“I began potting when I was seventeen in a small commercial South London pottery. I was drawn to pottery by its unique mixture of art, craft and chemistry. The balance of routine, experiment and discovery seemed to suit my character and my skills”
John moved to St Ives in 1967 and first worked in two local potteries, until in 1968 he was invited by Janet Leach to work at the Leach Pottery. After serving a two year apprenticeship he left for France to work under Jean Tessier at his atelier in Villenauxe. He returned to St Ives in 1972 to again work at the Leach, but as a member of staff, where he stayed for a further six years. In 1978 through John’s past friendship with Shigeyoshi Ichino and the Leach’s links with the family it was arranged for John to go out to Japan for a year’s study at the Ichino family pottery in Tachqui (Tamba). This was only the second time the Leach Pottery had sent one of their potters to Japan.
On his return in 1980 John set up his own workshop first in Penzance and later in Trencrom; just outside of St Ives. In 1990 he moved his workshop into St. Ives and established St Ives Pottery, later named St Ives Ceramics. This was fronted by a gallery in which he showed his own work and pots by other potters that he admired. This has now established itself as a leading ceramics gallery in the southwest.
In 1999 John opened the Gaolyard Studios a group of nine self-contained pottery studios built on the site of the old Town Gaol. This was an effort to regain a new momentum to the pottery making in St Ives and to once again work within a group.
In 2004 he became a founding trustee in the Leach Pottery Restoration project, which led to the successful restoration of the Leach into a working pottery and training centre. He has recently been appointed as Honorary Lead Potter - an advisory and curatorial role at the Leach.
His recent work involves computer-generated graphics to create complicated stylized patterns onto the burnished surfaces of his pots. Although in the past he has often used kiln effects to decorate pots, John has always been interested in applied décor in the form of brushwork, scraffito, or slip and glaze trailing; he sees this is a modern progression and hugely exciting.
Throughout his career John has exhibited in many joint and one man shows both in England and abroad, and has work in many private and institutional collections.
“I work now mainly for exhibitions and my own gallery, enjoying the freedom to explore and experiment the endless artistry and chemistry of ceramics”.
These works are in both Porcelain and Earthenware, made in John’s workshop in the centre of St Ives.
The Porcelains are wheel thrown and fired in a gas reduction kiln to 1260c. For the decoration John uses stencils that he makes from an open weave nylon fabric, which are then wrapped around the pot before applying pigments. Some pots John has made from a particularly dense and translucent porcelain called Parian Porcelain developed in the 19th century to imitate marble, on these John has polished some of the surfaces with diamond pads, producing a soft stone-like sheen.
The Earthenware pots, John calls his illustrated pots. These are mostly wheel thrown and shaped, but some of the larger pieces are slab built. They get several firings depending on the decoration, but the highest firing is to 1060c.
For decoration John uses a unique technique that he developed, which is a fusion of the modern and archaic. After forming the pots they are burnished by rubbing the surface with a polished stone found on the beach and then covered with a fine slip. This is one of the oldest techniques known for waterproofing and finishing and before the use of glazes. John then applies a light sensitive emulsion that he has developed for using on unfired clay; the image of the decoration is projected and exposed on the pot from a computer, after exposure ceramic pigment is applied to give a single colour image, John sometimes intervenes with markings and engravings at this point. The pot is then bisque fired after which more colour pigment can be applied, it is then fired once or twice more depending on the pigments used.
John uses a large drawing tablet to form his designs, sometimes drawing on the image of the pot he is working on. He also makes use of digital patterning techniques for patterns that form repetitions and other tools with which he can distort and manipulate the image. Finally a beeswax polish is applied to give a sheen and to protect the surface of the pot.