That Continuous Thing: Artists and the Ceramics Studio, 1920 – Today (Tate Publishing, 2017)


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Wet clay is a messy material. It fills the creases between your fingers. It gets under your nails. Drying on the back of your hand it begins to look and feel like parched, cracked mud – a simple reminder of its earthy origins. Fire the clay to harden it. Dip in runny glaze and fire again. The extreme temperatures melt silica in the glaze, forming a glassy surface that picks out the hollows and contours of the now solid clay object. This process, more or less, has been acted out across the world for hundreds of years. It’s a process that connects the artist through direct touch to the earth at every stage; to the ‘warm-hearted fertile Magna Mater in whose bosom we all live’.[1]


Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, ceramicists who had established a firm friendship in Japan, began what would become a long reappraisal of this connection between the potter and ‘the earth’s crust’ in Britain when they decamped in 1920 to St Ives, Cornwall. For Leach, pottery was the axis at which philosophy, art, design and craft met. In these early stages the studio pottery movement was defined largely in contrast to the ‘English factories’ that Leach described churning out ceramics on an industrial scale, and took inspiration from a similar undertaking in Japan known as Mingei (meaning folk-crafts). This is the basis for Tate’s recent publication, That Continuous Thing; accompanying an exhibition of the same name held at Tate St Ives.