Beauty Growing: British Pottery at Yale

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STUDIO POTTER MICHAEL CARDEW spoke for others of his generation when he said, “If you are lucky, and if you live long enough, and if you trust your materials and you trust your instincts, you will see things of beauty growing up in front of you, without you having anything to do with it.” Patience, respect for materials, modest self-assurance, a twist of fate—this is what is needed to make a vessel rise almost effortlessly from a clod of clay. “Things of Beauty Growing”: British Studio Pottery at the Yale Center for British Art (September 14–December 3) takes its title from Cardew, but enlarges his meaning, since the ambitious show is a survey of the evolution of modern British pottery, which began with the desire to repair native tradition gravely disrupted by industrialization but has branched out from applied art into fine art and even ventured back to the factory—as in the case of Julian Stair, who uses an industrial kiln for his towering pots weighing one-third of a ton. It’s a pleasure to see the interconnected assemblage, which includes work by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie, who intended the organic shapes of her wheel-thrown useful pots to bring to mind “pebbles and shells and birds’ eggs and the stones over which moss grows,” in contrast to Alison Britton, who applies slip on both sides of a slab of clay that she then constructs into a seemingly protean vessel that stands at a tension point between painting, pottery, and sculpture; or Clare Twomey, whose eighty enormous, lustrous porcelain vases provocatively turn attention back to the tangle of Asian influence and complicated questions about mass production.

Carol McNicoll, Unravelling Vase, 1980. Collection of Carol McNicoll, London, Jon Stokes Photo