The Pot Book
Pottery is a central art, said Gauguin. This visual anthology of 300 ceramic vessels reveals this to be a magnificent truth. Pots are some of the very earliest artefacts created, and the span of our cultures can be traced through bowls and vases, dishes and beakers, made, glazed and decorated with lyricism and with vigour. They have been made to celebrate rituals of birth, marriage and death, and to be part of the rhythm of our solitary and our social times of eating and drinking. This book shows how inexhaustible the vessel has been for potters, sculptors, artists, designers and architects.
Here are objects of the most refined minimalism from over a thousand years ago with profiles of breathtaking clarity and a poise that seems to belong to our contemporary world. And here are pots in which the potter has just gone on- and on. The dish of Palissy with its teeming visual life has kinship with the the pots of George Ohr three hundred years later, or with Grayson Perry today. They all celebrate the art of brinkmanship, of pushing clay and decoration near to the point of collapse.
There are pots in this book that show the movement of clay, where markings into the surface when it was still wet reveal the traces of the hand of the potter.There are others where you can see the marks of the violence of flames in the firing in the kiln. These ceramics seem to explore the elemental nature of clay and fire.
There are wine-cups made for emperors and porcelain palaces made for despots. But there are also fierce revolutionary trophies for Bolsheviks, propoganda plates for Chinese Communists and cheap stacking dishes for the Swedish working poor. There are ceramic vessels that challenge the status quo, and pots made for the tea table. Pots have been co-opted to be part of radical design movements from Biedermier in the nineteenth century, to the Bauhaus in the twentieth century and Hella Jongerius now.
You will also find pots here that have been decorated by artists and poets. Pottery has been irresistable for painters from the great Exesias of Greece through the Renaissance to the Cobra movement of the 1960s: with a vessel you can tell stories in three dimensions. And there is a delicate thread of writing running through this book too. Look at the bowls from Iraq and the dish of Ogata Kenzan from seventeenth-century Japan.
The Pot Book does not pretend to be comprehensive. The vessels have been selected because they are beautiful and intriguing, not because they are representative. Each entry is sequenced in alphabetical order by the name of the artist/potter, the school, or the style. This allows for some wonderful serendipitous juxtapositions.
If we cannot pick these vessels up and turn them in our hands, feel their weight and balance and texture, at least we can take this grand tour of the very finest examples of this central artform.
Phaidon, London, 2011