Inspired by water
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 November 2014
North Devon potter Roger Cockram tells OWEN JONES how water influences his new porcelain creations
He may have spent almost 40 years producing beautiful ceramics but for North Devon potter Roger Cockram there are still new challenges as his art develops.
“The next pot is always the best one,” he laughs, as he works on the latest creations waiting to be fired in the kiln at his studio and gallery at Chittlehampton, a few miles outside Barnstaple.
It’s an attitude that embraces change and drives him to try new ideas.
The 67-year-old is currently passionate about his new porcelain work, the latest step in the development of his art.
The theme of water and the wildlife that lives in it has always run through the former marine biologist’s creative work. Many of his pots have featured fish, lobsters and other marine life.
But his recent work has seen the watery theme become less figurative and more abstract. The most recent influences come from impressionist paintings by Monet he saw on a trip to France.
He admits: “I’m very excited with the new porcelain. It’s all about waves and water.
“If you go to Saunton and sit in the lay-by and look back at the beach you can see these bands of colours in the sea. Or if you stand on the beach itself it’s wonderful isn’t it? They come charging in, these great curved waves, with such power.
“It’s such a big subject, the watery theme, I can make it anything in a way. Look into a rock pool on a sunny day and you see those soft swirling colours. Or conversely a really violent powerful storm can also be marvellous in a different way.”
But he tells me porcelain brings its own challenges, even for a potter with four decades of experience: “Porcelain is an absolute pig to throw. It’s like trying to throw Blu Tack.”
He gestures at two of the larger pots on display in the gallery: “I’m not boasting, but these are an achievement. It is not easy to do.”
Roger has just returned from the world-renowned Argillà ceramics festival in Faenza, an Italian city near Bologna which has been a major centre for ceramics for five centuries.
He was one of only 12 British potters invited to show work at a special exhibition during the biennial event. Carefully packing a selection of his precious work into a people carrier he and wife Ros – also a talented artist - drove across Europe and through the Alps to exhibit.
Roger is also an accomplished musician, so took along his banjo and with a friend gave an impromptu performance of folk music at the pre-show meal.
The festival, one of the biggest events of its kind in the world of ceramics, saw thousands of people throng the streets late into the night to watch demonstration firings in the main square.
“The climax was where they had fired a big abstract sculpture by a famous Italian potter in a four-sided kiln. After 12 hours of firing the heat was coming through the kiln so it was beginning to glow red itself. Then they were able to take the four sides off the kiln and this thing just roared with flame and you could see the sculpture inside, this brilliant thing glowing red hot.
“It was stunning, quite extraordinary. I’ve been making pots for 40 years and made all sorts of kilns but I’d never seen anything like this.”
By a remarkable coincidence the festival was just a few miles from where Roger’s daughter Martha has set up home after marrying an Italian in the summer.
Before discovering his vocation as a potter Roger trained as a scientist. He recalls being steered towards science when choosing subjects to study at sixth form at school in Barnstaple.
A teacher rejected the teenage Roger’s suggestion of taking English Literature, French and Art.
“He said ‘No, no, no! Zoology, botany, chemistry. Next!’ That was my careers advice!”
Roger became a marine biologist but some years later was introduced to ceramics by a friend.
“I took it up as a hobby and it sort of took me over. Now I say all artists should do science first. I make all my glazes.
“I tease my painter friends, frankly, because they just go and buy a tube of yellow in the shop, whereas I make it. Metal oxides give you colours. It’s basically high temperature silicate chemistry, if you’re being precise.”
Roger’s first studio was in Muddiford, Barnstaple, but he has been at the Chittlehampton studio since 1986. n
Roger welcomes visitors to the gallery overlooking the North Devon countryside. For details see his website rogercockramceramics.co.uk