Goldmark Gallery were proud to host a milestone exhibition of ceramics by Jim Malone, one of Britain’s top potters, in Uppingham on Saturday 17th September 2016.
Rivers are born slowly. At first a trickling stream, babbling over pebbles and earth, with time the water runs a stronger, more purposeful current, smoothing out its banks, deepening its channel, rolling away all obstacles obstructing its flow. As the years pass by it follows an evermore-assured course until it has curved and carved its way through the landscape, dragging away detritus and bringing with it precious life.
So too with the work of Jim Malone. A potter now of 40 years’ experience since setting up his first studio in 1976, the evolution of his pots has been gradual, almost subconscious. Working within a repertoire of historical, functional forms – 13th century Chinese, 16th century Korean – he has slowly but surely refined each silhouette, removing all that is unnecessary and inelegant. The resulting work may appear simple; in reality, it is the culmination of some four decades of throwing with an ever-watchful eye, looking and responding to the shaping of the clay, striving to give his material the clarity of its own voice.
In this exhibition – Malone’s third at the Goldmark Gallery – the experience drawn from those years spent at the kick-wheel was clear to see. Round-bellied Korean bottles and Tenmoku vases, draped in copper pours, sit side by side with medieval-style jugs and ash-glazed mixing bowls, demonstrating Malone’s supreme ability as a thrower as well as the breadth of influence in his work. Two tall porcelain bottles, proudly sporting their leaping fish designs, belie the slippery nature of this type of clay. Porcelain is a notoriously rebellious material; to have achieved such height and conviction of form as Malone has here is no mean ceramic feat.
Despite evidencing Malone’s obvious ability as a potter, however, the work in this exhibition seldom shows off. In his introduction to The Unknown Craftsman, the seminal text by the critic Soetsu Yanagi, the great maker Bernard Leach recalls the words of his friend discussing the role of the artist-craftsman: Take heed of the humble; be what you are by birthright; there is no room for arrogance.
Too many makers, Yanagi felt, were ‘overproud’ of their individualism: their work had become an imposition of character, in which expression of the self superseded all other things. It is a difficulty of which Malone has always been acutely aware, avoiding what Michael Cardew termed the deliberately willed injection of personality and aiming instead for openness in every process: What I have tried to do is create an environment in which the kind of pots that I want to produce can happen, because you can’t contrive it, you can’t make them happen; you have to let them happen.
The pots of this exhibition are works of great humility, showing deference to the elemental materials of which they are composed and through which they were formed. In their restraint and their lack of macho ego they leave room to accommodate the lives and values of their new owners. Their power lies not in a brashness of surface or brazen use of form, but rather what Hamada described as the unseen root where the real strength of an object resides.
Like the river, there is little engineering here: the swell of each teabowl, shaped with care and trimmed only at the foot, is born from the natural rhythms of its throwing, the ebb and flow between wheel and clay. And, like the river, those busying themselves with the fussiness and flamboyance of much contemporary ceramics will have failed to notice Malone’s pots cutting great swathes through the landscape of modern studio pottery, quietly but purposefully running that greater, more enduring course.
In a lecture delivered in 1880 the great textile designer and champion of crafts William Morris once offered his audience a ‘golden rule’: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. Faced with the extraordinary work in this exhibition, the celebration of a lifetime’s dedication to this ancient art, it is a rule one would be hard-pressed to break.