Project Coal Interview – Jonathan Fryer
Use three words to describe yourself.
Restless, driven, and self-deprecating.
How did you end up doing what you do?
I’ve only come to pottery recently. I have made music since I was fourteen and continue to do so, working with the wonderful instrumental label Trestle Records (www.trestlerec.com). But I was looking for another outlet for sometime without success. My mother in-law is a potter and one day I asked for a turn on her wheel. It didn’t go well at all and for a while I left it at that, but I kept being drawn back and it stuck. There is something incredibly elemental about pottery. It is intrinsically connected to nature. I feel pottery connects me with human history and that’s the real draw for me. The majority of my pots are a cross between functional pottery and sculpture. Is pottery an art or a craft? Well it doesn’t really matter. I want to make beautiful objects. It’s a sobering thought to think that these objects I create could be around for hundreds of years. I think that’s why I tend to destroy the majority of pots I make. They have to meet the strictest of standards to avoid the bin.
What is a normal workday for you?
I have a full time job, so a usual workday for me is usually fairly schizophrenic. My evenings are spent throwing pots and glazing. It's always a joy to have the weekend to spend throwing and working on pots. I get up early, make a coffee, put on a record or BBC4 radio and set to work, stopping for lunch, I'll do some reading and then get back to it. Pottery is a time consuming pursuit and is very process driven, timing in everything, whether it's catching a pot at the right stage of drying to turn or drying out recycled clay. The process often determines the structure of the day.
Share with us the thought processes before and after making a pot.
I’ve had many days where I’ve sat at the wheel for hours and I get nothing. Disaster after disaster. I have to be in the right frame of mind, or it’s simply not happening. Often this involves actively clearing my mind of everything else. I’ll often come to the wheel with a set idea of the shapes I’m looking to create. I regularly visit the ceramics gallery at the Victoria & Albert Museum. They have a fantastic collection. It’s located on the top floor and is almost always deserted. I’ll spend hours in there looking and sketching. I would say that 80% of the process is thinking about, looking at and sketching pots. If I’ve put enough thought into it, the throwing usually goes well. I spend a lot of time researching potters I admire, reading glaze recipes and brushing up on techniques. Throwing a pot is only one small part of the process. At any stage of the process the pot can be lost. It could be that you go all the way through and finally you open the kiln door and the pot is useless. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve learnt not to get too attached to any particular pot. It’s only a few months after, having lived with a pot that I’ll come to truly appreciate it. Then it becomes very precious and I become extremely possessive of it. I don’t give many pots away and I sell even less.
Who & what are your inspirations?
There are probably too many inspirations to mention. With regards to other potters it has to be Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, and Robin Welch. I also admire Shoji Hamada; Sung Dynasty pottery, Hellenic pots and Native American pottery. I particularly admire the burnished pots of Maria Martinez. Other influences range from the work of Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, modernist architecture, Richard Serra, the natural world…really everything and anything. I like to keep an open mind, whilst having my favourites. It’s a constantly evolving list.
Favourite music when you're working in the studio/creating.
Currently I'm listening to a lot of jazz, a lot of Alice Coltrane, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Miles and Don Cherry to name a few. I prefer to listen to instrumental music when I'm working, and recently I've been listening to a lot of classical music too; Debussy, Satie, Dvorak. 'Largo' from New World Symphony is a particular favourite, Alice Coltrane does a great interpretation of that track too.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Bigger, better pots. Haha. I try not to think too much about the future.
Jonathan's pots are available on the shop.
More of Jonathan's works and visual inspiration – @jonathanfryer