what makes a good pot // thoughts of a potter // Doug Fitch
[C] What makes a good pot?
[DF] What makes a good pot. Right. Well, I guess lots of people would say different things. For me, it’s all about its form and the curves being in the right place. So, take a jug for example, which is my favourite thing to make. It should have a foot of a certain width, which should be in proportion to its height and then have curves which deviate in the right places. Well yeah, that’s what makes a good pot, all the curves have to be in the right places.
[C] You mentioned that a jug is your favourite thing to make. Why is that?
[DF] I don’t know, I really don’t know. It’s always the challenge to make the best jug that I’ve ever made. I suppose the fact that its symmetrical in one plane but not in another. It’s always a form that I’ve tried to master and I suppose I’m still striving to. Once I sus that I might make bowls. [ DF has worked with clay since 1983]
[C] So, what originally drew you to becoming an artist who works with clay? How did that come about?
[DF] Well, two things really. There’s one reason I wanted to become a potter and there’s another reason I decided to make the kinds of pots I now make. I wanted to become a potter because I went to a pottery in the Cotswolds [Winchcombe Pottery] and met a chap called Eddie Hopkins, who’s sadly long gone [1941-2007]. Anyway, Eddie Hopkins was the main production thrower. It was whilst I was doing an Art Foundation course and at that point I wanted to be a painter. We had gone on this trip and been to a factory in the morning. I thought it was awful. It was just not what I wanted to do and I thought I just don’t want to end up in a factory like this. In the afternoon we went to this pottery, it focused on craft pottery and this chap was sat there making jugs, talking about form, talking about curves, talking about where he was putting certain lines on the pots. He was quite a character and I was just left thinking 'this is what I want to do'.
[C] We’ve talked about what makes a ‘good’ pot, leading on from this would you say it’s important for a pot to go beyond an aesthetic and try to project a certain concept or meaning?
[DF] Certainly, character and humanity in a way in a pot if that’s possible. Certainly, it’s nice to see the maker's hands frozen in there, frozen in clay forever. I mean, the pots I get excited about, the old medieval ones and the older country pots were made very quickly. They had to be made fast enough for people to use them, run the risk of breaking them and then replacing them. To that end they were very cheap. The potter was a peasant, on a low income but greatly skilled, as they had to be able to make a lot of pots very quickly. The marks of the making are clearly visible in the pots, there’s a rhythm to it. You can ‘see’ their hands, you can see how fast the hands have moved across the clay. For me, this speaks of great skill. So those are the types of pots that excite me and there the types of pots I want to make or at least emulate. I wish I had those skills but sadly I never will have. People were much more skilful in those days, they had to be. You had to make things with your hands whereas nowadays there are machines to do everything for you, this makes life lazy.
[C] So, do you personally use any machines?
[DF] I make use of a potter’s wheel. I do have a kick wheel which is operated by foot, but I also have an electric wheel which I guess just makes life easier. I tend to use the electric wheel a lot more these days because I’m getting old, its quicker to use, time is short.
[C] How you say your work has evolved then? Has it been a natural progression, or has it been something which you’ve adapted and moulded over time?
[DF] Every pot that I make is difficult because I’m trying to push it all the time, whether that’s because I’m trying to make it quickly to get those makers marks, trying to get the form right, trying to get the clay right so the balance is good throughout the wall of the pot. I think my work's improved. I see pots that appear on Facebook and stuff which I made years ago, there’s photographs and they’re there for the whole world to see much to my embarrassment. You know, I guess it was the best I could make at the time I suppose. It does evolve, it evolves and improves. I suppose technical skills like firing the kiln improve to as well. Finishes on the pots improve.
[C] So, how do you see ceramics and the making of them within the context of the wider art community? Is it an art form in its own right or is it something which sits within the fine art?
[DF] I think… ‘art’ is very much about fashion and what I do is not fashionable, perhaps that is because I work in a way in which is influenced by medieval pottery. Some people wouldn’t give it a second glance, it’s not new and ground breaking. However, if you’re making a jug you still have all the same consideration as you would with a piece of sculpture. It’s all about form, about balance of form, about the negative space, the space within the handle of the jug and finally how the vessel is going to sit within that space outside of itself. There are all those considerations that a sculptor would make. I don’t think pottery, or at least my work, will ever be in a high art gallery I suppose. I don’t think it works unless you’ve got a concept to go with it. Take someone like Edward de Waal, who would make some very simple pots but he has a concept, the pots are just a tool. That wouldn’t do it for me really.
[C] Would you say your background as a painter is seen within your work now?
[DF] Yes, possibly. I think in the immediacy of the process. When I used to paint it was very direct, very spontaneous, very expressive. Expressive marks are I think what’s seen when I’m working with slip. I try to be expressive. The slip I use to decorate the pots is a liquid and then sets when its fired. Paint is a liquid, it dries. So yeah, I do think they have the same characteristics. I mean I think that’s seen in everything though. I play music as well and I think the kind of music I play has the same characteristics as the types of pots I make. The art forms are linked. My work is not too processed, not overly refined.
[C] Over the last period, there has been an upsurge of interest in pottery as a fine art form. Have you noticed a change?
[DF] Well, there are now museums and galleries that now exhibit pots and there a few contemporary galleries that do. I don’t think it is changing, I think in the 1920s and 30s when Bernard Leach came back from Japan and came back with the concept… I mean up until then there’d been potters who’d been making country pots, jugs to get water from the well and they were like peasant craftsmen. Leach said ‘hang on, hang on, this is art, let's stick it in a gallery’ because that’s very much how it’s considered in Japan, it’s seen as a much higher art form. I suppose people like Grayson Perry and de Waal who are working in that way. The types of pots I make will never be exhibited in that way. I don’t think there’s enough money to be made out of it for galleries. It’s not wholly a money thing, I mean take Grayson Perry, he’s an extraordinarily skilled maker and also an interesting philosopher. That’s why he’s where he is but that’s certainly not the market I’d want to court. At the end of the day gallery owners are in it to make money. I don’t blame them for that, it’s what they have to do. I’m not saying that’s just what it’s about but it certainly is a contributing factor.