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David Roberts
Raku Ceramics

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Joint EAPA and CPA Masterclass

EAPA Newsletter, January 1996

In his slide show, David Roberts treated the large audience to a wealth of images which showed some influences on his own work.  These included South American and African coil pots, English cooling towers and water worn pebbles as well as the hills and pattern of stone walls around his home in the Yorkshire Pennines. He has always been interested in abstract decoration and especially the way in which lines can follow the contours of a pot or cut across the surface to form a powerful pattern integral to the shape of the pot.

David then showed a series of slides of his own pots including, rather bravely, some of his very early stoneware vessels. He has always taken the vessel or bowl as a starting point, but it was when he began making low fired raku pots using American techniques and home made fibre-lined top hat kilns that his distinctive style developed. The early raku pots often had parallel line decoration and a white crackle glaze which David spent several years refining and learning how to control to obtain satisfactory effects. The use of a top hat kiln which could be lifted off the single pot being fired allowed him to make really large pots this way including his famous large white bottles.

In recent years David has used a further refinement of raku techniques. During the day he treated his audience to demonstrations of how he coil builds his vessels and to a raku firing of two of his pots. The pots are burnished, then biscuit fired to about 1050 C. Then the surface is coated with slip, dried overnight and coated with glaze. Each pot is individually fired in a raku kiln until the glaze melts, withdrawn hot and smoked in a dustbin of sawdust. After the pot has cooled, the glaze is picked off (a process which proved irresistible to several members of the audience) and the slip underneath removed with wire wool.  This reveals a pattern of black lines over the pot surface where the carbon from the sawdust smoke has passed through the crazing in the glaze above.

The last few slides showed how David has been using this technique on a variety of shapes including jugs, tall thin necked bottles and baskets. The theme of the interaction between the shape and an overall pattern of lines has returned to his current work. Fine concentric rings, made by scratching through the glaze before the raku firing, and broader bands, made by careful application of the glaze, run across the smooth tactile surfaces. In his latest work, of great flat oval bowls like hollow pebbles streaked with quartz veins and tall pots with complex shapes covered in bands of light and shadow, an almost sculptural element seems to be evolving.

Jenny Chapman

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