POTS OF PLENTY
11 May – End June 2023 at CBG
‘that simple vessel for everyday use … it is balance, the centre of gravity, when empty, when full, it is balance when rotated for pouring; it is sculpture as it fits the palm of the hand, the curve of the hip; it is sculpture as complement to the rhythmic motion of walking’
Charles and Ray Eames 1958 (Whitepaper for the creation of the National Institute of Design)
In ancient Indian culture, food and drink for the Gods were contained in special vessels, that appeared full to brimming. The Sanskrit word for pot ‘kumbh’ translates literally as body, and has been used widely in Indian Art and Literature to mean woman, bounty, earth and plentitude. Where Bernard Leach spoke of ‘the lip, the neck and the shoulder’, Betty Blandino, Oxford potter, described the ideal pot as ‘so full as to stretch the skin’. Hans Coper, Lucie Rie - referred to as Godmother of Potting, and Betty Blendino, have been Berman’s most treasured muses, and it is that feeling of plentitude that Berman seeks to achieve.
A highly respected award-winning architect, creating and extending buildings both contemporary and classical, Alan Berman is engaged with form, and life now happily affords the opportunity to explore further passions for planting trees and ceramics. In all three disciplines, form is at the heart of the matter. With a profound love for nature and the environment, AB says that ‘nothing is quite as perfect as the design of a tree’, and Pots of Plenty that he has been making without a wheel for thirty years, are by definition about both the inside as much as the outside. Form defines space, defines form…
Working with stoneware clay that he rolls and coils is AB’s preferred practice, scraping inside and out to achieve a raw surface that gives both character and warmth. Dolomite glaze in shades of white or manganese dark brown are undecorated, so as not to detract from line and shape. His pots are asymmetrical, each unique. Unlike architecture where the ‘making’ of the building affords that one chance to get it right, potting can be repeated again and again in the quest for perfection. There are moments when architecture spills across into his ceramics, which is evident in Berman’s Leaning Slabs where two flat rectangles of leather-hard clay are cajoled until conjoined into dynamic form that contains space.
Given the unpredictability of firing where bubbles deep in the clay might burst forth, and glazing brings an infinite spectrum of possibilities, one pot can never be the same as the last. So potting is something of a life journey, where intention and practice hone the skills required to do, or to be, one’s best. There is an inherent alchemy of serendipity in the process of potting, but as technique is mastered and form is pared back, it is more by design than by chance that Alan Berman creates beautiful pots.