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Artist Q&A: John Ward

03 Apr 2020

We spoke to acclaimed British ceramicist John Ward, whose works feature prominently in a new bequest gifted to The Hepworth Wakefield, about his artworks and inspirations.

What was your path to becoming a ceramicist?

An interest in making things from early years. A magical visit to a local pottery near Hayes Common in Kent when nine years old.  This sowed the seed. The discovery of blue-grey clay bursting through a pebble beach at Fairlight Glen near Hastings and the making with this clay of small pinch pots which dried to a pale ivory then fired to a pale terracotta.  This was in my twenties. I attended a part-time course in ceramics at East Ham Technical College whilst working as a BBC camera man.  This germinated the seed.  Now I knew what I wanted to do, so I left the BBC and applied for a full-time course in ceramics at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in 1966.

Image courtesy of John and Philippa Ward.

What was it about this medium that attracted you?

Clay fascinated me because of its marvellous tactile qualities and its seemingly limitless possibilities of expression, but also because I had developed a deep interest in ancient pots and bowls that I had seen at the British and the Victoria and Albert Museums.  I sensed the history in the empty well of the bowl and the mystery of more enclosed forms.

Did you have any particularly inspirational teachers or peers?

At Camberwell School there were several visiting teachers whose work I greatly admired.  Hans Copers pots encompassed both the ancient and modern, timeless and monumental.  Lucie Rie’s work, which I first saw in a sunlit exhibition room, glowed with its own light, life and colour.  Ian Godfrey’s creations exhibited a marvellous sense of form and texture as well as fun.  I was inspired by all of these teachers but much of the teaching seemed to be acquired by osmosis from their presence, knowledge of their work and occasional apt comment.

You live and work in Pembrokeshire – does the coastal landscape have an influence on your work?

I have lived with my family in Pembrokeshire now for forty years.  We live at the foot of the Preseli Hills just a few miles from the coast so it is not surprising that some of the colours and textures of the glazes I use, blue, green and ochre echo the colours of the rocks, pebbles and cliffs of the local beaches.  They have within them some of the same materials.  Being near to the sea has had an effect on the decoration I use reflecting the movement of water and the dips and folds of the strata revealed on the cliff faces.  This in turn affects the development of the form, they evolve together.

Image courtesy of John and Philippa Ward.

Are there other influences you draw on?

In the beginning I was particularly inspired by ancient pots and vessels from Egypt, Persia and the Cyclades.  The influence is still there but much of what I have made has evolved from the bowl.  The inside well of a bowl can be like looking down into a valley.  Light is reflected upwards and there is an open invitation to place something within.

What is the creative process you go through when creating a vessel?

I often make little drawings to help with the development of an idea but I usually know what sort of pot I am going to make.  Being aware of the glaze and type of decoration I will be using modifies the form but sometimes it is the form that will alter the decoration, they evolve together.

How do you feel about The Hepworth Wakefield being given such a significant collection of your works? John and Terry’s collection includes 43 works created over a fifty year period.

I was very surprised and pleased when I heard that John and Terry were bequeathing their large collection to the Hepworth.  I think it is very generous of them.  I feel honoured to have such a range of my work kept together in this wonderful museum.

Find out more about John & Terry’s bequest here.