22 April – 4 June 2005
Solo exhibition of recent work
Rupert Spira’s farmhouse and outbuildings on the edge of Shropshire are animated by pots: his own and those he has been given by friends or collected on his travels, in each domestic space; unglazed pots in his newly refurbished studio. A deep kitchen cupboard reveals satisfying stacks of his assorted tablewares from floor to ceiling – chrome and copper red plates, gleaming white dessert bowls and even a set of decorated plates he made as an apprentice to Michael Cardew at Wenford Bridge. Pots have come to rest everywhere – on shelves, window ledges and furniture, over wide doorways and fireplaces. All have been placed with deliberation. Some stand out dramatically against the light of a window, others retreat into corner shadows. There are early Cardews and French country pots, refined 13th century Chinese porcelains and pots by contemporary Japanese masters. Small cylindrical vases by Lucie Rie cluster near found birds’ nests and a group of Persian bowls. “It’s important to me, to be surrounded by these pots,” says Spira.
It is tempting to make a connection between this house as repository of layers of ceramics from different periods and cultures, and the artist’s own memory of accumulated images and experiences of pots. Spira is keen to point out that new work does not suddenly appear in response to some new fashion, but flourishes after many years of gestation. Pots inscribed with text can be traced back to his early bowls decorated with incised lines through a cobalt glaze, originally prompted by his discovery of Mimbres pottery in his twenties. “My pots have come out of contemplation, and they hopefully lead back to it,” he says.
Spira’s thinking and pots are evolving again, almost imperceptibly. Concerned that the viewer had become too caught up in reading his embossed poems, he has begun to abstract the words by running them together in a continuous line over interior and exterior surfaces.
He explains that this line may be read as a metaphor for the trace or resonance of an object or thought in memory. On a vast open bowl, the endless stream of letters appears like a lonely track in an expanse of newly fallen snow. There is no need to try and work them out. Better to let the eye roam and enjoy the interplay between the movement of the line and flowing edges of the form.
Spira’s large undulating bowls – fruits of “my twenty-five year apprenticeship” – indicate a relaxed and confident approach to throwing. “The making now feels absolutely intimate and familiar,” he says. Coinciding with the sense of liberation in his potting, are new opportunities to think beyond the white cube and customary plinth. The prospect of showing his work in more imaginative ways, of “making an evocative space,” clearly motivates him.
In an earlier project this year, Spira presented various groups of work – large wall panels, tall cylindrical vessels, open bowls and ordered rows of smaller pots – that were designed to work as “a completely unified, strong and simple statement.” For his show at Contemporary Applied Arts he wanted to move away from this formality and has made a collection of bowls ranging in size from vast to minute. When asked if scale is important in his work he replies, “No! What is essential is monumentality, presence. A pot should be a focal point of condensed energy, whatever size it is. However, the other important aspect is intimacy.” His latest series of bowls combines both these potentially disparate elements.
Amanda Fielding © 2005
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