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His work now has a quality that is only found when a lifetime has been devoted to practice; where the clay has formed the man as much as the man, the clay. Sebastian Blackie, 2009

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Essay by Sebastian Blackie


Clive Bowen in Context

Clive Bowen has been described as a potter working in the English slipware tradition. What should we understand this to mean and is the idea of tradition a useful place to locate Bowen’s new work? Henry Hammond’s essay Tradition published in 1956 by the magazine Athene opens with the thought that the creative work of children displays a kind of tradition because it is instinctive. Hammond concludes the essay, which is illustrated with an eighteenth century Devon harvest jug by an unknown potter, with the romantic statement that tradition is about the work of many people and about movement, the crest of the wave lies on and in the sea. The choice of harvest jug is interesting. From today’s perspective it may seem to epitomize a nostalgic image of rustic charm, a lost English Eden; the very antithesis of movement. But it can also be read as an example of how vessels carry meaning in addition to their more obvious function. The form, capacity and decoration of these jugs are not arbitrary but a response to late seventeenth and early eighteenth century agricultural practices in that part of England. In due course the mechanization of both potting and farming rendered their production and use redundant. These jugs speak of a particular place as well as a specific time. They reflect the geology of the area, a geology that determines both crops and pots. The pots are made from iron rich plastic earthenware known as Fremington. It is thought that many millennia ago an iceberg deposited this clay; interestingly it has an almost identical chemical


signature to clay found in Norway. This dark firing body contrasts with the creamy ball clays used as slip found in many other parts of Devon that enabled the local potters to decorate their work with relatively complex drawings. They are images rich in the iconography of a rural peasant community. They celebrate harvest with images of sun and corn, decoration that compliments the jug’s utilitarian function; to slake the thirst, the unromantic thirst of insecure, backbreaking agricultural labour. In its production and use the jug engages with a language that would have been understood by both maker and consumer representing hard labour, skill and pleasure. The philosopher Martin Heidegger also chooses a jug to illustrate the nature of things. He describes how our understanding of what a jug is goes much deeper than its appearance. A kind of provisional space, a chora. Through use it establishes connectedness. Wine (or cider) that the jug may hold links us to the fruit and its plant, and this to the sun and soil. The jug receives, holds, and distributes the drink we enjoy together. It is a tool of social intercourse. Such thoughts seem appropriate when appreciating Bowen’s work. Bowen makes jugs. He also makes plates, dishes, mugs, teapots, and storage jars; in fact a range of domestic pottery that is just as necessary to life today as it was two hundred years ago. He has been making most of these forms throughout his career. The forms have changed little during that time and are similar to English pots made from the middle ages onwards. But the tradition is not so much in the similarity of shape as in the energetic response to basic human needs: to eat, to drink, to share; something, if we live in the moment, that remains fresh and


instinctive. We may no longer gather in the harvest as a community but we do still need to celebrate as social groups, to communicate with sensitivity and intuition. The bodies of these pots are not just a metaphor for our own physical selves, but the corpus that is our community; something that still requires to be given form. Natasha Daintry encapsulates this when she wrote quite recently, …attending to the physicality of things has the effect of locating you in the world and connecting you to your own physicality. It is in this context that Bowen’s work seems most at ease. Clive Bowen also uses Fremington clay (although the supply is threatened due to the failure of the company who own the pit). The slips are all made from deposits of ball clay found locally around Bowen’s north Devon pottery. In a material sense then Bowen’s pots represent a continuum; they are of the same geological, and a similar topographic, landscape as the harvest jugs, if not the same social landscape. The decoration may be made with the same palette used by potters in the West Country over hundreds of years but Bowen’s relationship to this is complex and layered. Slip is dipped, trailed and splashed with a material sensibility that has its roots in the past but belongs very much to our time. Wet slip is combed with fingertips, a technique found in many cultures from Bideford to Beijing but one that expresses Bowen’s delight and fascination with the medium rather than deference to any specific culture. Bowen’s slip trailing sometimes has a physical exuberance that is very different in appearance and spirit from the pictorial imagery or controlled geometric abstraction of much historical English slipware. At other times Bowen happily borrows from the past but more with a sense of enjoyment in the process than fidelity to the subject. As Cardew wrote in the 1962


