This exhibition examines an artistic community linked by the aesthetic sensibilities and philosophy put forth by English potter Bernard Leach (1887-1979) and his Japanese colleague Shoji Hamada (1894-1978). The potters Lari Robson, Sam Kwan, Andrew Wong, Ron Vallis, Cris Giuffrida, Heinz Laffin, Vincent Massey, Martin Peters and Hiro Urakami share this lineage. Inspired and influenced by the first generation of Canadian potters who apprenticed with Bernard Leach at his pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall, the West Coast artists in this exhibition articulate an historical period in which the imaginations of many young potters around the world were captured by the studio pottery movement.
The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery’s 2004 Thrown exhibition and 2011 book by the same name focused on the Leach apprentices, John Reeve, Glenn Lewis, Michael Henry and Ian Steele, along with their well-known contemporaries Charmian Johnson, Wayne Ngan and Tam Irving. When they returned to Vancouver from St. Ives beginning in 1961, the apprentices brought with them hands-on knowledge and experience that profoundly shaped the next generation of potters in this region. High Fire Culture provides an expanded view of the working relationships between potters in the wider ceramic community during this same time period of the 1960s and 1970s. It calls attention to the often collaborative nature of claywork, the sharing of practical knowledge from throwing techniques to glaze recipes, and the ways in which the subtleties of the craft are passed from one generation to another.
Many of the participants were students at the Vancouver School of Art during a particularly fruitful time, some of them taught at the art school during this period, some completed apprenticeships, many attended seminal workshops with those who had studied directly with Leach, others studied in Japan, and nearly all traveled to St. Ives making a pilgrimage of sorts to meet Leach himself. The work and careers of these artists have an international value because, although some of them no longer make pots, when they did they made them with an intensity, spirit and style that identifies them as members of the Leach legacy diaspora.
High Fire Culture is curated by Nora Vaillant and Shelly Rosenblum and is organized by the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, and Satellite Gallery, and made possible with funding from the Doris Shadbolt Endowment for the Arts, the Michael O’Brian Family Foundation, the Hamber Foundation and the North-West Ceramics Foundation, with special thanks to Doug Lane Furniture, Moving Images Distribution, the UBC Museum of Anthropology and the Potters Guild of British Columbia.
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