Potters on Pots

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Potters on Pots:

Boris Aldridge

A fascination with 12th and 13th-century Persian lustreware inspired Boris Aldridge to create his own lustreware tiles

37 May/June 2023
Images: courtesy of the artist; courtesy of Amir Mohtashemi Ltd, photos by Angelo Plantamura; © Musee du Louvre/Hughes Dubois

My first experience with clay was when I was young, aged about 10 or 11 – I made a pinch bowl at a local art studio. It was very roughly made but I still remember the iridescent glow of its glaze today.

My father taught me how to make ceramics. He started a small company making functional handmade tiles, which I joined over 20 years ago. I learnt the ins and outs from him and around 12 years ago, I started my own practice as an artist.

I make lustreware tiles. I have always loved making tiles and the challenges involved. When I make a tile, I am not just thinking about the individual tile but how it fits in with other tiles and how those fit together as a pattern. I use a sculptural clay for the body, underglazes and glazes for the stoneware firing and then gold resin lustre for the final firing.

My primary inspiration is from 12th and 13th-century Persian lustreware, but I am also heavily influenced by early to mid-20th century animation. I love the way the old potters made their tiles. They used technically complex and difficult methods but also worked fast and with a joyful spontaneity. Many of the tiles have what you could describe as imperfections such as smudges, glaze movement or warping, but it is precisely these defects that give the work its life.

If I had to choose one piece that has had a profound influence on my own practice, then it would be this lustreware star tile featuring a lion and a sun. It forms part of a larger panel that is on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The tile itself dates from 1266–1267 and it comes from the broader tradition of Kashan lustreware that started in the late 12th century and continued until the beginning of the 14th century. Kashan itself is a town in central Iran that has long been considered the centre of this lustreware movement.

I first saw this tile in books and was immediately struck by its power and radiance. I finally had the opportunity to see it in real life when I visited Paris in 2014. On seeing it, I immediately felt its beauty and pull. It has taught me the importance of surface finish, composition and of finding a working process that consistently enthrals and controls me in equal measure.

The shape of the tile is probably the biggest similarity to my own tiles. I also use the same device of combining visual imagery with poetry, but perhaps the greatest similarity is in the way of working. I try to harness that same freedom of spirit and spontaneity that the potters of Kashan possessed in such abundance with my own tiles.

As an artist, I am always struggling with the curator and creator within me. With my own practice, I want to create pieces that are inspired by Persian lustreware and techniques but without being pastiches or copies. I spent several years developing my own glazes and techniques to create pieces that reflect who I am and that I feel are uniquely mine rather than those that have already been made. I am also a musician and all the poetry that you see on my tiles comes from within me.

I find the creative process of making ceramics very mysterious. There is a relentless creative energy that drives me on, but I am not sure where it comes from or why I have it. I just know that it is there deep within me and it controls me fully. If I had to put into words what my practice means to me then it can be found in this extract from my poem Wild Sea:

There’s an ocean so vast in the depths of my heart  Where waters run untamed and free

The currents they swirl, some run hot, others cold  Forever tormenting my dreams, while my heart sleeps

How sweetly you shine when the weather is fine

The waves sparkle brightly and fair

But when the storm breaks, the Kraken awakes  And he’ll drag you down into his lair, so beware

This wild sea inside of me

This wild sea won’t let me be

This wild sea inside of me

This wild sea will ever be a part of me.

For more details visit @borisaldridge

39 May/June 2023 38 May/June 2023
ABOVE: Etoile au lion et soleil, 1266–1267, Iran, H20 x L19.5cm, ceramic (siliceous paste), decoration of metallic lustre on opacified glaze, Musee du Louvre

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