Monday 26 November 2007

As I was going to St Ives....

I met a man with 200 pots. In a quiet street in an older residential part of Tokyo, just near the park, is a little gallery that might belong in a village in the English countryside. Isaka san, the owner, spent many years in the UK and has created a gallery that has the feeling of Britain and specialises in contemporary british ceramics.
This is my second exhibition at Gallery St Ives, and many friends gathered to help celebrate the opening on Saturday evening. Guests arrived from as far afield as Nagano and Shizuoka. Australian wine was flowing freely, and Yoneyama san brought a delicious dessert wine from his own vineyard.
Food from my platters and wine from my cups. Sharing the fruits of our labours with friends. That is the art of function, that is the function of art.

Tuesday 20 November 2007

St Ives!

Just as a tree makes leaves in order to grow, so a potter makes pots. Each leaf bears the unmistakable characteristics of the tree, but every one is complete and beautiful in and of itself, and no two are the same. At the end of each year the tree will display its leaves in a blaze of colours and share them with the world.

A year has passed since my last exhibition at Gallery St Ives in Tokyo. We recently had a group exhibition of tea bowls there, but this Saturday sees the opening of my annual solo exhibition. Back in 2001 I exhibited and did a workshop in St Ives, Cornwall, during the September festival. While I was there the world changed, with the destruction of the twin towers in New York. Ever since then I have been active in the British Ceramic scene, and Gallery St Ives in Tokyo, which specializes in contemporary British Ceramics, has accepted me into its "Stable" of Ceramic artists.

Last year we collaborated with Chef Morishige of "La butte boisie" french restaurant in Jiyugaoka for a signature dinner. It was an opportunity for me to explore the function of art in relation to western cuisine. I have always believed that a vessel does not reach a point of completion until it is in use, and by creating a full course menu worth of pots for a french dinner it brought the purpose of pottery into clear focus.

Isaka san at gallery St Ives also invited me to participate in the Tokyo Dome Table Ware Festival earlier this year. It is refreshing to see pots in context and invigorating to find a gallery so committed to the promotion of excellence in ceramics.

This year we will not be doing a signature dinner, but everyone is invited and welcome to a free opening reception at the gallery from 6:00pm on Saturday November 24th. I will be at the gallery on the 24th, 25th of November and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (final day) of December.

I invite you to come and share with me again this year, my work and my life, and see how much I have grown.

Monday 19 November 2007


Every year, when the mornings start to become fresh in the autumn, I am greeted with a beautiful splash of purple, yellow and red in the midst of the green lawn. We harvest the red stamens of this delicate crocus for the most precious spice of all, saffron. Worth its weight in gold, it gives to food the colour of gold and the fragrance of autumn. Our crop is not large, but used sparingly it will last us a year till autumn comes again.

One of my favourite dishes is of course saffron rice. Combined with cashew nuts, raisins and turmeric it is the perfect foil for a curry banquet.


6 cups of rice
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 cup of raisins or sultanas
1 cup of cashew nuts
12 strands of saffron, steeped in 200ml hot water for 5 minutes
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 litre of stock
25 grams of butter

Melt butter in frypan and lightly fry the onions till translucent. Add cashew nuts and raisins, fry for a minute or so, add turmeric. Put the rice into the frypan and mix well till well coated with butter then add the other ingredients. Bring to the boil on a high flame then allow to simmer on very low, covered, for twenty minutes. Serve with any variety of curries and Naan.

Friday 16 November 2007

New Kiln in Nagano!

There is a lot of interest here in Japan (and internationally) in efficient and environmentally responsible wood firing. As a result many people are building kilns based on my kiln plans. There are now at least twelve that I am aware of in this area of Japan and many others in Australia, USA and Europe.

Last weekend I went to Nagano prefecture to build a new kiln for Laura and Giichi Inoue. Two of the participants from the Mashiko kiln building workshop, Sasase san and Yoneyama san volunteered their help, as did Kumon san, a potter from Nagano. A local potter, Okamoto san also came to help on monday.

As I have an exhibition coming up soon I could only spare three days, so we set ourselves a three stage target; fire boxes and up to the floor on saturday, walls up to the arch on sunday and the arch and chimney finished by monday night. It was a six hour drive on friday night, but we started work at 8:00am saturday morning.

The shed and concrete floor had been built be a professional builder so we were starting from a smooth and level base. Hooray! All the bricks and materials were new, no second hand bricks to clean or hedge around. Hooray, hooray! And Fire clay, not mortar, which makes laying the bricks easier as it stays flexible for minor adjustment and afterwards will make maintenance easier. Hip, hip, hooray!

We lay the first layer with the bricks arranged in the pattern of the fire box and upper walls to make sure there were no mistakes in measurements, 6 bricks deep and 6.75 bricks wide.

The third layer has gaps called "Mouse Holes" between the bricks at the sides of the fire boxes which can be opened up to let air in under the embers if they build up too much during the firing.

The fire grate is made of 39cm "I" shaped kiln props set on edge so that they form a natural pattern of gaps. These are slid into a channel so that if one prop gets broken during a firing it can be dropped down into the ash pit with a long rod and a new prop pushed in from the front. The whole lot can then be slid back into the original position along the channel which we made this time by setting that layer of bricks on edge also.This saved having to cut bricks, a time and energy consuming job.

The flue was bridged at the back between the kiln and the chimney at the level before the floor of the kiln.

The floor of the kiln was bridged with double length fire bricks. The space between the flame entry ports has an angle cut to help the flame flow into the kiln.

From that point onwards the walls and the chimney become independent. The walls above the floor are built as a single layer of hard refractory bricks on the outside. We build the outside walls up 15 layers above the floor.

The inside wall of soft bricks is the layed dry (without fire clay). Soft bricks are not as structurally durable as hard bricks and so the stress between the expansion of the bricks and the fire clay or mortar can crack the bricks. The purpose of the fire clay is not so much to stick the bricks together as to fill the gaps between them.

There is a difference between the height of the outside and inside walls wich is equivalent to the accumulated thickness of fireclay between the outside bricks. This is adjusted by cutting soft bricks to fit level with the outside wall. A "Soldier Course" is then layed to tie the inner and outer walls and give a firm springboard for the arch. The arch springs from skew bricks cut to an angle that is calculated based on the curve of the arch.

The Arch former and outside frame are set in place, then the arch brick are layed dry. Sasase san welded the arch in place, but it can be bolted together if you can't weld.

After tightening the angle iron frame the arch former can be removed and then the gap in the back wall filled in.

There is still a bit of finishing off to do for Laura, but there you have it, a kiln in three days.

Thursday 1 November 2007


It's Halloween and the ghouls are out, haunting the house of Craig.

The Jack o Lantern carefully carved from a home grown pumpkin is glowing in the dark, and a fiendish feast is waiting.

Worms in axle grease (squid ink spaghetti)
Witches broth (with pasta spiders, bats and owls) and Chameleon eyeballs(stuffed green olives)
Dried Slugs (grated cheese)
Powdered Lice (parmesan)
and dried Bogies (black pepper)

"Pass the bogies!" calls the vampire.
"Can I have more Slugs?" asks the skeleton.
"These eyeballs are delicious!" exclaims the Cat woman.

"Kick, Punch!" says spiderman