opted for the outstanding Minnesota Flat Top design pioneered in the USA by the late Nils Lou and Mel Jacobson.
The final stage is polishing in which I selectively abrade the surface of each piece with diamond to create gradients of texture and to reveal the densest tones of the metal oxides in the ceramic body which are usually just beneath the surface. Each piece is then sealed with drying oil, usually refined linseed or poppyseed to enhance both textural and tonal contrast.