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Alan Wallwork

A Retrospective Exhibition


front cover: large crescent form #AW60

Alan Wallwork A Retrospective Exhibition September 2012 at The Oxford Ceramics Gallery


Introduction One of most distinctive of post-war potters, Alan Wallwork’s commitment to handbuilding has been unfailing over some fifty years. He has, from the outset, been remarkably inventive, making a range of individual forms that draw on the landscape, his pieces having resembled archaic, sometimes totemic shapes, and, most familiarly, structures in nature; seed pods, pebbles, shells and fossils. His techniques have included coiling, slabbing and shaping directly in the hand, and occasionally using thrown components. The surfaces are varied; often pitted and pierced or abraded, sometimes as smooth as an egg or stone. There is an intimacy, a tactility about Alan’s work. It needs to be touched, the smaller pieces cupped and turned in the palm. If Alan’s art is part of any tradition, it is that tradition of exciting and experimental building that grew up around the Central School and Goldsmiths’ College in the 1950s. He was one of a new generation of artist-potters who explored the sculptural possibilities of built clay, usually with containment as a basis. The adventurousness of such work related not only to the earliest most elemental pots, but to contemporary developments in sculpture – in Britain the work of William Turnbull, Eduardo Paolozzi and Hubert Dalwood for example – and several painters too who used biomorphic and organic imagery. There was a fresh sense that anything was possible in clay. Rules could be broken. One could move confidently beyond more traditional thrown pottery to explore its broader expressive potential, in Alan’s case skilfully using matt glazes and oxides to enhance the rich textures of the material and the organic, sometimes preternatural nature of these pieces. The more articulated quality of much of his early work soon gave way to predominantly rounded forms, covetable oval and spherical pots that look as if they have been polished and refined by wind and water and bleached and coloured by the sun. Alan Wallwork is one of the great individualists in British pottery, one who has steered his own course, always interested in new developments, but not in the suddenly changing winds of fashion. After his many years in France, it is good to have him and his strong unmistakeable work back in our midst. We could do with more like him. David Whiting, August 2012

In the Artist’s Words Blurring the look and feel of things with shrinkwrapping was a long way off when I was little, out shopping with my mother. I could learn how things felt, as well as watch skilful things being done. There was much to smell as well. My mother bought sugar loose at Arthur East’s, corn,seed and fuel merchant’s. This was a long bare wood floored cavern with a high wooden counter to one side. There, one of the brown coated men dug into one of the bins behind him with a grey metal scoop, tipped the contents into a gleaming brass scoop on his scales with their handsome brass weights, then poured out the sugar onto a big sheet of thick blue paper. Then he did some origami and a plump parcel appeared without use of string, tape or anything else. Just clever folding. I, meanwhile, was free to dive my hands into any of the long rows of bulging open sacks in lines down the shop floor, their tops neatly rolled down. They held wheat, barley, oats, dried peas, beans, and on and on. Some held dogbiscuits in many shapes and sizes, some were multicoloured and looked tasty. They were not, I found. Coal was on show in an adjoining room. Shallow trays held samples in many grades and lump sizes, many different patinas and smells. Back in the street again there would often be more to watch and wonder at. Men doing fascinating, skilful things. A man up a ladder painting ornate lettering above a shopfront, with brush and mahlstick. I marvelled at his steadiness of hand as the letters were outlined and filled, with flourishes. Somewhere else a man might be burning off old paint before repainting. This was really dramatic, beginning with the ritual of firing up his blackened brass

blowlamp. First the warming up from the almost invisible delicate blue flames of methylated spirits. Then main ignition after pumping up pressure in the paraffin reservoir. The thrilling, throbbing, long blue flame leaping out and the man letting it lick over an area of old paint until the surface began to heave, blister and bubble and then his metal scraper blade followed the flame, lifting long writhing snakes of molten paint, often still flaming as they fell to the littered pavement. The smell beckoned from afar. Solvents then had good smells, turpentine, linseed oil, none then minded the high lead also in the paint. Sometimes there would be someone putting in a window, thumbing putty down the edges, smoothing it with long knife movements, giving the trimmings out to the eager hands of small boys for them to delight in its plasticity, rolling it into balls and thin rolls, savouring its fragrance. But the greatest spectacle of all was the openfronted smithy on one side of the wide square in the town centre, where cattle markets were held. I stood in wonder there for hours as massive,quiet carthorses stood patiently as their huge shaggy hooves were fitted with new shoes. One of the smiths would cradle an obediently lifted hoof between his knees, prising off the old worn out shoe, then another smith would fish out a new shoe from those buried in the bright glowing centre of the hearth at the dark recesses of the forge, where the bellows were. Holding the hot metal in long heavy tongs he offered it up to the naked hoof and a great burst of smoke rose with the pungent reek of scorched horn and hair. The great horse seemed oblivious of the drama. Then the shoe would be reheated, reshaped, tried again, then quenched in a bucket of scummy water. Flame,smoke,steam,the clang of hammer

