OW: He called himself a potter, mind you. Coper, of course, [is] one of the only potters of the studio potter movement who's really kind of made it as an internationally acclaimed artist. And I remember when I started dealing, when I joined the Museum and started looking after he studio pottery collection in 1979, Coper was a name spoken with great awe and reverence. And we were astonished then because the prices for Coper pots then were a thousand pounds, which was four times what the highest other pots were, and then within a few years they were ten thousand pounds and now for big pieces they can be anything.
[video clip starts] A very interesting character, Coper, I think. Neither Rie nor Coper wrote hardly anything about ceramics or their making or their work or anything, and there's one famous passage in a small paragraph by Coper in the Coper and Collingwood show, and actually there's a letter in the V&A archive where he asks whether he could withdraw it because he didn't really want even that published. And it was all about the work speaking for itself. I think I've been infected by the awe that one has for Coper and seeing it as great timeless art, and what I find strange now, coming back and looking at them again after a few years, is suddenly seeing them as very much of their period. They start to have a period look to them. [video clip ends] And when you say this is made in ...
OW: They were acquired in 1975.
MP: Made in 1975.
OW: I find that quite surprising, that it's actually... It seems to me to be an aesthetic that by 1975 had been going a long while, and that they have a very 1950s look to me. I think they're great things. I'm not sure that this is the best example of his work in this form, and he made series of very similar forms, and I think one of the great things is putting a series together and seeing the subtle variations that come in them. They're very austere. And it's said - is it in that piece of writing? - that he didn't really like clay, he found it a very intractable, unfriendly material, but it was the only thing that he could use that did what he wanted. And comparing that with Cardew or someone like that, who just loved the material qualities of clay, it's [a] completely different other area of work.
Seen as purely sculptural things I think the interest is that he always retains the container as the basis. He doesn't go flying off into you know purely abstract work. I remember Lucie Rie pointing out that his mark, which if you read it one way is HC for Hans Coper, should actually be read the other way up so it is a bowl on a potter's wheel reflecting the fact that his work is very much about throwing and about the very basic things of potting. And Lucy Rie in her flat in London, her Hans Coper pots would have flowers in. I mean, they were just pure abstract pieces of sculpture to be admired as such, but they were being used. I think it's going to be interesting to see how his reputation develops over the next decades, [to] see whether it still sticks there.
MP: Did you ever meet him?
OW: No, he had already stopped potting and ill by the time I really came to the Museum, so I didn't meet him. I wonder how my view might have changed if I had met him. I knew him mostly through Lucie Rie who lived just across the park from the Museum here, who I used to see fairly regularly when she, of course, was a great devotee of him and his work. So it was he that taught her everything she knew about potting there... might have said it could also have been the other way round. Some of his pieces are very seemingly mechanical or formal exploration of abstract shapes. And I think it's only in some of his pots that you see a very different and rather sensuous quality in them. And we have a large piece rather like the top part of this without the base. It's got a very sensual character to it which kind of shows up some of the other things in a rather different light.
MP: It's quite a heavy pot. It doesn't necessarily look like it might be.
OW: Yes, [it's] well-grounded, well-based. They feel very well made. It's the other thing that he might have been purely an artist, but the craft in that is of a very high order. And indeed he was a superb; he might have of liked clay, but he managed to work it extremely well. This one's rather a small piece, but there are great tall pieces like this thrown with great precision, great work.
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