SIMON PETTET was not only a gifted and thoughtful potter, but a designer ever alert to new ideas and concepts. His ceramics were a combination of sharply observed historical references interpreted through and combined with a thoroughly modern sensibility.
At times resistant to authority - after being forced to leave school he promptly set out to gain as many GCEs as possible - he was keen to establish his reputation on his own merits. After a foundation course at Ravensbourne School of Art, he studied ceramics at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in the mid-1980s. It was a time of experiment when students responded to the ceramic brief in as wide a way as possible. Fascinated by the formal qualities of Delft pottery and by the combination of the brilliant white glaze and blue decoration, Pettet took this as his starting-point for an impressive series of large-scale objects which included vases and a fireplace.
After college he set up a studio in the East End of London which he shared with other makers, enjoying the exchange of ideas and collaborative projects. Joint exhibitions were organised in recently abandoned storerooms in the old Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market, in which decor and objects were sensitively related. For a time he worked on a series of mugs based on late 18th-century semi-industrial ware. These were thrown on the wheel, turned to a crisp outline and given a neatly carved and moulded handle. A white glaze and a delightfully
baroque-inspired transfer decoration printed in inky blue completed the design. Functional and decorative, the mugs successfully brought together Pettet's concern with craftsmanship and his awareness and understanding of traditional form.
Domestic interiors were commissioned which usually incorporated large-scale ceramic objects such as 5ft-tall tulip vases. Inventive and elegant, these were featured in magazines such as the World of Interiors and Elle Decoration. A commission to design a Swatch watch was unfortunately never carried through.
In 1983 Simon Pettet met his partner Dennis Severs and they lived in an 18th-century town house in Spitalfields restored as close to its original state as possible. Pettet's ceramics looked as much at home here as in a post-modern interior.
The dramatic onset of illness and a diagnosis of Aids nearly two years ago all but brought an end to Simon Pettet's design and ceramic work. Six months ago he had recovered sufficiently to reopen his studio and start work, but this was foiled by yet more illness. Despite often feeling weak, Pettet remained lively and ebullient; his quick wit, his good humour and his honesty remained until the end. True to form, he always insisted on describing himself as a craftsman rather than an artist. Sadly, we will not see his abundant and generous talent mature.
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