exhibition catalogue for Michael Cardew and Pupils, Style in all arts springs as much out of material techniques as from national character. There is a quality of wholeness in Bowen’s pots. They stand as complete entities yet the components: the lid, handle and spout of teapots for example are convincing as independent elements that make up the whole. Lids for jars can be firmly grasped but clearly belong when returned to their place. The combination of Bowen’s powerful instinct for form and joy in materials produces pots that enrich the domestic context. Dishes, too big for everyday use, decorate the dresser waiting for an appropriate occasion. This visual function is enhanced when put to utilitarian use: food enriches the ceramic decoration; the pots enhance the food’s flavour. After use the dish is returned to the dresser and acts as a memory of some happy occasion. The pleasure of feasting is as much in the imagination as in the mouth. Perhaps this thingness, this connectedness, is why Bowen’s pots have been so well received in Japan. Three exhibitions this year sold out shortly after opening, a major accolade in a country where pottery is held in such high regard. The Shinto religion, with its appreciation of natural forces and sensitivity to the essence within things may enable the Japanese to particularly appreciate Bowen’s powerful yet unassuming work. Although this was Bowen’s first visit to Japan his reputation as a potter has led in the past to many invitations to work, as well as exhibit, overseas. His approach to work then is not the product of a sheltered rural existence. His exposure to other cultures may tempt him from time to time to try other types of pottery but ultimately it seems to reinforce his longterm relationship with earthenware clay.


The work in this exhibition has all been made since Bowen’s return from Japan. It may be unwise to link this experience to particular pieces but there does seem to be a greater sense of restraint in some of the work with less use of colour than his 2006 exhibition at Goldmark Gallery. A group of dishes, their surface simply divided into three by dipped slip, leaving a central section bare, feels very Japanese in spirit. Some of the slip trailing has a quality that evokes, rather than resembles, Japanese calligraphy and there is some sgraffito decoration on a number of jars and bottles that suggests an interpretation of specific Japanese characters. Some of the forms, such as rectangular dishes made from opened thrown cylinders, are a direct use of an oriental making technique. At first these give an eclectic feel to the show; the exuberant next to the understated, the abstract with the pictorial, but as a body of work they might be best understood as some large extended family with many familiar faces as well as newcomers. The overall impression however is not so much that we are being offered new forms or new decoration but a heightened sense of play. It is as if Japan has given him renewed confidence in what he already knows and what he seeks to explore. The work of an artist that is at ease with his medium and himself. Although Bowen’s work has been remarkably consistent over the last forty years, perceptions of it have changed. Workshops like Bowen’s began to burgeon in the 1950’s. The final chapter of Leach’s A Potters Book first published in 1939 promised a lifestyle of honest simplicity and purpose that must have been particularly appealing to post-war Britain. Following the industrial killing of WW2 the handmade was seen as a humanising force. Up to this point the teaching of craft pottery had been restricted to a few


independent progressive schools who considered that the activity developed the whole person, balancing head, hand and heart. But now this desirable attribute was to be available to all through state education and affordable pots. In the 1960s this idealism had shifted as the impossibility of supplying the population by hand production became all too obvious as well as the practical problems of teaching grass roots pottery to large classes in urban schools. The latter turned to decorative vessels and ceramic sculpture using industrially prepared clay while handmade pots using found unprocessed materials became associated with alternative lifestyles, particularly rural self-sufficiency. At the time Bowen started his pottery at Shebbear rural property was still affordable and very available, with small farms closing down under the combined impact of rising fuel costs and cheap imported food. It was not long after however, before social and economic conditions changed ceramic art from a rural to an urban activity. At the beginning Bowen produced domestic ware fired with wood in a relatively small kiln. After a few years he built a much larger one based on the updraft kiln of Michael Cardew at Wenford Bridge. This kiln has served him since, allowing a less frenetic making cycle more in harmony with the slow drying and firing that earthenware (and the West Country weather) necessitates. This kind of enterprise has to be rooted in the landscape in a way that is incompatible with so much modern living with our transitory relationship with place. The kiln is a substantial piece of architecture, not a bit of mobile kit. It depends on an infrastructure of the local economy to supply inexpensive fuel. Successful firing requires an intimate knowledge of the variables of natural materials: clay, wood, wind... Such things require a settled existence. Although the pottery had to operate as a business Bowen’s


individual artistic sensibility was evidenced in the work from the beginning. Despite upheavals in our economy, significant growth in Chinese imports and changes in fashion for a more urban aesthetic, Bowen has remained true to his instincts. His work now has a quality that is only found when a lifetime has been devoted to practice; where the clay has formed the man as much as the man, the clay. In many ways Bowen’s work is as much a product of time and place as the eighteenth century harvest jugs. Both are of the stuff of landscape and are formed by it. Both have the quality of instinctive making that Hammond identifies as belonging to tradition. Bowen’s work is direct, poetic, even idealistic. It has a personal signature in which a host of values and ideas are embedded that make it unmistakably contemporary. But like the unknown makers of the harvest jugs, Bowen has sustained a conviction of engagement throughout his career that produces work of a quality and power that, although rooted, paradoxically transcends the time and place in which it was made; and, ultimately, the individual who has made it. Sebastian Blackie is a ceramic artist. Author of Dear Mr Leach, A&C Black, and Professor of Ceramics at the University of Derby, where he runs a Masters in Art and Design.













































































