Publication: Ceramic Review
The Scottish Gallery
Clive Bowen range of functional slipware accesses the traditions of English and Japanese ceramics and creates a satisfying, solid and comfortable synthesis.
Bowen, who trained as an apprentice with Michael Leach at Yelland pottery from 1965 to 1969 is based in Shebbear near Holsworthy in north Devon where he operates a traditional wood- fired kiln capable of firing up to 1000 pots at a time. Almost all of his pots are thrown using the the local iron-rich Fremington earthenware clay which has been used for centuries in the area. The dark clay – the body and substance of Bowen's vessels – is decorated with slip made from creamy ball clay, also found locally.
Bowen's range of tableware extends from large flasks to jugs and from platters to bowls. His 'palette' is muted, earthy, warm and homely – browns, ochres and umbers; occasionally, dark resonant blues, greys and purples make their way into platters and other vessels.
All of the work here was made specifically for this exhibition and its shows – there is a remarkable degree of freshness in Bowen's pottery; although many of the forms and designs are tried and tested they never appear repetitive or formulaic. They are original studio works – made in the spirit of a grounded English utilitarian and rural tradition – which adopt Bernard Leach's original apporach laid out in works such as A Potter's Life which encourgaed established a recognection between place, material, function, tradition and design.
Interestingly, although the aethetics and techniques were passed down the Leach line to Bowen he had never himslef visited Japan until last year. Commenting on this Bowen has written:
The form and function of my work can be traced back to centuries-old pots such as English medieval jugs abd early Tamba ware from Japan. I hope that I am re-inventing them and not merely imitating them. My first visit to Japan...was an inspiration, causing me to look again as forms I hadn't made for several years, such as flasks and bottles (I last made these in 1971) as well as exploring new shapes. There is a wealth of forms contained within what we might loosely call 'domestic ware'....
A collection of three tea caddies seems to emphasise this approach – broadly similar in form and size, they are also highly indiviual, decorated with a painterly but restrained hand; they would seem ideal, essentail companions to a tea ceremony or to everday domestic use.
Bowen's initial training at Cardiff College of Art in the mid-1960's where he studied painting and etching has had an undeniable influence of the way he uses slip as a decorative visual medium.