Design & Shopping: Earthenware: a new brew

Can it be true that Walter Keeler has abandoned his signature salt-glaze stoneware for `the joy of the commonplace'?

There's a great sense of excitement and expectancy in the ceramics world at the moment. No, it's not the announcement of the Jerwood Prize for the Applied Arts. It's being awarded to furniture this year. The trepidation centres around Walter Keeler's latest one-man show which opens in London next Friday. Rumour has it that the old sea dog has abandoned salt-glazed stoneware, the medium he has pioneered over the last two decades, and is about to launch a radical new collection made from - shock, horror - earthenware.

Are the rumours true? Well, yes and no, Keeler told me when I spoke to him. Yes, he will be exhibiting pots inspired by the dainty creamware and mottled tortoiseshell-glazed tablewares made by potters such as the young Josiah Wedgwood during the 18th century. But no, he has not sloughed off his crusty old salt-glazed stoneware carapace entirely. "I'm exploring the two materials in parallel," he explains, "making groups of works in batches. My salt-glaze pots have a more austere quality. They're darker in colour and weightier in form and physique. Very much in the Modernist tradition: severe, cool, robust, architectural. My creamware, on the other hand, is more delicate and subtle. It's a gorgeous warm material with strong sensual qualities, and I can use it to explore other qualities such as proportion and fine detail."

As Keeler points out, he has been potting for a good many years now, and one of the pleasures of working in the 1990s is that there are no rules anymore. Potters can do whatever they want. Back in the early post- war period, it was rather different. Then, the Anglo-Oriental tradition promoted by Bernard Leach was the prevailing influence, but try as he might, Keeler never felt comfortable adopting this model for his own work. Instead he discovered that his natural affinity lay with the semi- industrial pottery made in Staffordshire during the 18th century. "My pots are hybrids," he confesses. "Through reading Leach's A Potter's Book, I absorbed the idea that there was a right and a wrong way to make pots, and that basically they should be as simple as possible. Leach taught that you shouldn't go over things twice or attempt to refine them. But what I have tried to do is to reconcile the ethical approach I learnt from Leach with the lyrical qualities I instinctively appreciate in early industrial pottery."

Stoneware, the material with which he has been associated to date, is much tougher and more resilient earthenware and has traditionally been used for making functional wares, anything from wine bottles and beer mugs to water filters and underground pipes. Appropriately, therefore, when Keeler began working in salt-glazed stoneware, it was utilitarian artefacts such as tin cans, buckets and milk pails that inspired the forms of his pots, albeit reinterpreted in an offbeat way.

"Today, we are overloaded with stimulation of all kinds, and there is great pressure on people to live life at a high voltage," he says. "What I am trying to do is to bring people back down to earth again, and to alert them to the joy of the commonplace."

For his latest collection, though, Keeler has gone upmarket for his inspiration. In the language of retailing, he has upgraded from the local hardware store to Harrods; or in museum terms, from the humble agricultural museum to the lofty portals of the V&A.

In a sense, this is literally true, because what has prompted his recent change of direction has been a series of visits made with his students to handle ceramics in the collections at the V&A. This renewed contact with early industrial pottery seems to have fired his imagination afresh. Gradually Keeler found himself becoming more and more preoccupied with capturing the essence of 18th-century lead-glazed earthenwares, their lively contours, the warmth of their glazes, their quirky feet and handles, and the sheer craziness of their imagery. "I'm trying to find a way of celebrating the pleasure that I experience in looking at and handling 18th-century pots, yet at the same time to reflect the fact that I'm living at the end of the 20th century. I want to bring the earlier genre alive, and my way of giving it relevance today is by adding an element of wit and surprise."

Keeler is not interested in pastiche, however, and his approach is a very personal one. An essential difference between his work and that of his Staffordshire forebears is that Keeler's vessels are thrown, while the early factory-made pieces he admires were often partially or entirely moulded. "I want to retain the thrown quality but defy the thrown process," Keeler says. In other words, he wants to have his cake and eat it. To judge by the results, it looks as though he has.

Walter Keeler's exhibition is at Contemporary Applied Art, 2 Percy Street, London W1P 9PA from 17 September-30 October. There will be a gallery discussion between Walter Keeler and Tanya Harrod on Thursday 16 September at 1pm. To book, phone 0171-436 2344

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas