Interview and Studio Visit - David Pottinger

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
21st of January 2011
Exquisite ceramics by Melbourne-based artist David Pottinger
Stunning neutrals and zig-zags!
Some pieces on David's workbench
Stunning patterns created by David's unique clay layering and laminating process

It's not often your Mum knows about something cool before you do.  OH wait.  Yes it is.  It happens ALL THE TIME around here. My mum is so freaking cool I can barely keep up.  Sheesh.  Tres embarrassing.

ALTHOUGH sometimes it does come in handy.  Like when she told me I had to check out these ceramics by incredible Melbourne ceramic artist David Pottinger.   OH MY have you EVER seen such beautiful ceramics in your life? Me neither!  They are truly exquisite!  Thanks Mum!

So I popped along last weekend to meet David at his North Melbourne studio.  It was amazing.  I squealed. (Not entirely unusual, but still).  His work is just so special and so detailed and SO different from anything else I've seen.  His unique coloured and patterned vases are as intricate and eye-catching as woven textiles.... in fact I drew a few parallels with Missoni - though David had no idea what I was talking about  :)

That's the thing about David, he is just completely  wrapped up in his own little art-making world.  He was more than a little baffled that I would want to photograph his studio - especially the messy bits like his powdered dyes and liquid glazes and knick knacks!  I think I completely bamboozled him.  He's an artists's artist - no website, no interest in PR or marketing spin... for him it's all about the work, the clay, the colour and the patterns - 'following a line' to see where it ends up.  No wonder his work is so beautiful - he is so entirely focussed on the process of simply making beautiful things.

David's work has been acquired for the permanent collections of The National Gallery of Victoria, The Art Gallery of South Australia and by the National Gallery of Australia.  His work has been exhibited both here  and overseas - notably at the V&A Museum in London!  All going well he'll be back in the UK again this year for COLLECT - the most prestigious annual fair for contemporary craft and applied artists.

FYI - David's work is usually exhibited as fine artwork rather than as functional pieces, and is priced accordingly.  However he has just launched a new range of smaller bowls with similar layered, multi-coloured patterns, but they're thrown on a wheel which is a lot less painstaking than the process used to make his larger patterned vessels.  Hence the new bowls are very affordable and start at $80.00 each!  (There are images of the new bowls a little lower down the post.)

Enquiries about David's artwork can be directed to -

Beaver Galleries in Canberra The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh Or click the following link to email David direct !
David's North Melbourne studio

Tell us a little about your background – what path has led you to what you’re doing now?

I first came contact with clay during a high school holiday workshop held at the Dalby Art Centre in Queensland - making pinch pots and coil pots, I developed a fascination with clay.  I became a member of the Dalby Arts Centre, which had wood fired kilns, gas reduction kilns and pottery classes for beginners. After finishing an Associate Diploma in Ceramics l was hooked, and then completed my Masters at RMIT.  I now manage a Ceramics studio in North Melbourne, where I work with many other Melbourne ceramicists. I have been practicing the art and craft of Ceramics for many years.

Where might we have seen your work?

In 2005 after finishing my Masters degree, I had an opportunity to exhibit at Craft Victoria, where my work was acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria and also the Gallery of South Australia. My work has been exhibited with Beaver Galleries in Canberra, which led to exhibitions in SOFA Chicago and being acquired by the National Gallery of Australia.

In addition, my work has been exhibited in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum (for COLLECT in 2008).  My work can also been seen online at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh... and  if all goes well I should have some new pieces at COLLECT in the UK again this year.

How do you describe you work to  random strangers / long lost family members?

My work is about following lines in space.

It mightn’t be immediately clear just how much work and painstaking detail goes into each individual piece… Can you give us an overview of the stages it takes to create one of your incredible patterned / coloured vases?

My work starts with the clay, I make dyes and stain my own clay bodies.  I can then choose from this palette of 40 or so colours.  Once I have selected a palette for a particular piece, I 'laminate' layers and layers of these coloured clays together to form a block, (*think filo pastry! - says Lucy), from which sheets are sliced and joined to create unique patterned sheets of clay - these form the walls of each piece.

Once the piece is made it has to dry slowly and evenly over the next two to three weeks, and is then sanded and fired twice - once at 1000 degrees and then again at 1280 degrees.

My favourite! Oh my. So so so beautiful.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Once at the studio, I'm checking the work that’s drying, and spraying the clay bodies,  looking through the colours, finding combinations, looking through photographs I’ve taken, looking at what’s in the studio and then finding the next step for the work -  which sometimes means drawing shapes, patterns and then starting to make the laminated block or making a piece from a laminated block.

Details from David's studio

Where do you turn for creative inspiration when beginning a new piece or new series – nature, travel, books, the web etc?

The main inspiration for the work comes from the natural world in which we all live - I do a lot of bush walking and beach walking, and taking a lot of photographs.  I just do lots of walking and thinking about the next step my work will take.

Which other artists / designers / creative people do you admire?

There is a long list but I must mention painter Agnes Martin and ceramicist Elizabeth Fritsch.

What are you looking forward to?

Opening my kiln on the final firing.

Melbourne Questions -

Your favourite art galleries to visit to see ceramics or other object based artwork in Melbourne?

The National Gallery of Victoria has a great collection of Korean, Chinese and Japanese ceramics.  My new wheel thrown bowls are based on a Korean bowl found in the Kent Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria.

David's new hand-thrown bowls - above you see the bowls patterned with swirls of coloured clay, prior to being glazed.
Finished bowls!  LOVE the pinky / white / brown ones!  Starting from around $80.00 each.

Craft Victoria has great exhibitions and also Tolarno Galleries have good exhibitions.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?

Clayworks in Dandenong and Potters Equipment in Ringwood.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Just last week some friends and I went to a restaurant called Borsch, Vodka and Tears - great to eat from hand painted bowls, and the Borsch was great.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I like to visit the Queen Victoria Market on Saturday morning to get supplies for the week ahead.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The surrounding lands outside of Melbourne.

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