101,99, 103,100





Illustrated Pots

All sizes in cm

1. Large Slab Platter. Black & gold with slip trail

9.0 x 75.0

2. Large Round Platter. Black & gold

8.5 x 53.0

3. Large Square Dish. Yellow & black with green trail

9.0 x 42.0

5. Giant Bowl. Yellow & black with green trail

21.5 x 44.0

6. Tall Bottle. Black & gold

56.0 x 20.0

7. Tall Bottle. Black & gold

55.0 x 19.5

8. Large Bottle. Black with gold trail

53.0 x 38.0

9. Large Bottle. Black with gold trail

54.0 x 32.0

10. Giant Lidded Jar. Black with gold trail

54.0 x 36.0

11. Lidded Jar with Handles. Yellow with green medallions

52.0 x 36.0

12. Lidded Jar with Handles. Yellow with green medallions

35.0 x 26.0

13. Large Mediaeval Jug. Green with medallions

55.0 x 23.0

14. Mediaeval Jug. Gold with green medallions

44.0 x 19.0

15. Mediaeval Jug. Black & yellow

31.0 x 16.0

16. Small Mediaeval Jug. Green with black trail

23.0 x 14.5

17. Small Mediaeval Jug. Gold with black trail

20.0 x 13.5

19. Large Round Flask. Black with yellow slip trailed fish

31.5 x 31.5

20. Large Flask. Black & gold, inscribed pattern on shoulders 34.0 x 33.0 21. Small Flask. Black & gold

22.0 x 21.5

22. Small Flask. Black & gold

22.0 x 21.5

23. Tall Round Flask. Gold with black slip pattern

26.0 x 19.5

24. Shallow Rectangular Dish. Black with gold trail

6.0 x 41.0

26. Large Jug. Black with gold trail

47.0 x 31.0

29. Jug. Green with yellow & black trail

31.5 x 22.0

30. Jug. Black & gold with slip trail

30.5 x 21.0

31. Jug. Gold with green trail

32.0 x 21.0

32. Jug. Black with yellow trail

28.0 x 19.0

33. Jug. Gold with green trail

27.5 x 19.0

34. Jug. Black & gold

26.0 x 18.0

36. Two Pint Jug. Green with slip trail

20.5 x 17.5

39. Small Jug. Black with gold trail

16.0 x 15.0

41. Small Jug. Gold with green trail

16.0 x 15.0

42. Small Jug. Black & gold with gold trail

16.0 x 15.0

43. Store Jar. Yellow with sgraffito fish & prawn

37.0 x 27.0



44. Store Jar. Yellow with sgraffito fish & prawn

30.0 x 23.0

46. Store Jar. Yellow with green trail

30.5 x 22.5

48. Store Jar. Gold with green trail

21.0 x 16.0

50. Store Jar. Gold with sgraffito fish & prawn

22.0 x 17.5

54. Tall Store Jar. Green & yellow poured slip

31.0 x 17.0

55. Tall Store Jar. Green & yellow poured slip

31.5 x 17.0

56. Tall Store Jar. Green & yellow poured slip

32.0 x 18.0

57. Flat Lidded Storage Jar. Gold with green trail

20.0 x 14.0

58. Small Flat Lidded Storage Jar. Black & gold

15.0 x 11.0

59. Small Flat Lidded Storage Jar. Gold with black & green trail 15.5 x 11.0 60. Shallow Oval Dish. Black with gold trail

