Porcelain, blah, blah, blah!

Not all porcelain is white.

The countryside around Mittagong is one of the few places where native porcelain stone occurs. 15 years ago, I discovered porcelain stone and it has enabled me to develop my wood fired porcelain and proto-porcelains made from this native rock. They aren’t the most translucent or the whitest of porcelains. But they are mine. I’m not pretending that just because I dig the stuff up, it makes for good pots. Good pots are made by good potters, by skill, judgement, intuition and innate ability, coupled with loads of practice. The ‘stuff’ doesn’t necessarily come into it. I’m not a good potter, but I enjoy what I do, and sometimes I think that I’m getting better, as some of my pots turn out to be quite lovely. But only some. There is still a lot of luck involved.

During the development of this work it became obvious to me that if I wanted this ground-up rock to have any sort of plasticity. It would need to be aged for several years. I set about doing this in ernest, over a decade ago.

This work is my attempt to produce a local product. Something that has all-but disappeared from Australian and other first-world economies in recent years. This work, with all its limitations and faults, and all its local character, can be described using the French word, ‘terroir’ that expresses some of this unique quality of ‘locality’.

The search for a personal aesthetic based on the essence of my locality and life experience is also the search for the essence of the potter. This is such an unpopular and old-fashioned concept, but I believe that this work grows out of the fact that I have lived and worked here for over 40 years. I’ve walked a lot of this country. I’m assuming that this is not an issue for most other potters, but it is for me. I exist and work, intimately connected to this place where I live.

I am a ceramic lacavore, I have chosen to limit myself to the 50 km palette of materials. I grow a lot of my own wood. I make the fire bricks for my kiln by hand, from local refractory white bauxite. My glazes are made from the porcelain stone or other local igneous rocks, shales, gravels and ashes, all crushed, processed and milled in my workshop inefficiently, in small batches often by hand, in a workshop built by my partner Janine and myself from mud bricks that we made from local clay. We also grow all our own green food in our extensive vegetable gardens and orchards.

It couldn’t be more wholesome, corny, or sickeningly idyllic. Homespun, organic and self-reliant as it all is, it is not for everyone, in fact, it’s most likely not for anyone these days. The sixties are over! But it suits me, someone who still believes in romance, passion and ideals. I’m firmly rooted in the  truth, i.e. (pre)post-truth era!

Many potters these days love to use the international, trans-global, ultra-white, concoctions of porcelains. These ‘international roast’ of clay bodies. They are very good! So white! But a lot of the work starts to look a bit the same for it. One local show of porcelain was apparently described as just so much ‘blah, blah, blah!’ recently, I wasn’t there, but I think that I know what one of those ‘blah’s might mean. One gallery director said that any work that values the material that it is made from or the method of its making can never be considered as Art.

Fair enough, I call myself ‘potter’, not artist, just a person revelling in the innate qualities of my own unique, wood fired, local porcelain stone. The wood firing draws out some unusual and interesting surfaces, not normally identified as those of porcelain. So what is porcelain anyway? Seeing that it is concerned with material ‘stuff’, it can’t be Art. The Orientals would have us think that it is all about the sound, what one hears when a porcelain bowl is struck. So, therefore its all about glaze fit. I don’t mind a bit of crazing, in fact I quite like it. So my work doesn’t always ‘ring’. One definition involves light shining through the thin sections. So that’s translucency. However, most people would think of the supreme whiteness, but porcelain isn’t always white, mine certainly isn’t. My pots don’t always ring and they don’t always show light through either. So my work only contains a bit of ‘blah’! Maybe it’s not porcelain?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really know what defines porcelain. What I do know is, that whatever it is that I’m crafting here in my pottery through old fashioned techniques and lots of attention to detail, but mostly a lot of time. It ends up having some lovely qualities that I can’t seem to achieve any other way.

It’s mine, it’s local, it’s ethically sourced, it’s low carbon, it’s pretty much unique to here and I love it. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

What else do I need to know?

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