Roger Law, illustrator, caricaturist and satirist, late of Fluck and Law, the creators of the pioneering English satiric television puppet show Spitting Image, has traded his latex obsession for pots – ceramic pots. Law, a large lad with the uncanny spitting image of a Barbary pirate-seafaring mate, started his ceramic practice after finishing a grueling ten year run of his acerbic TV series.
Since he couldn’t afford a peerage, he moved to Sidney and began his ceramic life. Roger Law Ceramics is the result of a stint studying in Jingdezhen, China’s “Porcelain City,” where he began making mammoth wares. Visit his website here. And read about his early stay in China here:
My road to Jingdezhen had been paved by Australia and a long-term incurable addiction to ceramics. When I arrived in Sydney back in 1996 I hardly had time to settle in before I clocked the influence of Asia on Australian art. It is in the work of Ian Fairweather, Fred Williams, John Olson and Joe Furlonger. I could see why, as long ago as 1948, Sidney Nolan made the observation “From the point of view of painting Peking is more likely to be our focal point than Paris”* (*From: ‘Outback and Beyond’ by Cynthia Nolan, Angus & Robertson, 1994).
My curiosity about Chinese art culminated in a roller-coaster ride around China with Sydney art dealer and sinologist, Ray Hughes. I also became an admirer of Ah Xian, the seminal Chinese Contemporary artist who lives in Sydney. Many of Ah Xian’s sculptures were made in Jingdezhen and he encouraged me to go and work there. The clincher came when an invitation from The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen popped up in my computer. Ah Xian generously offered to meet me there and show me the ropes. So I packed up my modelling tools and two kilos of Sydney’s finest roasted coffee beans and set off.
I was met at Jingdezhen airport by Takeshi Yasuda, the hard working Director of The Pottery Workshop and residential studios. The pottery is situated in the old Jingdezhen Sculpture Factory complex surrounded by hundreds of small workshops nurturing every conceivable kind of ceramic skill you can think of – sculptors, mould-makers, decorators, slip-casters, glaze makers and kilns. They are making everything from two metre high Mao figures — army coat blown open and arms raised, as if hailing a cab in a hurricane — to tiny shirt buttons, all made in porcelain. Why is Takeshi Yasuda, the best pot thrower in the UK bar none, running an experimental pottery workshop in the home of porcelain? I was about to find out.
Pots in Jingdezhen are roughly thrown or coiled, left to dry and then trimmed with knives, which explains the impossible delicacy of Chinese porcelain and the layers of clay dust covering everything in the city from bedrooms to supermarket shelves. Takeshi, for the most part, recruits his staff from the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute. The accommodation provided is spartan but all essentials are covered and everyone gets together to swap anecdotes over the two cooked meals provided each day. The sub tropical climate (hot and humid in summer, cold and humid in winter) is off-set by efficient air conditioning/heating units. The pollution is relentless and the sun a light smudge in a grey sky. But conditions at the pottery studios are idyllic compared to working in the small outlying factories, which I was obliged to do.
I had no choice, as the unfired pots I was decorating were too large to be moved to The Pottery Workshop. One day I surfaced from painting the interior of an Ali Baba sized pot and was waiting for my blood to drain back into place when I noticed someone had left a pair of dirty brown gloves on my sandwiches. The gloves moved. A couple of rats were having an early lunch.
Jingdezhen is a hard life for the locals. I am convinced that McDonalds, known as “The American Embassy”, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are so popular because they are air conditioned. I preferred to visit ‘food alley’ which, as the name suggests, is a long narrow passageway of packed cafes, food stalls and carts with an open sewer running down the middle. You can down delicious pork and scallion dumplings served in bamboo steamers. The early morning breakfast pancakes are a real treat and you can play ‘spot the rat’ whilst hoovering up piping hot noodles – all frightfully good for the immune system.