Clay and Art in the 21st Century

Clay and art are natural partners. Just look at a small boy with a mud pie if you need to see the evidence. I am not sure if Grayson Perry played with mud pies as a small, but he today the most celebrated modern art potter. What did he do to deserve that accolade?

He won the Turner prize. So you could say - a Turner Prize for a wheel-turner? Perry heralds a new day in art ceramics where - clay becomes art and fire-up a new generation of fine-art potters.

Whatever next? Self-expression so hot it actually fires the kilns?

It seems clear that small boys choose mud over canvas as their medium for self-expression, and so do Turner prize winners.

Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry recently won the prestigious Turner Prize (a potter has never even entered this art-fest before, let alone won it!).

Is Perry a potter with a knack for the artful, or is he a fine artist who happened to shun canvas and 'installation square footage' for a wheel and a kiln?

Nowadays, fine artists defy the gravity of traditional studio potters and are surfing upon a new wave.

As Art potters begin to emerge as a major force, are the craft potters feeling the heat?

Certainly, the austere and auspicious Bernard Leach would be sucking at his very Victorian moustache while his small round glasses gently steamed.

If Grayson Perry wasn't enough of a slap in the face for the craft potters, then along comes Charles Krafft.

Even his name is an insult to the craft potter - a torturous mis-spelling of the word 'craft'?

Charles Krafft

He is Krafft potter by name and a Krafft potter by nature.

His clay and art (because art is what it is) seems to be a quirky mis-spelling of the whole studio pottery genre.

I have to nail my colours firmly to the mast and say I love his work.

I must be a sucker for punishment or something because I love his work even though he makes it plain he is parodying my own work when he says:

"After wading through the usual swill of bad news and lurid gossip, you can usually find one of those limited editions of a maudlin portrait or a rhapsodic pastoral scene to send away for. But you never find the pictures of the gritty life most of us are living in".

Er, Charles, I make those rhapsodic limited edition maudlin portraits you are talking about. I can do gritty too. Maybe I just don't want to, Ok? We both sling around a bit of mud for a living, what's the difference?

Well, hey, I suppose the answer is I am just doing a job of work and you are - eerrr, changing the world, or whatever it is that proper artists do. Perhaps we just have different ways of blending clay and art?

I was trying to find a forerunner to these 21stC clay jockeys. I was finding it hard to see who paved the way for them.

Rockwell Kent

Then I came across the work of Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). It's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see the connection.

He was an illustrator, printmaker and bestselling author. His ceramic work bore a resemblance to the German Jugendstil or Soviet agit-prop pottery.

In fact, he was suspected of being a communist in the Mcarthy era.

Quite magnificently though, he managed to be all things to all people.

As well as elevating the American working stiff to hero status in a very Dos Passos (42nd Parallel) manner, he also managed to glorify the American way of life and American technology.

Surely Rockwell Kent qualifies as the Granddaddy of contemporary art potters?

He personifies the notion of clay and art as one. Nice one Rockwell.

Oh, and incidentally, how could anyone with a name as magnificent as 'Rockwell Kent' fail in life?

I struggle to get a picture of a man in a social security queue being asked his name and saying, "My name is Kent, Rockwell Kent".

It just doesn't work somehow. You just have to be successful with a name like that.

Same goes for Grayson Perry and Charles Krafft, now I come to think of it!

Return from clay and art to homepage or alternatively back to clay art or clay artists