Cornwall is thought to have the highest concentration of working artists anywhere in the British Isles, outside of London and many of them are tucked away in the quiet of the Cornwall’s countryside. This winter I discovered a wonderful potter just a few miles from my home and just for a day I was transported into the elemental world of clay.
Ben Barker is driven by the magical alchemy of earth and fire, the raw chemistry that transforms simple clay into beautiful and dynamic ceramics. A self-taught Cornish potter he has been working in three dimensional crafts for more than 40 years and continues to innovate and reinvent. In 2014 he returned to his Cornish roots and established Chy Gwynn Pottery in the rural village of Cusgarne near Truro.
His landscape ceramics echo the earthy tones of the metal oxides left by mining and the strong architectural forms of the engine houses. When Ben talks about the multifarious chemical reactions of the glazes that can occur inside the kiln he makes it sound both magical and wondrously unpredictable.
“The influences on my ceramics are many but not specific” he says, “Often a polar response to my current practice and a compulsion to explore a new genre”.
This contrast of style is evident in the contemporary monochrome aesthetic of his most current work in porcelain.
Each piece is unique, hand thrown on the potters’ wheel and decorated in a minimalist black and white which creates endless visual variation and a feeling of understated grace.
I was given a pottery session with Ben as a birthday gift and spent a wonderful day with his expert tuition guiding me to produce two little pots that I was really proud of.
The effort and control involved really surprised me especially when someone like Ben makes the whole process seem so easy. But the feel of the clay between your fingers and the satisfaction of picking up my glazed and fired pots a few days later was brilliant!
Ben undertakes commissions and works as Artist in residence for schools and colleges. I would highly recommend his tuition which include Studio days and Raku workshops. The groups are small enough that you feel like you are really getting one to one guidance if you are a beginner like me and Ben has an absolute wealth of knowledge for the more confident potter.
Why not give it a go! Just email Ben who will be able to tell you when the next sessions are and what places he has free.
If you liked this post you might also like: Simon Bradley on Gyotaku, a seagull called Derek and finding his Cornish Bolthole