To anybody familiar with the field of contemporary and studio ceramics the title ‘Potters in Parallel’ will at once draw recollections of the 1997 Barbican Art Gallery exhibition which celebrated the lifelong friendship between two of the leading international ceramicists of the past century – Dame Lucie Rie and Hans Coper.
Together they paved the way for a new generation of ceramicists, potters and makers who continue to this day to shape the international ceramic scene.
These makers were the stars of the recent exhibition Things of Beauty Growing at the Yale Center for British Art (and set to open at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum in March). In the show, and its stunning accompanying catalogue works by Magdalene Odundo, Elizabeth Fritsch, Edmund de Waal and Grayson Perry were all celebrated, highlighting the influence of an earlier generation of makers, including Bernard Leach, William Staite Murray, Rie and Coper.
But the ceramicist that perhaps goes the greatest lengths towards bridging the gap between the old and the new is the Jennifer Lee, one of the most successful and sought after potters working today, and recently shortlisted for the prestigious 2018 LOEWE Craft Prize.
Lee is somewhat of an incongruity within the art world, refusing, by and large to pass comment about the works that she makes, all carefully hand built in a process that sees her produce only a handful of works each year. Instead she leaves comment to others, including the introduction to her first solo exhibition in 1990 by Sir David Attenborough.
Attenborough also penned the introduction to the opening exhibition of Lucie Rie’s work at Anita Besson’s inaugural show in 1988, and it is no wonder that Besson picked up on the career of the young Lee, drawn to the same stylish elegance that ceramicists under her rostra exuded.
Rie too rarely spoke or wrote about her work, and instead left her delicately thrown porcelain, earthenware and stoneware vessels to speak for themselves. This strength of voice is perhaps the greatest similarity that ties these two makers, and which was highlighted in the 2009 21_21 Design Sight Exhibition in Japan, which showcased designer Issey Mikaye’s collection of works by Rie alongside the work of Lee and the German-born wood turner Ernst Gamperl.
After a long and distinguished career Rie ceased potting in 1990, the year of Lee’s first major solo show, and despite their difference of approach and technique to many Lee is seen as the natural inheritor of Rie’s title, celebrated not just in Britain but all across the world, and producing ceramics which are recognised as some of the most beautiful, original and intriguing art works of today.
Made in Britain will take place in London on 20 March 2018.