Paul Philp, Large Stoneware Vessel 1998
PAUL PHILP Introduction I often wonder, after many a break, sometimes of several years duration, why I have returned to ceramics. The answer is that I find the ceramic process endlessly fascinating and challenging in spite of, at times, heartbreaking disappointments. I have in mind rugged eroded surfaces, megaliths, fossils, ancient encrusted marbles and something of the quality of early Japanese ceramics Shigaraki and Iga ware. The idea and philosophy behind my work is to produce objects that look as if they have happened by a natural process objects that have been discovered rather than made. In the case of the vessels, I am looking for a timeless quality with a classic simplicity of form. Nature creates such wonderful things with materials that many artists find themselves compelled to emulate her results: I have a flint boulder found on the beach at Charmouth as good as a sculpture by Henry Moore. This would suggest that merely emulating nature is pointless; the Zen approach is to learn from the natural world and create objects that, when subjected to the heat of a kiln, produce something akin to nature without copying it. Technical Notes Ceramic colours are used only with restraint but experiments with different forms of iron, often combined with tin oxide, have resulted in a range of extraordinary deep red surfaces. Because each piece is unique, the number of firings varies as often as five times and up to 1260¡c. Also the traditional order of technical stages is often reversed: slips being applied after biscuit firing not before. In the case of whiteâ bodied vessels the slips are fine and multi-layered giving a depth of colour and tone to the surface; the darkerâ iron based pieces do not require as many slip applications so need fewer firings. Paul does not throw, or use slabs, each piece is built slowly by hand a process which allows the work to evolve naturally. The vessels are finely carved inside and out using Italian plaster-workersâ tools, industrial metal saw blades, homemade implements and various abrasive papers. The texture is an intrinsic element of each object: as much as 50% sand mixed with stoneware clay (often reject clay) and materials are used resulting in multiple impressions and erosions. Porcelains and red clays are used in the same piece, incorporated into the work in such a way that can, because of the different shrinking ratios, cause cracking and fissures. Shell in the sand and other additives melt at high temperatures producing glass-like speckles creating the textured surfaces. Other organic materials pieces of tree bark for example are also used but burn out in the firing leaving small craters and crevices. Biography Born in 1941, Paul studied ceramics at Cardiff College of Art. In the seventies he was a visiting lecturer at Central School of Art in London and Bath School of Art in Corsham. For the last twenty-five years he has lived in the countryside growing his own produce and cultivating gardens of rare plants. He finds that a reclusive lifestyle helps him to concentrate on his work. As well as developing his skills and ideas as a potter, he has spent much of his time learning traditional building methods.
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