Slab Built Ceramics / 23rd March 2016 Back


Going against the grain – not advisable for slab-pots

slab-form ceramic

If the thrill of the wheel does not appeal don’t give up on the idea of being a ceramicist as you can try hand-building instead. So where to start? There’s a hint in the method, exactly as you would if you were going to build a garden or house – you would of course begin by drawing up a plan. The highly respected ceramicist, Ken Eastman, who is showing some of his sharply defined clay vessels at the opening exhibition at Gallery@OMP, “Seeds of Change” does just that.

A ground plan is created on paper. This is not a detailed architectural plan, it is more of a starting exploration of the space. Then slabs of white stoneware clay are rolled out by hand using a wooden rolling pin. The clay doesn’t suggest much- it’s cold and mute, so decisions continually have to be made by the maker. Not what the piece will look like, which will in time become clear, but the details. How wide? How long? How thin or how thick the slab? All choices which determine shape. Working with the soft and flowing slabs of clay is instinctive and spontaneous, something Ken has been doing for over 35 years, yet Ken also wants the work to have a strong architectural presence, a sense of weight and mass which alludes to other structures.

Once the piece has begun to take shape, he starts to draw and paint on its surface - to define or sometimes change its sense of form. It is a way of discovering and understanding what he is making. What is painted on the surface of clay will alter our reading or understanding of the underlying form. It is this constant dialogue and interaction between form and surface, two and three dimensions that is at the heart of pottery.

Always a nervous part of any potters life are the drying rates of the sides of a vessel, the grain needs to be managed or in the same direction, and the joins need to be well executed. The colour of a piece evolves through painting, modifying and superimposing layers of colours and oxides through numerous kiln firings. The colours will define shapes, blur shapes and create a sense of volume out of the space in the vessel. Maximum firing temperatures can vary significantly, from 1100 °C to 1200 °C.

The slab form enables Ken Eastman to create strong sharply defined vessels of substantial volume and abstracted shapes, such as the tall Body and Soul 31 x 36 x 60cm high and the wide Intimate Country 49cm x 33cm x 34cm high, which you could not achieve on a wheel which would produce round-bodied symmetrical vessels. Contemporary pieces to challenge the viewer.


See Ken’s work at the “Seeds of Change” exhibition from 29th March to 24th April 2016. Opening times are Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00. Gallery@Night Thursdays 17:00 – 20:00. Sundays 11:00 to 16:00. Ken Eastman has work in the V&A and other collections so if you want to see more please check out his website.


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