A life that led to pots

Today I will stay home and try to write a few words about the pots and I how I came to be making them, but the truth is I’d rather let the pots speak for themselves and spend my day in the studio with the clay. Words and I have a history. They were once my medium in the days when I used to make radio programmes at the BBC Natural History Unit.

Alongside the film makers we radio makers dedicated ourselves to sharing the stories and the beauty of Nature, but over many years I became aware of a gap left by both the words and the pictures.  For all the creativity and artistry, nothing could elicit in the listener what I loved most about the natural world, that quiet sense of presence that comes from stopping for a moment and inhaling the essence of a wild place – the experience of simply being in Nature. I could talk about it, but I couldn’t evoke the same feeling for the listener, and that was increasingly what I wanted to do. So with gratitude for many wonderful times and great admiration for the wordsmiths and film-makers I began to explore other media.

gs with monarch butterflies for BBC Radio. Mexico 2008

After radio I retrained and made landscape-inspired furniture for a living and landscape paintings for myself. The underlying question behind both was whether I could simplify what I saw in the natural world into abstract forms and images that would do a better job than words of conveying the peace of being in nature.

landscape cabinet. painted ply, English ash gs 2015
a bowl of water and light. acrylics on canvas. gs 2017

Looking back I would say… maybe… sometimes.  I had fun and I still like some of the work, but the obsessive focus on sharing “my” experience had become painfully introspective and intense and had replaced the simple pleasure of being in nature – the very thing I wanted to share. 

Then, thanks to some alchemical combination of Yorkshire Dales, Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures, Sean Scully’s paintings, and an urge that came from who knows where.. along came clay.

Before long I had a bag of buff stoneware and a borrowed kiln and I began making pots.  It was like coming home.  Clay calmed my mind, delighted my hands, and made visceral sense to me. The slowness of hand building gave time for an idea to grow and develop, and the forms of the pots seemed to emerge from my experiences of the natural world without effort or intension or obsession.  

first coil-built pot. buff stoneware and oxides. gs 2018

Since then there have been many experiments with forms, clays, slips and glazes.  I moved from making at home to a shared studio and now to a studio of my own. I think the work will always evolve. I’m not good at repetition and there are always new ideas and possibilities that it is my nature to explore.  But by letting the work happen more of its own accord, by making for the love of making rather than with some intension to communicate, and by letting my hands and mind do more of what is natural to them I find qualities that connect the pots to each other and to the creative past… shapes and surfaces that hark back to the painting and furniture days, and ways of working and observing that began during the radio days.

pebble forms. stoneware, oxide slip, tin glaze. gs 2022

 

So for me the pots are a wordless expression of a life of nature-inspired creativity.  On a good day I take myself to the studio, the clay brings its potential, some recent experience or found object triggers an idea, and together we dance a dance of animate and inanimate, internal and external, of suggesting and responding, shaping and listening, and all with that quiet sense of presence that can be found, I now realise, not just in nature, but also in the moment of making.  So what I once tried to express through the work I now find at the heart of the making process.  

I hope you enjoy the results. Maybe they’ll speak to you, but these days, happily for me, what they say is out of my hands.

gs inits on website cream