Artist's Insight


David Roberts
Raku Ceramics

Vessel - Landscape Process

a personal insight into the work of David Roberts

1.The Vessel
My ceramics are concerned with making the hollow vessel form which acts as a vehicle to bring to expression my ideas and feelings as an artist and human being.
Although I enjoy and admire the work of many potters making functional wares, I am not concerned, in my own work, with usefulness. I am, however, very committed to making vessels as they give focus, direction and context to my ceramics.
There is also a fascination with the potential for a simple pot form to hold, carry and imply layers of meanings and references. The formal language of my work reflects the influence of hand built ceramics from different periods and cultures, for example storage jars of West Africa or ritual vessels from Pre-Columbian America
As with these ceramics, in my own work I try and emphasise the formal signature of a hand built vessel - round, volumetric shapes rising from narrow, often rounded bases. I spend a lot of time in the consideration and treatment of the interior space of my pieces.
Over the years my ceramics have evolved from two elemental forms - a closed containing shape derived from vessels for storage and an open bowl shape derived from vessels for presentation. Although influenced by the processes and forms of earlier ceramics my work is intended to be essentially contemporary in nature.
For me the vessel represents a touchstone, a constant, a point of reference and an expression of timelessness in a world of flux and accelerating change.

2. Landscape
Landscape, art and nature, is the world that my ceramics refers to and are influenced by.† The natural world is reflected on a micro and macro level. In some of my recent work, often in the same piece, I seek equivalents which resonate and echo with the eroded, geological quality of water worn pebbles and rocks together with the contours and traverses of dry stone walls cutting across the Pennine hills above my studio.
My vessels are not illustrative but a representation of this wonderful man made and fostered landscape.† Landscape and nature gives direction and orientation to my work.† The linear patterns on the vesselís surface can be simultaneously a reference to rock strata and an abstract means of exploring and articulating the complex interweaving of parabolic curves that make up the form of a coil built vessel.† There is an equivalence between the way that a path or trail moves across the local hills and a tangential line exploring and defining the form of a pot.
In doing this I am trying to imbue my work with the same sense of presence and spirituality I get from walking in my local hills.† Similarly smoke lines can evoke botanical structure and growth pattern.
I am much impressed by the way certain painters invest gestural marks with layers of meaning and significance.† The way for example, the Jewish American painter, Barnett Newmanís placement of the zip on his canvases, serves both as an analogy and carrier of feelings and meanings surrounding concepts such as atonement and the resolution of opposites. Or the manner in which the drips, splashes and brush strokes on John Virtues massive work inform and enhance our perception of landscape. In a similar way I see the smoke marks and patterns derived from Raku firing having a potential for meaning which goes beyond the decorative.

3. Process
The processes I use to make and fire my work are not a neutral means of realising a predetermined intellectual idea. They are powerful propellants in the development of my work, interacting with ideas and intuition and suggesting possibilities. Sometimes the forms and surfaces are driven by ideas and are consciously developed to give a certain quality of form or surface I need, other times the introduction or development of materials or techniques suggest a whole new universe of references and aesthetic qualities which I can choose to explore or reject.
Since the mid 1970s I have intentionally focused on making large, coil built and Raku fired vessels. I love this way of making as it gives me rounded, volumetric forms which serve as a wonderful three dimensional canvas upon which surface incident derived from the Raku firing can play. The sense of volume and presence that a piece emits when worked over along time period is important to me.† To intensify this tactile and timeworn quality, pieces are often ground and polished after firing.
I use the Raku process as it gives me a consistent and controllable tool in the orchestration of the strength, quality and pattern of carbonisation. The surfaces are not merely covering the form but penetrate deep into the wall of clay resulting in a fusion of form and surface.
At present I am not concerned with colour but with the way richness of tonal variation enhances and defines form. These surfaces are derived from two phenomena; the control of crackle patterns and spotting; resulting from the chemical and physical changes to materials that occur during the rapid firing and cooling of the Raku process, and the linear markings resulting from my application of layers of slip and glaze. These marks both refer inwards to the vessel as a record of the energy of the process to which it has been subjected and outwards as a sign or indicator towards the landscape.
I am deliberately attempting to expand and develop the language of Raku as a valid and significant statement within contemporary ceramics. As with many contemporary western Raku ceramists my work is highly individual and eclectic. It has no direct connection to the Japanese tradition of Raku, though if you search hard enough there are similarities and analogies to be found. For me, existing at this time, as a contemporary ceramist in the western European country of England, the word Raku is a generic term highlighting an area of ceramics, the distinguishing feature of which is ware being drawn hot from a kiln and then something being done to it.
What is important is the fundamental inherent contribution of my chosen materials and processes to the completed vesselís qualities and presence.