on iron. The rough whitewashed wall hung all too. When I came to open a gallery, I still fancied along with mysterious tools of their majestic trade. myself as a painter then, half my meagre income came from jewellery making and I halfheartedly This looked like real work to me. I wanted to do tried the treadmill of making domestic pottery. something like that when schooling was over and I was free. It was the workshop itself I yearned for. My lucky single year at Goldsmiths with its On my way to Saturday children’s cinema I always encounter with the late Kenneth Clark’s teaching peered through the crusted glass window of a long and example had made me even more sceptical of narrow workshop, probably a long roofed- over the real value of the kind of potmaking advocated stable yard. Unevenly paved, with whitewashed by certain prestigious figures in that field. brick walls, again hung with rows of interesting Handsome thrown cider jars were often shown off looking tools, it was perhaps a metalworkers den. as the tours de force they no doubt were. But A couple of gas cylinders with brass gauges what damn use were they? I didn’t know anyone stood on a trolley. At the very end I could make who wanted bulk supplies of cider on tap! And if I out an old cast iron stove, a pipe chimney snaking wanted a good teapot I bought a nice round shiny up. And to one side, the slant of an open tread black earthenware one as were churned out in wooden ladder going up. From outside I could see Stoke on Trent, maybe still are, I didn’t want a that a single room had been added as a second cold, heavy handmade one that didn’t pour well., storey and the staircase must lead to it. So the except maybe by Richard Batterham, I’ve got lots fortunate occupant of this paradise could have of his stuff. But Kenneth Clark, in turn influenced a bed up there, live right over his work! Bliss… by Dora Billington’s beliefs that all available pottery techniques should be studied and, if of So, looking back I see my life has been a pursuit, value, employed to suit a purpose. The attempt often very successful, to find a place to live- and by some to declare some techniques as inherently work in. Later I had added a big garden to the too evil to risk use didn’t wash with Kenneth, essential ingredients. I have been very fortunate or myself. Kenneth Clark and his associates too to find what I was looking for in superb were obviously working very happily to cater surroundings. I knew also that I wanted to make for the needs of the present day, not yearning things, I wasn’t sure at first what they might be! for some, probably mythical, romantic past of noble craftsmen before the Industrial Revolution To have been making pottery for so long came screwed up the world, but at least improved about accidentally, as I shall explain later. If I dentistry, as P.J.O’Rourke wisely points out. had encountered certain influences strongly enough I might well have been permanently Because, at Goldsmiths, I learnt to appreciate deterred. I had tried my hand at wood carving those primitive ways of pot-forming, I came to and working in silver and copper before I taught favour the qualities that come naturally from myself some of the pottery skills. I could see that them. Pots formed solely with the hands invite jewellery making might earn me a living, and it being picked up and handled. Perhaps even would involve a workshop too, flame and drama caressed. From an early age I responded

to the stone tools exhibited in archeological museums, especially the hand axes. All those tools were of course handheld, made to fit the hand, wonderfully simplified, economical, Visually superb, but with a definite purpose. My pots may use their forms as a starting point but, because they are hollow can hold water if desired people can use them for flower arrangements and this I like. I have seen many wonderfully imaginative examples. My pot is only a component of another’s creativity. When I sold through my friend Berey Pealing’s shop in Lyme Regis, Annie, his wife, often made an arrangement in one of my pieces for display in the main shop window. She used bits and pieces she had found on the seashore during her early morning walk. It helped to sell the pot, people were being shown that the pot, maybe unconventional in form,was still capable of other functions. Buyers, often from a city, asked if they could take the display as well. While, for me at least, there was a golden period at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, under the directorship of Andy Christian, I was allowed to set out my pots for myself in my allotted showspace with quick additions of whatever dried stuff I could find along the river bank. There it is, my pots have no deep “message”, or not consciously. They have the simple forms I personally warm to and I try to give them a variety of pattern and texture that I find sympathetic to the touch, not just the eye. Colour is not all important, but surface is. I hope my pots invite being picked up and felt. I once was visited by a party of blind children and that really was heartwarming as they exclaimed over the feel of what I’d been working on. At the Devon Guild I once observed an old lady embrace a large pot I had on display. “Oh dear!” she exclaimed, embarrassed by her impulsiveness, “I don’t why I did that!” It

