21 June - 20 August 2006
Hand thrown ceramics from an up and coming maker
Over the last twelve months the potter Jonathan Wade has been paring down his forms while attempting to loosen up his throwing, a challenge that is both difficult and paradoxical. Yet, despite all, his recent work makes use of crisply thrown minimalist forms imbued with a powerful sense of internal energy.
A relative newcomer - Wade graduated from Bath Spa University ten years ago and set up his own studio only three years ago - he has already established himself as a potter with a fresh and inventive approach to clay. Early pieces included a range of finely thrown bowls and beakers in porcelain with a pale blue-green glaze that were uncomplicated in form and entirely practical to use. They spoke of urban sophistication rather than rural comfort
Alongside these he produced spectacular large bowls that had vigorous blue-black brushwork patterning on the outside and a glowing interior achieved with a layer of gold leaf. Opulent and colourful, they combined the restrained drama of a Donald Judd with the visual directness of a Jackson Pollack, a technical and aesthetic tour de force. Feeling that he had said all he wanted with such pieces, Wade has simplified and honed down, finding that ideas could emanate from the most surprising encounters.
One day he became aware of how the lid of a plastic barrel combined aspects of both a bowl and a plate, a hybrid form that was the starting point for his recent series of flat pieces. These are thrown with a vertical wall that flows onto the base, which is accentuated with an outer ridge. The shapes are enhanced by a thickly applied glaze, which maybe a pale but deep blue, a milky lovat green or an intense inky blue black. The glaze flows softly off rims and adds an element of movement to the still forms. Like much of Wade's new work the dishes have an underlying concern with function - in that they could be used - and with the sheer abstract pleasure of form and colour. The fluidity of the shape and the seductive surface are perfectly matched and carefully controlled.
By contrast, a group of tall beaker-like forms, more freely thrown, are organic in feel, the throwing lines spiralling up the pot suggesting growth and expansion. Nestling together in the studio, although each piece is different, they are part of the same family, at once intimate and independent.
The third group, a series of lidded boxes with faceted sides, has taken Wade in a different direction. While other forms are open and expansive, the boxes are about interior space. Deriving from the small lacquer containers that hang from belts on Japanese traditional costume, Wade's boxes also seem personal and intimate. Each is secured by a scarlet thread held in place by a wooden bead. Although easily untied, the thread serves as a sign of concealment that is both real and symbolic. The results are objects that are self-contained and complete in themselves, whose secret may never be fully revealed
This, Jonathan Wade's first solo exhibition, is a stimulating contribution to our understanding of clay, about its changing and ambiguous place in the modern world and about the sheer sensual delights it can offer. A one-person exhibition is a challenge for any artist, but more so at the start of a career - to see this carried through with such vigour and thought makes this show exceptional in its breadth and understanding.
Emmanuel Cooper © 2006
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