5.0 x 39.0

61. Shallow Oval Dish. Gold with black combing

5.0 x 39.0

62. Shallow Oval Dish. Yellow with black combing

5.0 x 39.0

63. Bowl. Black & yellow with black & yellow trail

16.0 x 38.0

64. Bowl. Black & gold with gold trail

15.0 x 38.0

65. Bowl. Black & gold with green trail

17.0 x 34.0

68. Bowl. Black & gold with green trail & combing

13.0 x 22.0

69. Bowl. Black & gold with green trail & combing

13.0 x 22.0

70. Bowl. Black & gold with green trail & combing

13.5 x 22.0

71. Set of Six Bowls. Black & gold with green trail

7.0 x 16.0

72. Tea Caddy. Black with gold trail

16.5 x 9.0

73. Tea Caddy. Yellow with green trail

15.5 x 9.0



74. Tea Caddy. Yellow & green

16.0 x 9.0

75. Square Dish. Black, yellow & green

4.0 x 27.0

76. Square Dish. Black, yellow & green

3.0 x 27.0

78. Square Dish. Black, yellow & green

3.5 x 27.0

80. Plate. Black & yellow with yellow trail

5.0 x 30.0

81. Plate. Black & yellow with yellow trail

5.0 x 30.5

83. Platter. Black & gold with gold trail

6.0 x 38.5

84. Platter. Yellow with brown & green slip

5.0 x 31.0

85. Raised Rectangular Dish. Gold & green

4.0 x 35.5

86. Raised Rectangular Dish. Black & gold

3.5 x 35.0

87. Long Platter. Black & gold

4.5 x 67.0

89. Bowl. Black & gold with combing

7.5 x 21.0

90. Bowl. Gold with black combing

8.0 x 20.5

91. Bowl. Black with gold trail

7.5 x 21.0

92. Bowl. Black & yellow with yellow trail

8.0 x 21.5

93. Bowl. Black & yellow with yellow trail

8.0 x 21.0

94. Square Dish. Black & yellow with yellow & green trail

4.0 x 16.5

95. Square Dish. Black & yellow with yellow & green trail

4.0 x 16.5

96. Square Dish. Black & yellow

4.0 x 16.5

98. Square Dish. Black & yellow

4.0 x 16.5

99. Square Dish. Black & yellow with yellow & green trail 100. Square Dish. Black & yellow with yellow trail


3.0 x 14.5 3.0 x 14.5



101. Square Dish. Black & yellow with yellow trail

3.0 x 14.5

103. Square Dish. Black & yellow with yellow trail

3.0 x 14.5

104. Set of Six Large Side Plates. Black & yellow

2.5 x 23.0

107. Rectangular Dish. Black with gold trail

4.5 x 21.5

109. Rectangular Dish. Black with gold trail

4.5 x 21.5

111. Teapot. Gold with green trail

18.5 x 24.0

112. Teapot. Black with gold trail

19.5 x 25.5

113. Teapot. Green with black trail

18.5 x 25.0

114. Teapot. Black with gold trail

15.0 x 21.0

115. Teapot. Gold with green trail

16.0 x 21.0

116. Teapot. Green with yellow trail

15.0 x 20.5

117. Drinking Bowl. Gold with green trail

9.5 x 11.5

118. Drinking Bowl. Yellow with green trail

9.5 x 11.0

119. Drinking Bowl. Green & gold

9.0 x 10.5

120. Drinking Bowl. Green & gold with inscribed pattern

9.5 x 10.5

121. Drinking Bowl. Green

8.5 x 11.5

122. Drinking Bowl. Green & yellow

9.0 x 11.5

123. Drinking Bowl. Green with black rim

9.5 x 11.0

124. Drinking Bowl. Black & gold with green trail

9.0 x 11.0

125. Drinking Bowl. Gold with green & black trail

9.5 x 11.0

126. Bottle. Black & gold

56.0 x 33.0

127. Bottle. Gold with green trail

55.5 x 29.5

128. Giant Jug. Gold with green trail

46.0 x 32.0

131. Mediaeval Jug. Green & cream with black trail

33.5 x 19.0

135. Mediaeval Jug. Cream with green trail

40.0 x 20.0

136. Store Jar. Black with yellow trail

35.5 x 25.0

144. Set of Six Handled Soup Bowls. Green & cream

8.0 x 13.5

148. Teapot. Cream with green trail

19.0 x 24.5

177. Decorated Tile. Black with gold slip cockerel decoration

15.0 x 15.0

178. Decorated Tile. Black with gold trail

15.0 x 15.0

179. Decorated Tile. Black with green & gold slip decoration

15.0 x 15.0

180. Decorated Tile. Gold with green slip plant decoration

15.0 x 15.0

181. Decorated Tile. Gold with green slip fish decoration

15.0 x 15.0

182. Decorated Tile. Gold with black & green slip decoration

15.0 x 15.0

194. Small Mediaeval Jug. Green with black trail

21.0 x 15.5



94,96, 98,95


Selected Exhibitions 1991

Solo Exhibition - Contemporary Applied Arts, London British Council Tour - India and Malaysia