certainly made me feel good. Another woman, while I was putting out my pots, said, perhaps accusingly, ”my husband sits in the evening holding the pot of yours we bought!” How nice So, putting things away in glass cases I don’t like. But times have changed, now if people are too free to handle things…they may well nick them! Alan Wallwork, July 2012



1950s - 60s

Early works including lamp bases and tiles

Goldsmiths College 1955

previous page 3 3/4� x 3 3/4� tiles c1960s


Goldsmiths College 1955

clockwise: two lamp bases late 1960s #AW97, #AW98 cylinders late 1960s #AW86, #AW87, #AW88, #AW89, #AW90 three lamp bases late 1960s #AW91, #AW92, #AW93

original photo used in Michael Casson’s book ‘Pottery in Britain Today’, published in 1967

original exhibition poster from late 60s

opposite page: oval with incised texture #AW40 two vases late 1960s #AW81, #AW82


three lamp bases late 1960s #AW99, #AW100, #AW101


Assistants decorating tiles at Marnhull Studio late 1960s


circular tiles c1960s


1970s - 90s

Organic forms


previous pages, clockwise: split oval, porcelain pierced sphere and pierced crescent form, textured oval with carved design and pierced crescent form, c1980s #AW37, #AW38, #AW39, #AW80

images at Whitty Down Farm 1988 - 2004

torsos, c1990s #AW18, #AW19

tall oval form, c1970s #AW83


‘sea urchin’ form, c1980 #AW36

Selection of pieces photographed at Marnhull Studio in the 1980s


Two pierced, porcelain spheres, c1980 From a Private Collection

textured oval, c1990s #AW33

textured oval, c1990s #AW34

textured oval, c1990s #AW32


2000 - present

Recent works


previous pages, clockwise: oval with pierced decoration, open sphere, oval form and stoneware form, c1970s & 80s #AW37, #AW38, #AW39, #AW80

large ‘U’ form, 2006 #AW30

large crescent form, 2006 #AW56

two white seed heads and brown seed head, 2012 #AW06, #AW07, #AW08


textured pebbles, 2009 #AW03, #AW04, #AW05


large crescent form, 2007 #AW60


two crescent forms, 2009 #AW54, #AW55


two wedged crescent forms, 2012 #AW11, #AW20

previous page, clockwise: split disc, two 3-sided seed pods, split disc and two split spheres, 2007-2012 #AW58, #AW09, #AW10, #AW59, #AW52, #AW53

