Contemporary Ceramics asked me to provide a short piece of writing to accompany the work I sent them. It was suggested I comment on how I got into working with clay:
As a child I loved drawing and messing about with mud. We lived on the edge of a large housing estate and a planning dispute over freshly dug foundations on an empty plot next door, meant the deep trenches remained void of concrete for several years. What a fabulous landscape for myself, brother, and our mates to roam and explore. The walls of the foundations exposed seams of soft yellow clay, perfect for poking fingers and sticks. We dug old bottles, (there must have been a Victorian rubbish dump) squashed balls of clay onto the ends of sticks and hurled them at brick walls (and each other!) to see how long the clay stayed there. They always landed with a satisfying, heavy thud which over time, must have annoyed the hell out of the neighbours as the activity came to an abrupt halt with a proper telling off! Even though the forest of sticks and clay have long since dropped off the wall, the activity has informed and inspired my approach to ceramic practice and my educational/community engagement work.
My art teachers at school were encouraging and although it was a subject in which I excelled; I had no idea about careers in the creative industries. It wasn’t until the age of 15 I encountered the head of my local art-school and in a blinding revelation, realised that ‘art’ could be a job! I studied in Swindon & then Bath, my experience culminating in a 1st class degree in ceramics and 3d design. Whilst at Art School I met my future wife and fellow potter Sarah Monk and in 1994 we moved to Herefordshire, founded Eastnor Pottery and started a family.
The gallery is the shop window for the Craft Potters Association of Great Britain (CPA) and exhibits the greatest collectible names in British ceramics alongside the most up and coming artists of today.
I’ve been a professional member of the CPA ever since the start of my career as a maker, but this is the first time I have exhibited in their bi-monthly Rotation programme.
Although the gallery is currently closed during Lockdown, they have developed an amazing and comprehensive online shop featuring the work of 80 makers for sale at any one time.
I recently made a selection of high fired bee and bug shakers for a gallery in London. The high temperature makes for a satisfying ‘ring’ when the rattle is shaken.
As I was lowering the last beastie into the kiln, I decided on a whim to save it from the firing and give it a lower temperature bisque instead. My intention, to incorporate it into my smoke firing experiments as up until that point all the test pieces had been vessels.
So glad I did!
I’m really pleased with the colours. Deep blacks, a hint of terracotta and the odd flash of white – perfect!…and although the rattle sounds slightly different its still an interesting sonic.
Unfortunately, this discovery came too late for the critters heading to London, but if I could have my time with them again….
Sensational Clay was my solo show and a culmination of many months of work, exploring ideas of invention, interaction and participation with clay.
All the works in the exhibition were inspired by the five senses: touch, taste, sound, smell and sight. Every item encouraged visitors to interact and explore, inviting them to experience the objects in a very different way than in a typical gallery setting.
A short film accompanied the exhibition which gave further insight into my practice and the processes used:
Included in the exhibition were:
Giant bowls of sand that visitors can delve into to discover hidden treasures
Tables filled with food inspired ceramics, such as giant teacups and biscuits
Interactive musical pots and rattle pots
Scented ceramic forms, reminiscent of pineapples, coconuts and bananas
Textured ‘clay doodle’ plates
The exhibition toured a further four UK art galleries and was experienced by approximately 12000 visitors. The other venues were:
Throwback Thursday: Electro Bees in the Black Country Aug 2016
Back in the depths of Winter 2015 Jon was approached by Creative Black Country to contribute a work of art for a field of ceramic flowers, being ‘grown’ by community groups in West Bromwich and the surrounding area.
He submitted several ideas, but the one that really captured the imagination of CBC was a swarm of touch sensitive ceramic bees that buzzed when handled.
Jon’s practice is interactive and playful and the more layers of engagement the better. FAB LAB were the technology collaborators on this occasion with notable and outstanding ‘problem solving’ contribution from Anne Scrimshaw.
The bees were also featured on BBC Midlands today.
Having been inspired by the success of my solo exhibition Sensational Clay, I was keen to explore in more detail some of the threads I’d been developing for the show – particularly the sonic possibilities. I was interested in adding a digital aspect to my work and contacted the digital sound artist Ashley Brown to see if he was interested in a collaboration. He was! and our work together culminated in three installations in three cultural venues in the city of Hereford. A promotional map and leaflet was also produced by Reeves Design.
HEREFORDSHIRE based potter Jon Williams from Eastnor Pottery has combined the core elements of his practice; ceramics, sound and public engagement, to produce three, site specific, interactive works of art in Hereford.
Musical Apples (10 green bottles) at The Cider Museum is a series of oversized ceramic apples with bronze leaves and stalks, displayed on eight magnificent Kilderkin barrels. Visitors are encouraged to gently caress the leaves to produce musical notes recorded from tinkling cider bottles.
Visitors to the Waterworks Museum on Broomy Hill will encounter a potter’s bench full of rustic jugs of various sizes and hand-thrown in a selection of different clays. Musical Jugs (Jack and Jill) can be tuned by filling the vessels with water and gently tapping the pots with beaters.
Musical Hotpots (Oranges and Lemons) at Old House Museum is inspired by the historic use of the magnificent timber-framed building. It’s been both a bank and a butchers shop. Museum visitors can play the terracotta and ceramic bone xylophone.
“Although clay is the primary material, I’ve collaborated with other artists and craftspeople to realise the work,” said Jon. “Artist blacksmith, Andrew Findlay and wooden furniture maker Timothy Hawkins, both based in Herefordshire but with national and international reputations, contributed to the making.”
Two of the installations rely on digital and electronic wizardry to fantastic effect. This has been enabled by Creative Technologist, Ashley Brown, who Jon worked with throughout the design and production.
The project was funded by Arts Council England and has taken Jon and his collaborators 12 months to develop and install, and all the elements are now permanent features at the museums.
The first two photos are of a large, flat based, stoneware bottle with an arrangement of tiny holes pierced in the base. Submerged and filled with water, the liquid is magically held within the vessel by placing a thumb over the bottle top! When the thumb is released, the vacuum is broken and the water sprays out of the base like a watering can hose. The function of this piece was not horticultural, but to quell atmospheric dust. They were used on busy, dusty high streets before the advent of tarmac. Fastidious shop keepers attempted to limit the amount of dirt settling on their shop windows by watering the pavements outside their premises.
Here are Jon’s pieces he developed for the exhibition. Each piece sits in it’s own water tank and is 100% designed to be played with by Gallery visitors. Photos by George Nash.
He was one of seven contemporary ceramic artists from the across the Midlands, invited to respond to the Museum’s diverse collection of ceramics. All commissioned artists were to exhibit new work alongside some of the historical objects that inspired them. Then COVID-19 hit!
Needless to say, the Gallery closed and the exhibition cancelled, not before the exhibitions team had spent weeks installing the show.
Undeterred, the team at Leamington have been working incredibly hard to make the exhibition available online. And here it is! – a video complete with commentary by exhibitions curator Lily Crowther.
Prior to delivery, photographer George Nash took some smashing photographs of Jon’s exhibits. We’ll post a few up here on the website along with the historical items that inspired Jon’s making. Watch this space….