Sunday, April 12, 2009

two days with sarah walton

Sarah Walton is a potter who lives and works in Alciston, near Lewes, East Sussex, England.
She has run a pottery there since 1975 using a large oil-fired saltglaze kiln.
She studied Fine Art at Chelsea from 1960-64 and Studio Pottery at Harrow from 1971-73.
Sarah acknowledges a debt to mediaeval pots, the arts of Mesopotamia and South-East Asia, to Neolithic Art, to Western Painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, poetry, wit, philosophy and religion, and to innumerable people through the years, especially Weislaw Pilawski and Irene Milburn.
Landscape is a theme in her work. She has walked, drawn and painted it since childhood and this lies behind her evolution of birdbaths which she has made since 1984. Her ceramics are represented in 13 museums in the UK and she has won 5 awards. Her work can be bought at Contemporary Applied Arts and Contemporary Ceramics in London, The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh and The Leach Pottery, St Ives.
sarah walton came to gbp in march 2009. she has come to india before she says who practices yoga and is inspired by j krishnamurthy.
here is what i wrote doen in my notebook during her demonstrating a piece for us and her evening presentation/talk.

In Search of Sensuality

Sarah Walton could be described as a thinker potter: looking at everything carefully with the most critical eyes, very clear of what she wants to create, with a complete dedication to develop a single form.

She is showing us how she makes a functional pot. A lidded jar. But her approach is of making a hand built sculptural piece. She finished making a hand built jar with the lid and kept it in front of her as a model and started working on the wheel. After many years of wheel work Sarah started making hand built bird baths. And when she returned back to the wheel she was trying to evolve her own language of form. As she says, post bird baths the way she looked at a pot changed: a heightened base became an integral part of her work, profile became more and more important, and mostly the approach she used to get the final form changed. She started to work on each functional form as if it were a sculpture. The process, she says, is very slow. We witnessed that: She was ready to make all the alterations. She wouldn’t let a single curve escape; she would want the exact convex shape of the top. The most important was the exploration of the form. She has all the patience in the world, although nervously she calls herself impatient, “this method works for me” she says with a smile.

The quality of clay is so soft in the beginning but not really so at the very end, she says. She wants to retain as much of the softness of the clay till she can. Glaze changes the piece, she says, perhaps that’s why she has very less use of glaze in her own work. In order to retain all the minor details of a pot, she chooses salt glazing to fire her pots. “You have to resist decorating your pots and observe what the kiln does with your pots and also learn to accept what each pot has to offer in itself. Salt kilns teach you restraint” she says.

For Sarah the feel of the work is as important as the look. The sense of touch along with the act of seeing. One could see that the way she approaches the clay. Her thumb constantly shapes the curve of the jar not just to give it a shape but also to internalise the form for herself; while throwing, the wall of the cylinder is raised along with one flowing breath. Most of the work is done by visualising the form, the remaining action is very subtle and the fingers are just the tools. “I like to test the scale to the maximum but even then the most important is the tactile qualities to a pot”, Sarah shares with us. “The softness of clay could help in retaining a sensual quality in the work. The quality of austerity could go hand in hand with tenderness” she adds. To explore this further, Sarah even started working with wood, to create eroded surfaces, for Sarah sees certain poignancy in eroded surfaces.

During the demonstration, there is not enough clay, the lid doesn’t fit, and Sarah is unhappy about it but doesn’t give up. Additional clay is added, alterations made, all she wants is the final form, she would wait to get there. “this is crude, I would take more clay next time, but this could happen to you!” she says looking at the lid, “to appreciate other potters’ work it is necessary to see whether they have fulfilled themselves, whether they have realised what path they want to take.”

Sarah’s pots have taken the path of restraint and sensuality, austerity and tenderness. None of these qualities are looked as opposing one, but shades of colours, with the ability to look within themselves with a critical eye. Later in the day in her presentation, Debi drew our attention to the title of her piece, ‘self portrait’ a large sculptural work with holes in it through which one could see the internal structure of the piece!

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