Introducing Alan Wallwork

Alan Wallwork

Hand Built Studio Ceramics 1957 to 2015

One of the most distinctive of post-war potters, Alan Wallwork’s commitment to hand building has been unfailing over some fifty years. He has, from the outset, been remarkably inventive, making a range of individual forms that draw on the landscape, his pieces having resembled archaic, sometimes totemic shapes, and, most familiarly, structures in nature; seed pods, pebbles, shells and fossils. His techniques have included coiling, slabbing and shaping directly in the hand, and occasionally using thrown components. The surfaces are varied; often pitted and pierced or abraded, sometimes as smooth as an egg or stone. There is an intimacy, a tactility about Alan’s work. It needs to be touched, the smaller pieces cupped and turned in the palm.

If Alan’s art is part of any tradition, it is that tradition of exciting and experimental building that grew up around the Central School and Goldsmiths College in the 1950s. He was one of a new generation of artist-potters who explored the sculptural possibilities of built clay, usually with containment as a basis. The adventurousness of such work related not only to the earliest most elemental pots, but to contemporary developments in sculpture – in Britain the work of William Turnbull, Eduardo Paolozzi and Hubert Dalwood for example - and several painters too who used biomorphic and organic imagery. There was a fresh sense that anything was possible in clay. Rules could be broken. One could move confidently beyond more traditional thrown pottery to explore its broader expressive potential, in Alan’s case skilfully using matt glazes and oxides to enhance the rich textures of the material and the organic, sometimes preternatural nature of these pieces. The more articulated quality of much of his early work soon gave way to predominantly rounded forms, covetable oval and spherical pots that look as if they have been polished and refined by the wind and water and bleached and coloured by the sun.

Alan Wallwork is one of the great individualists in British pottery, one who has steered his own course, always interested in new developments, but not in the suddenly changing winds of fashion. After his many years in France, it is good to have him and his strong unmistakable work back in our midst. We could do with more like him.

David Whiting, August 2012

(courtesy of Oxford Ceramics)