Form and Function - Contemporary Applied Arts, London


Clive Bowen and Michael Rothenstein - Oxford Gallery


Solo Showcase - Tate Gallery, St Ives

Solo Exhibition - Contemporary Ceramics, London Objects of Our Time - Crafts Council, London Solo Exhibition - The Harley Gallery 1997

Time for Tea - British Council, South America Solo Exhibition - Dartington, Devon


20th Century Studio Ceramics - Israel A View of Clay - Contemporary Applied Arts, London


Still Life - Contemporary Applied Arts, London Solo Exhibition - Oxford Gallery History and Invention - Australia (Contemporary Ceramics)


Contemporary Ceramics - British Council, Brazil


Solo Exhibition - Galerie Besson, London


Solo Exhibition - Rufford Crafts Centre


Solo Exhibition - Beardsmore Gallery, London

British Contemporary Ceramics, Denmark

Table Manners - Crafts Council Gallery, London Solo Showcase - Contemporary Applied Arts, London 2005

Functional Form Now - Galerie Besson, London


Solo Exhibition - Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham Solo Exhibition - Contemporary Ceramics, London


The Pot, the Vessel and the Object, 50 Years of Change and Diversity in the Craft Potters Association - Aberystwyth and touring A Celebration of Slipware - Long Room Gallery, Winchcombe Joint Exhibition with Kouichi Uchida - Gallery St Ives, Tokyo


Solo Exhibition - The Octagon, Whichford Pottery, Warwickshire


Solo Showcase - Mashiko Museum of Ceramics, Japan


Joint exhibition with Masaaki Shibata - Gallery St Ives, Tokyo and Shikama Fine Art, Kyoto Tableware - Rex Irwin Fine Art, Sydney, Australia Slipware - Leach Museum, St Ives Solo Exhibition - Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham



Collections Victoria and Albert Museum

Liverpool Museum

National Museum of Wales

Stoke on Trent City Museum

Ulster Museum

Winnipeg Art Gallery, Canada

Crafts Council Collection

Mingeikan, Tokyo

York City Art Gallery

Mashiko Museum of Ceramics, Japan

Exeter Museum

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Nottingham Museum

Articles and Publications Emmanuel Cooper, Beginning to Lose Your Tail, CERAMIC REVIEW, Sept/Oct 1991 Alison Britton,

Clive Bowen Exhibition Notes, Contemporary Applied Arts 1991

Eileen Lewenstein, CRAFTS, Jan/Feb 1992 Paul Vincent,


Anne Boston,

The Master Potter, COUNTRY LIVING, November 1996

Alan Powers,

Still Small Voice, CRAFTS, July/August 1997

David Whiting,

Sources of Inspiration: Clive Bowen, CRAFTS, Jan/Feb 2002

The Beauty of Craft, RESURGENCE, Craft Anthology David Whiting,


Television The Great Picture Chase with Kate Adie choosing ceramics for the BBC collection

178,181, 180,179, 177,182

Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham, Rutland, LE15 9SQ 01572 821424 Text © Sebastian Blackie 2009 Photographs © Jay Goldmark Design Porter / Goldmark ISBN

978-1-870507-62-2 2009

GOLDMARK CERAMICS MONOGRAPHS 1 Phil Rogers New Pots 2005 2 Clive Bowen New Pots 2006 3 Lisa Hammond New Pots 2006 4 Mike Dodd Recent Pots 2007 5 Ken Matsuzaki (2007) Thirty Years of a Living Tradition 6 Svend Bayer (2007) New Pots 7 Jim Malone (2008) The Pursuit of Beauty 8 Phil Rogers (2008) A Potter of our Time 9 Lisa Hammond (2009) Unconscious Revelation 10 Ken Matsuzaki New Pots 2009 11 Mike Dodd New Pots 2009 12 Clive Bowen New Pots 2009

GOLDMARK CERAMICS FILMS 1 Phil Rogers A Passion For Pots 2 Ken Matsuzaki Elemental

For further details or to order any of the above visit or phone 01572 821424

65 Goldmark Gallery Uppingham Rutland LE15 9SQ England 66

Clive Bowen - Ceramics 2009  

A 64 page fully illustrated monograph on the work of Clive Bowen, with essay by Sebastian Blackie