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Potter of the Month (Jan-March 19) - John Mathieson

1. What general skills & techniques do you use? (e.g. throwing etc)

 

All my work is thrown, usually one-off pieces made to a theme, for example bottles, all different, with the challenge being to decorate them individually. Occasionally I make domestic ware. 

 

 

 

2. Tell us a bit about your experience and knowledge:

 

Whilst teaching in London in the early seventies I used to meet Esmé from her pottery evening class in North Kensington – we lived near Portobello Road. I joined the class for purely social reasons in September, and was immediately and totally captivated by clay. I went to the class several nights every week, and to Sir John Cass College on Saturdays. On a learning curve which continues to this day, I was teaching ceramics and art at secondary level in Northampton less than a year later. Ten years further on I was given secondment to study for a degree (my original teaching qualifications were in Environmental Science). Since leaving full-time teaching I have worked in a college, continued to teach evening classes until recently, but my most enjoyable appointment was in a prison.

 

The first pottery I ever visited was Peter Dick’s in Coxwold, North Yorkshire; I consider him to be the most under-rated potter this country has produced. He was taught by Michael Cardew, and that lineage, of Cardew and Bernard Leach, is very much my own.  My influences are a mix of English and Far Eastern ceramics, but never imitated – I’ve made perhaps six copies in my life, and that was in order to understand the processes involved, eg. throwing and expanding a cut-sided jar. I love slipware, especially the work of Clive Bowen, Richard Phethean, Patia Davies and Niek Hoogland, makers with a contemporary approach. Potters working in stoneware and porcelain who I admire include Jim Malone, Richard Batterham, John Jelfs and Richard Heeley.  

 

I study ceramics I like and absorb the influences, hopefully by the time those influences migrate into my pots they have blended with my way of working. And I confess to an obsession with teabowls, which seem to me to be small sculptures with infinite variety on a human scale. 

 

 

 

3. Explain your work 

 

a. Processes involved e.g. clays used, firing range etc 

 

I use two wheels, a Shimpo mainly for porcelain (Valentine’s Audrey Blackman body), and a slow Leach kick wheel for stoneware (using a medium texture clay that toasts well in the reduction firing). The Leach wheel I compare to a fine musical instrument, you have to explore its qualities and coax the clay. I like to leave some mark of the maker’s hands, some evidence of the processes used.

 

I use what I refer to as ‘splash decoration’, spraying a contrasting oxide mixture (basically 4:1 iron/cobalt) onto the glaze using a slip-trailer. Way back, before showers had been invented, I was cleaning the bath and making patterns with Jiff and thought, I could use this on a pot. I tried it the next day and it worked. Of course, I soon discovered that the Chinese and Japanese have been using this technique for centuries, but for a day it was my own invention. 

 

My daughter Sarah brought a beautiful polished blue-green azurite stone from Peru which got broken – I was given the crumbs. I occasionally impress pinhead-sized pieces of this into porcelain; with its high copper content it gives a gun-metal black dot with a surrounding red blush.  

 

Work is biscuit fired in a Laser kiln using propane to 980º Celsius, glazed with celadon, ash, tenmoku, talc, shino, and recently the Leach 4-3-2-1, then reduction-fired to cone 11 just starting to bend. There is a test or experiment in every kiln I fire. I estimate that I’ve done over twelve thousand firings, mostly electric in schools. My contribution to global warming.

 

What are your future ambitions?

 

To make good pots! To improve my work, to make it looser, and above all to ensure that it continues to evolve.

 

 

 

 

John Mathieson

 

50 Ridgeway, Weston Favell, Northampton NN3 3AN

 

Tel: 01604 409942

 

e-mail: jemathieson@talktalk.net

 

Author of ‘Raku’and ‘Techniques Using Slips’, both published by Bloomsbury.

 

Selected Member of the Craft Potters Association

 

 

Website: http://www.studiopottery.co.uk/profile/John/Mathieson

View John Mathieson's gallery

Visit their website: http://www.studiopottery.co.uk/profile/John/Mathieson