Alison Britton on Hans Coper
AB: It's a very, very nice thing to touch. It's very holdable, probably because of its matt surface. And the scratch had this very slight staining - I don't know whether that's been added or whether it's just some of the manganese coming through from the slips underneath. It's not the most exhilarating form that he made. I think he got more and more tuned in to the excitement of things taking off and so on, so it's a kind of middle ranking pot, I think. It's anchored very nicely, it's a pleasure to pick up, and it's got that very classic thing about his work of having this dry, pale surface outside and a dark interior. It's nice to actually be able to get your hand in because I'm never quite sure. This has presumably been joined on when leather hard.
MP: Presumably the inside doesn't look quite like that, but I presume it must have been.
AB: It feels like it though. There's a roughness of a join there I think. [video clip starts] Because when you look at it first you think it might be a cup sitting on a neck, and it's not. It goes all the way down. If it had been in various people's homes it would have had flowers in it probably, wouldn't it? I mean, Lucie would always have put flowers in his pots.
I like them more when he's playing more severely with the form, when there's more flattening or extension or something. But I own a little thistle,and some of the ones where there's an envelope that's been shut to an extreme with the points at the bottom; that'sthe spade one, isn't it? That may be my favourite form. But it's very, very evocative of the whole body of things. [video clip ends]
It's always good , I think, to see more than one with him too, the way they relate to each other, the different nuances of shape when you see two or three; [there] is loads of space, [which is] exciting too. He was my tutor at the Royal College in the early 1970s - well, I chose him to be. I was actually allotted somebody else but I couldn't really talk to him very easily, so I kind of attached myself to him. Although my work was in a very shambolic and uncertain state and nothing to do with what he was doing, he was still a very wonderful teacher. He could imaginatively explore what your problems were, although they were completely different from his own. And I think there was always a sense of wanting to get it sorted out for him in a way; you couldn't stay in this uncertain state. You wanted [it] to be cleared so that you could give something back, in a way. But it was a very good tutorial for me, and most people who were taught by him say that. He was a very intuitive [and] non-demonstrative, but [a] sound person to talk to. And I did have a habit of going to visit him in Somerset on the way to other things, just dropping in.
MP: Can you give us a sense of how he taught?
AB: He would never impose himself. He'd never say, 'We're having a tutorial next Wednesday, I'm worried about whatever,' which I might now say to some people. You would have to go and find him, or you could make a date for the following week. He only came in one day a week. And he would be very measured, be a long time looking, and sometimes talking about quite a wide variety of things, not just what was on the table. I never saw him demonstrate. I suppose he did if he was teaching , but by the time I knew him he was already beginning to get a bit stiff, so he was not moving his head very much. There was already a kind of seizing up going on, and [he] had a stick, I think, by the time he left. He probably left around about when I did, 1973 or 1974 I think, and just retired to Somerset. It was an enabling conversation, and you did have a sense of a long past and, I think, lots of quite complicated events in the past, but without him ever talking directly about [it]. There was a sense of depth and understanding going in lots of different directions. And the piece, the only piece of writing he has ever committed to print is that introduction for the sixties V&A exhibition. And it's so quotable, isn't it? I mean everybody, in fact ...
MP: The egg.
AB: About the egg and also about the demented piano tuner approximating the phantom pitch. And that still feels apt for the people working now with being devoted to pot form but not having function as their main thrust. So he said something that lasted a very long time [and] has stayed meaningful, so pared down.