Each Lisa Hammond pot has a life of its own, its own sense of renewal. They all offer their own pleasures, an intimacy that adds another dimension to the way we eat and drink, to the ceremonies of the everyday, to the space we occupy. In short, to the way we live our lives.
Lisa Hammond’s pottery is a city workshop in deepest Greenwich, in South East London. It occupies the old Victorian ticket office of Maze Hill Station, situated between the Thames and the Royal Observatory. This hidden place, Greenwich’s great cultural secret, works to some of the traditional principles of a production pottery like St Ives or Winchcombe, producing a solid domestic range alongside Lisa’s more individual pots.
It is rare to find such a pottery in such a place. It has some of the atmosphere of a country workshop, but this is as urban as you get, a hard working London studio trying to keep afloat in today’s difficult and competitive economy. Inside, where once you bought your train ticket for Charing Cross or Dartford, there is a busy room crowded with wheels, benches and pots on shelves. One-off soda and Shino pieces stand alongside runs of mugs, plates and jugs, all waiting to be fired.
The kilns lie behind the pottery, cut into the bank by the railway. Here is a potter deeply committed to making usable everyday pots for everyday function and pleasure. This is her raison d’être as a maker.
Lisa Hammond initially made her name with her fine soda glaze. As a student at Medway College of Design in the mid 1970s she and others experimented with salt kilns and Lisa became fascinated with the ‘smoke and fire drama’ of the process. At the age of only 23 she set up her first studio, the Greenwich Pottery Workshop, and began to make salt glaze functional wares. Also a teacher at Goldsmiths College, she and colleagues started experimenting with soda firing in 1982 and Lisa – a pioneer of soda glaze – introduced it to her own practice, enjoying the wonderfully varied colors and textures achieved in the vaporous atmosphere of the kiln. The present pottery was established in 1994, a large enough space both to make and teach. She works with apprentices and runs evening and weekend courses, committed as she is to teaching functional throwing skills, now being marginalised by many art colleges.
Her soda glaze now has an international reputation for its robust simplicity and consistency, its clarity of form and design complemented by warm nuances of surface, full of character. There is something of the Harrow Course ethos in Lisa’s aesthetic and philosophy, but the fluidity of her shapes and quality of clay and glaze is unmistakably her own. These pots, for the preparation, serving and eating of food, for the embellishment of our houses, are the backbone of Hammond’s discipline and craft, a stream of making that has engendered quiet invention, both in her ‘standard’ range and her more individual studio pieces. The pottery’s nests of pouring bowls, for example, are as rigorous pieces of modern ceramic form as you are likely to find, while her jugs, teapots and pinch-rimmed dishes combine a strong sense of history with her own quirks and deviations of detail, pots that are rhythmic and highly sensual. The particular ease of her throwing, enhanced by the vaporous effects of the soda, gives her work a particular plasticity.
Hammond’s experience as a potter, that gradually instilled discipline I spoke about, has allowed her (paradoxically one might think) a new freedom, a freedom she has found in Japan, where for three months in 2003-4 she worked alongside Rizü Takahashi, a distinguished wood-fire potter in Mino, learning to use the beautiful ‘Shino’ glaze. Lisa is now making wonderfully vibrant teabowls, bottles and jars, big dishes and yunomis using this technique, alongside her soda glaze. Simplicity remains her signature, Lisa depending on the rich variance of glaze for decoration. There is relatively little incising or brushwork, more simply tides of red, pink or milky white Shino, with ash and celadon sometimes used to achieve translucent greens. Bottles and vases may be simply squared or faceted, these and other forms perhaps partially covered by a top glaze, adding surface motion.
Minimal finger swipes through the glaze give her broad ‘Chawan’ teabowls, freely thrown, and some of her bottles, an extra frisson, the more haphazard marks of the hand, also indicative of the making process. Big round jars are embellished with applied lugs and the shell marks and other kiln residue left from the firing. Personality comes from the sheer energy of her throwing, the pulse of the clay surface, and from the attention she gives the narrow neck of a bottle or the foot of a bowl. The thick swathes and poolings of Shino became part of the physical generosity of these objects, with the pitting, crawling and mottling that is part of the aesthetic spirit of this complex and challenging technique, one which is, as Lisa says, a mysterious continually ‘strange conundrum’. Yet she remains a potter with a distinct economy of hand.
These pots – Shino and soda – draw strongly on the history of European wares. Her jugs have some of the spirit of medieval pitchers, made succinct by a strong modern sensibility. There are echoes of traditional salt glaze, of English and Continental country pots. This is clear-minded, essentially unfussy work, leaving the alchemy of the kiln to deepen and enrich, to create a visual and tactile integration that makes such pots difficult to put down. Glaze is used in such a way that emphasises rather than covers the stoneware surface, the character of the clay is allowed to breathe through. Each Lisa Hammond pot has a life of its own, its own sense of renewal. They all offer their own pleasures, an intimacy that adds another dimension to the way we eat and drink, to the ceremonies of the everyday, to the space we occupy. In short, to the way we live our lives.