Wed, Dec 01, 2010 - Page 14 News List

Accidentally on purpose

Ceramicist Jack Doherty uses trial and error to hone his technique down to the barest essentials

By Catherine Shu  /  Staff Reporter

The textures of Jack Doherty’s porcelain pottery are created with found objects like broken sword blades.

Photos courtesy of The Steven Leach Group

Among artists, ceramicists have perhaps the most intimate connection with their material. Every touch of their fingers is recorded on the clay as it turns on a wheel; one mistake during firing and their work is ruined. But Irish artist Jack Doherty relishes the process’ unpredictability.

“It’s about reducing what I do to the simplest thing. It’s a combination of each thing that leads to the results,” said Doherty. “The throwing will leave marks, the firing will leave behind its mark.”

Pure Simplicity, an exhibition of Doherty’s work, opened yesterday at the National Taipei University of Education (國立臺北教育大學) and will run through Saturday.

Doherty is the director of Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall, England, which was founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach, considered one of the most influential ceramicists of the 20th century. Leach grew up in Hong Kong and eventually settled in Japan, where his grandparents were missionaries. There he first encountered the work of Ogata Kenzan, considered Japan’s most important potter. Later he moved to England, accompanied by Japanese ceramicist Shoji Hamada, and founded Leach Pottery. In addition to Leach’s ceramic art, Leach Pottery became famous for its “standard ware,” or dishware meant for everyday use that features Leach’s signature organic textures, earth tones and simple, graceful silhouettes inspired by Japanese pottery and aesthetic traditions.

Leach was also influenced by the tenets of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

“William Morris was a big inspiration to Leach,” said Doherty. “He was reacting against what was happening with the industrial revolution at that point and how he felt individual people were being destroyed by the increase in industry.”

Exhibition Notes:

What: Jack Doherty — Pure Simplicity

When: Until Saturday. Open daily from 10am to 7pm

Where: National Taipei University of Education Fine Arts Building (國立臺北教育大學藝術館), 134, Heping E Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市和平東路二段134號), tel: (02) 2732-1104 X3401. Gallery is on the second floor

On the Net:

Admission: Free

National Taipei University of Education arts professor Lo Sunhat (羅森豪), who helped organize the exhibit, says he was influenced by Leach’s pottery as a young ceramics student and excited to see Doherty’s work.

“I consider him Leach’s creative heir,” said Lo.

While Doherty shies away from the comparison, his own pottery also emphasizes a deep involvement with and understanding of his material. Deceptively simple at first glance, the complexity of Doherty’s ceramics reveals itself upon closer inspection. Most of his work is made from porcelain, and as Doherty throws each piece on a potter’s wheel, he uses found items like cookie cutters and broken sword blades, as well as his hands, to mark the surface. The work is finished with soda glazing and years of experimentation have resulted in the unique colors that are one of Doherty’s aesthetic signatures. Warm beiges and earth tones shift into verdigris green and turquoise, which glow on top of the porcelain’s white surface. Textures range from smooth to rough and sandy.

Doherty began using soda glazing in lieu of conventional glazes because the latter result in a glassy surface that he feels undermines the tactile nature of his pottery.

The variations in color and texture depend on how sodium vapors introduced into the kiln at semi-regular intervals hit the pottery during the firing process. The results are never predictable.

“I love trial and error. I love working with instinct,” said Doherty.

He cites modernist potters Lucie Rie and Hans Coper as inspirations. As an art student in Belfast, Doherty originally planned to become a painter. After switching his concentration to pottery, Doherty struggled to connect with his new medium until visiting Rie’s studio in London, where the Austrian potter had displayed some of Leach and Hamada’s work in addition to her own pieces.

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