Our broadcast today features wood and copper engravings and drawings by British artist and contemporary of Eric Gill, David Jones. Also large slab wall platters by French slipware potter Jean-Nicolas Gérard.
A painter, engraver, poet and author, Jones was born in Kent. He studied at Camberwell School of Art and then Westminster School of Art before entering Eric Gill’s community at Ditchling in 1921, where he joined the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic and was taught wood engraving by Desmond Chute, later leaving with Gill for Wales to develop and refine his techniques.
Much of Jones’ work was for the Golden Cockerel Press, with illustrations for Gulliver’s Travels (1925), the Book of Jonah (1926), and finally The Chester Play of the Deluge (1927), though he also produced a number of his own written works, the most important of which include The Roman Quarry, In Parenthesis, and The Anathemata. He was later appointed CBE in 1955.
With a glaze palette of golden yellows and browns, blue, and black, Jean-Nicolas makes beautiful, functional earthenware pots, almost all of which are designed to be used in the garden or the kitchen for the cooking and presenting of food.
In Jean-Nicolas’ work, marks are made without self-consciousness or concern, and are celebrated for their existence on the clasped rims of dishes or in the unintended blotches of colour over slip. In some pots, like the small beakers or the folded salad dishes, these impressions are even sought out for the functional nooks they make in the clay, aiding the hand as it feels for purchase around the pot.
As well as the magnificent colour of his slips and glazes, Jean-Nicolas makes great use of sgraffito, a technique which involves cutting through an upper layer of slip to reveal another clay or an underglaze beneath.
Performed at speed with the tip of a teaspoon or an improvised implement, lines are scratched over and around the surface of his pots, leaving dynamic, abstract designs cut into the clay that remind one of the line-works of Picasso or Matisse.
At its core, Jean-Nicolas’ ceramics is a celebration of the earth. His pots are shaped and glazed in a way that makes you want to touch them and feel the clay, to feel the weight of what has been dug up from the ground. They are made to celebrate what is grown from that same source too – vegetables, fruit, potted plants and blooming flowers – and to spark excitement at what the natural world can offer us.