John Pollex and AGM (8 November 2017)

Annual General Meeting at 7pm followed by John’s talk at 7:45pm

Wednesday 8 November 2017 at Polehampton Junior School

John has carved out a unique niche in the world of studio pottery. During the 70s and early 80s he established himself as a respected maker of traditional Slipware, before his work took a dramatic turn. In 1981 he was invited to take part in a lecture tour of New Zealand with the contemporary American ceramist Don Reitz. The bold use of colour in the work of Reitz was exciting compared to the muted tones of celadons, tenmokus and honey glazes back in Britain; consequently he became more interested in the colourful work being produced by potters in the USA.

In 1984 John decided to change direction, he used his knowledge and understanding of the application of slips to develop a completely different style of working. He dispensed with slip trailers in favour of paintbrushes and sponges and more recently plastic spatulas, intensely coloured earthenware slips are applied in a free and painterly abstract manner. The change seems to have been clean and dramatic and appears to owe nothing to the slipware of before.

John is often asked why he never paints in the conventional manner. He says that he has always been a potter who enjoys what he does and he still feels there is much more to discover in the world of ceramics.

John studied at Sir John Cass in Whitechapel from 1966-68; he then went on to become Technician at Harrow College of Art during 1968-70. After Harrow he became assistant to Colin Pearson until 1971. He moved to Plymouth in the autumn of 1971.

For more information visit John’s website

John gave us an amusing talk and slide presentation about his journey with ceramics over his long career, outlining his impressive lineage; Colin Pearson and Ray Finch being just two of his mentors. Starting from a traditional slipware potter he has over the years injected a good deal of his humour into the finish of his slipware chargers (one influence being artist Beryl Cook), he has now moved into a far more abstract and painterly style, blending vibrant colours on the pot and abstracting forms he finds inspiring. Instead of potters for inspiration he has turned to painters; Howard Hodgekin, Mark Rothko and Patrick Heron to name just a few. He likes to play with colours making them move forward and back in the composition of his work. For our practical demonstration he showed us how he decorates his square dishes. His free style and confidence with colours is remarkable.

John uses a white Earthenware Clay, preferring to overlay the white of the clay body with a black slip made from Manganese, red and black iron oxides. He uses the dried trimmings from his throwing/slabbing to make his slip, first crushing them up to a fine powder (note the use of a face mask for this task) before adding the powder to water. He feels his colours vibrate and sing more from the dark although warm background.

To make his square dishes he rolls a slab, places a wooden template on it then cuts around it at a 45 o angle, runs a plastic grout comb down the sides to imprint a double line pattern and then places it on a large flat piece of sponge and presses a wooden box down in the middle until the sides pop up to form the indent.

The colours used on the pots are slips made up from commercially available body stains from CTM and Potterycrafts and they include; Rosso Red, Yellow, 2 x Greens a Sky Blue and a darker blue and Lilac. He mixes the stains into a creamy thick slip; 20g Body Stain to ¼ inch of water then spoons in the white clay body slip until well combined and creamy smooth.

To apply the colours to the ware he uses a range of small soft sponges cut into rectangular blocks, he rarely brushes slip as it can muddy the base slip, however right at the end of the sponge painting he will use a bristle or pastry brush to brush stain over areas leaving a soft ‘flying white’ effect which is his brush mark. Sometimes he uses a harder sponge to work back in to the design, giving a ‘soft sgrafitto’ effect. The sponges are made from a sheet of sponge cut up with and electric breadknife. 

Where he has a specific design he maps it out onto the slipped ware with a soft brush dipped in water, then carefully picking up the colours on the sponge he uses a woodpecker motion, quickly dabbing the colour onto the desired area. He keeps quickly dabbing until the area is saturated with the colour. Should the slips on his palette begin to dry he sprays them with an indoor plant spray. Where the colour is applied thinly the black base shows through, to get an opaque block he puts on 3 coats of stain colour. Sometimes he blends colours directly on the pot, or will blend two colours on his palette. To get a curve he pinches the sponge in the middle. The first layers of colours are quite subtle, when this is complete he then adds neat stain (suspended in water) to his slip mixed colour and goes in again, strengthening the colour. Colours are overlaid and layered up gradually, almost playfully but freely.

Complimented on his handle shapes he showed us how to make them; using two strips of coiled clay flattened, 1 wider than the other he lays one on top of the other and slips them together and fixes them at the top and the bottom of the ware.

Work is fired to a Bisque of 1050oC and a Glost of 1105oC. Transparent glaze used is a lead sesquilliate base to Richard Godfrey’s recipe.

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