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
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...