porcelain oval with blue, pod vase and textured oval ,2009 #AW62, #AW63, #AW64

split spiral, textured and ringed navel oval, 2012 #AW12, #AW13, #AW14

Biography Born Watford, Hertfordshire, England in 1931 With an early interest in film design, he was put on the waiting list for a training scheme launched by J. Arthur Rank studios. Two years of National Service intervened and now with other ambitions he began the NDD course at Watford School of Art. A severe illness and hospitalisation cut this short. As a form of recuperation it was suggested he took a two year residential course at Newlands Park Teachers Training College, Buckinghamshire . Here he had unlimited access to well equipped pottery and painting studios. A lengthy delay in the appointment of a lecturer left him to find his own way in pottery techniques, guided only by Bernard Leach’s Potters Book. High grades on graduation won him eligibility for a special one year course at Goldsmiths College, S. London with access to any Art School classes of choice. He chose pottery, painting, etching and fabric printing. The pottery classes were run by Kenneth Clark and Gordon Baldwin. Their broad approach to pottery techniques and an open minded view of original uses for craft pottery made a strong and lasting impression on him. On leaving Goldsmiths in 1956 he took a series of posts at local secondary schools, reducing teaching time as in 1957 he converted shop premises in Forest Hill, S. London, for use as a gallery with the upper floors as studios and accommodation for himself and a partnership of other ex-Goldsmiths students. Opening in 1958, and named the Alan Gallery, paintings by the partners were to be shown with bought in ceramics by London potters: Lucy Rie, Kenneth Clark, Ann Wynn Reeves, David Eeles among them. It was soon clear that pottery sold better than paintings and Wallwork fitted out rooms at the back of the gallery and began making his own pottery, at first thrown domestic ware, moulded brush decorated dishes and hand built pieces, including lampbases and “pinched” bowls. All were fired at earthenware temperature. Domestic ware was tinglazed and brush or sgraffito decorated. Later matt glazes in black, brown or yellow-green were introduced. Much use was made of rubbed on oxides to give a warm, “toasted” look to unglazed areas of hand built work. Incised textures, often inlaid with white slip and impressed decoration using clay stamps and “roulettes” were favoured. While experimenting with dripped and trailed glaze pools, he hit on effects which he developed into a range of tiles which rapidly found an avid market. This success paved the way to phasing out domestic earthenware and the purchase of a better kiln for high temperature stoneware, in alternation with the flourishing earthenware tiles. The weight of pottery sales against paintings led to the amicable withdrawal of his original partners and the dropping of bought in work as his own took over the gallery space. Advertising possible need for an assistant led to the appearance of Bernard Rooke, also exGoldsmiths, whose kindred views on techniques and aspirations prompted an offer to him of a share of the workshop and living space. Both potters soon found rapidly growing demand for their work and Wallwork became aware that he was blatantly infringing the approved use of the gallery for retail only.

He found much larger premises in Greenwich comprising of a large shop with three floors above and a basement below, all with existing use for light industry having formed part of a hacksaw blade factory, now divided off. Bernard Rooke agreed to rent the basement, Robert and Sheila Fournier took a large upper room as did the painter Cyril Reason. The shop area was fitted out as a showroom, Wallwork working in the rear and other rooms above. The aim was to offer showspace for all the occupants, hopefully attracting the custom of architects, interior designers and craft retailers. Sales rose rapidly, especially for Rooke and Wallwork. Wallwork had had designs accepted by the Design Centre and his work was included in their touring exhibitions abroad. His tiles were also on the Design Index. He formed a rewarding and friendly relationship with Heals of Tottenham Court Road through their amicable buyer, Mark Ransome. Heals and the flourishing Craftsmen Potters Association, of which he was elected a Council Member, became major outlets, then easily accessible from Greenwich before the days of traffic congestion. Demand developed so rapidly that he began taking on assistants. These were employed partly to help decorate the tile ranges and partly to help with a growing repertoire of small and medium hand built pieces, made in quantity, Wallwork completing the final shaping and decorating. These more modest pieces were marked either with an impressed or incised W. Large pieces were coiled or thrown or a combination of both. Some assistants with exceptional aptitude in hand -building alternated with Wallwork himself in the building up of large pieces so that several forms could be under construction at the same time under his supervision. A large electric kiln was installed. The clay body now used incorporated a coarse fireclay with many impurities. At stoneware temperature the burning off of the impurities created a reduced atmosphere in the kiln chamber giving the work the “toasted� look normally achieved in a flame kiln and added subtleties to glaze colour and surface. The kiln elements suffered as a result of the reduction but the results were judged worth the cost. Individual pieces were marked with an incised, linked A W. Heals were instrumental in his work being included in a major exhibition at Illums Bolighus, Copenhagen at a time when several important department stores were co-operating internationally. Another major development was a substantial order for tiles from an advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson for a promotional campaign. The scale of this order prompted the purchase of a large ex-chapel in Marnhull, Dorset to provide more workshop space and the installation of more kilns and the taking on of more assistants. Commuting between the two workshops became irksome and he wound down the Greenwich studios, subletting to other potters, Sally Vinson and Henna Thomas amongst others. In the mid 1960’s he moved down to live and work full time in Dorset. In addition to the electric kilns for tile firing a large propane kiln was installed for reduction fired stoneware and local women taken on, mainly as tile decorators, the most skilled also assisting with pottery processes. A high volume of work was produced for a number of years, the tiles finding an eager market in the USA, Australia and Europe, as well as the UK. Pottery sales were channelled through Heals, Briglin Pottery and the Craftsmen Potters Shop. He contributed less and less to formal exhibitions because of the forward commitment, transportation etc.

By the mid 1970’s however he became increasingly concerned with the environment and his own profligate use of energy and felt an urge to downsize. He cut down more and more his contacts with London as the traffic problem grew. He built and fired a woodburning kiln but was unconvinced that this was enough of a reduce environmental impact as, although the fuel used was renewable, pollution was increased. Events decided matters for him when inflation and national instability took precedence in 1979. With time his team of assistants had shrunk in number without being replaced and he began to sell off equipment preparatory to looking for more modest premises. One last venture was with a range of broken textured plain coloured tiles commissioned by a kitchen furniture firm. These proved alarmingly popular but tedious to produce and when he was asked to increase production twenty fold he called a halt to it all and put the Marnhull studios up for sale and began to look for new premises on the Dorset coast. A house and workshop was found in woodland high above Lyme Regis in a spectacular but somewhat impractical setting. He produced a volume of organically inspired hand built forms with an emphasis on dramatic surface textures, cracked and pitted. Illness and hospitalisation interrupted and an opportunity arose to buy in a more accessible and sunnier position on an opposite hilltop across the valley. A substantial workshop was built next to the house, the big gas kiln lifted in by crane and after a difficult year work began again at Whitty Down Farm, Higher Rocombe. “Pebble” forms, “seedpod” forms - made from a basic sphere - two “pinch” bowls joined rim to rim then grooved, segmented, altered in various ways. Experiments were made with contrasting clay bodies: porcelain blending into stoneware, porcelain forms encrusted in craggy stoneware. “Crescent” forms with intricate piercing, the piercing inlaid with colour and translucent glazes. “Cleft spheres” - rounded forms deeply cut into allowing a glimpse of translucent glaze deep in the core, the crust heavily textured and pierced. Thrown and coiled oval forms half split open, the split edges fretted and pierced in manifold ways. Tall “female” forms, torso like, waisted and modelled with simple matt glazes and deep “navel” piercing. A slight stroke in the late 1990’s impaired for a time the use of his right arm and prevented throwing for sometime but he was still able to make his small “pinched” forms with his one good hand and theactivity probably aided the restoration of almost full use of both once more.The experience seemed a signal that the time was nigh for a change of pace. Whitty Down Farm was sold, the kiln demolished and Wallwork set off to fulfill a long held desire to spend time in France. In 2004 an old stone building with workshop space was bought in Missegre, a delightful, fairly high and remote village in the foothills of the Pyrenees, near Limoux in the Aude. There he built a top loader propane fired kiln and began once more to make pottery. His original intention was to make leisurely trips back to England, exploring new routes each time with a van load of finished work for sale through favourite outlets back home. Two of these trips were enough to show him that long distance driving in a large vehicle was no longer a pleasure for him and his partner and longtime friend, Barbara Huxley. Reg Moon, also a longtime friend , drove down to Missegre and took back the first batch of work for exhibition in is his gallery in Henley in Arden. 37

Since then several consignments have gone back by carrier to John Rastall of the Harlequin Gallery and Oxford Ceramics, some also to the Devon Guild and for a major exhibition at Walford Mill Craft Centre in conjunction with his daughter Amanda’s paintings and his grandson, Rowan Stickland’s sculptures. With declining health and physical capabilities the Walford Mill show was his last attempt to make large forms. He has settled for small and medium pieces, Variations on his favourite “crescent” forms made partly by slab, part by coil building take precedence being less physically demanding. The simple, sweeping outer curvatures, contrasting with the plane surfaces, allowing scope for tactile permutations - an outer “crust” protecting a complex inner core, pierced and glaze inlaid - continue to stimulate his interest. Alan Wallwork, February 2009

Public Collections Coventry Mead Gallery, Warwickshire University of Warwick, Warwickshire University of Derby, Derbyshire Liverpool Museum, Liverpool Victoria and Albert Museum, London Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, Wiltshire Stoke-On-Trent City Museum and Art Gallery, Staffordshire 38

The Oxford Ceramics Gallery would like to thank Alan Wallwork, David Whiting, Brian Usher & Joe Jansen for their contributions. Catalogue © The Oxford Ceramic Gallery and Alan Wallwork, 2012 Text © The Authors, 2012 Photography © James Fordham, Alan Wallwork & Brian Usher, 2012 Design and Layout by Rachel Ackland

Alan Wallwork - A Retrospective  

A catalogue to accompany the exhibition at The Oxford Ceramics Gallery.