Tanya Harrod on William Newland
TH: Well, it fills you with happiness, doesn't it? It's so playful and bold. It's very much a piece of its time. I feel at home with it because I did get to know William Newland quite well, and he had a few pieces like this in his house where they looked very right. He had a lot of old oak furniture, it was hardly a modern setting, [with] old oak furniture [and] a lot of Staffordshire pottery into which pieces like this fitted very nicely. But the other kinds of place you'd see those pots would be exhibitions and places like The Studio Club, which he'd organised with his wife Margaret Hine and his chum Nicholas Vergette. That was a kind of rafish drinking club, and there's a wonderful photograph of a whole shelf of these kinds of pieces, all earthenware tin glaze, and they look as if they're dancing along the shelf.
But I suppose [that] if you didn't know William Newland and the history of it you'd wonder where on earth this came from. It seems so different to the pure forms of pre-war studio pottery. And it obviously has links with the Staffordshire ceramics industry, but obviously it was also inspired by the first sightings of pots made by Picasso in the south of France. And there's a similar context, I think, for Picasso's pots and these pots. Picasso made pots partly because he wanted to reach out to a much wider audience; I think that it was all slightly to do with his political allegiances at the time and he also wanted to provide work for people in the south of France. He'd fallen passionately for the south of France which was mostly to be his home from then on. And these pots also have a sort of democratising post-war socialist jollity about them, I think.
They couldn't be more different to, say, someone like William Staite-Murray's work. And in the kind of intercollegiate rivalry of London's art schools they stand for the ambitions and the lively way of thinking of Dora Billington, who never really liked Oriental-inspired pottery, never liked the great giants of the inter-war period's work that much. She thought there ought to be some kind of European-inspired, British-inspired tradition of ceramics and she was awfully keen on tin glaze. And William Newland came to pottery, I think, pretty much by chance. He was a New Zealander; interestingly enough he worked as a butcher and he used to drive great herds of cattle as a very young boy over the hills down to the markets in Wellington, so he has a bit of a feeling for animals. But he went to Chelsea School of Art, I think just for a bit of a laugh really after the war, because if [you] fought in the war - and he'd been a prisoner of war and he'd been very, very brave in all sorts of ways - you got a grant to go to art school.
It was the first real influx of people of all classes and backgrounds into British art schools. And then he thought he'd do a teacher training course and then he discovered he had this amazing facility for throwing, and [video clip starts] this is all thrown and some of it's pulled like the tail and the horns, but it's all been thrown in little parts and luted together. So, as regards skill, he's streets ahead of Picasso who never actually threw his work, or made it. He may have altered it. He never did anything as sophisticated as this. And in a way this is like a Picasso drawing turned into a pot more than actually being like a Picasso pot. And I love the way he's decorated it, because some of it makes me think of quite a different set of people, people like Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi who were really interested in organic form, shells, the whorl of a shell, the interior of a shell or micro-photography, [video clip ends] shell structures.
And although this is really rather a decorative kind of treatment, his close friend and pupil James Tower went on to use this form of decoration in a much more abstract kind of way, rather drawing on things like cell structures and high speed photography and micro-photography, all the things that really interested Richard Hamilton and the Independent Group, and went into that marvellous exhibition at the RCA called 'Growth and Form'. But this sort of work was intended to bring universal pleasure, and a lot of his commissions were to do work for coffee bars and schools. He actually would produce not exactly multiples, but lots of versions of the same sorts of things; bulls, Madonnas, children in the flight from Egypt, the Madonna and child on a donkey, and these were bought by schools. [Some] of his big patrons were the schools in Leicestershire, and although these pieces are horribly neglected now - you find them in the back of the library, badly chipped - you can see the impact they would have made on young people. They brought Continental painting and sculpture to children in an incredibly accessible way. And his wife was... her work was equally fine.
MP: Do you think the choice of tin glaze, which Hine, Vergette and Newland tended to concentrate on in that period, was because of the ability to get particular colours, or for other reasons?
TH: I suppose you have a much bigger, brighter palette, probably. But it just seems to work perfectly, doesn't it? And it would have at a glance separated them off from all the other pre-war studio potters, whether working in earthenware and slipware English tradition, or working with stoneware. There's something so bright and playful, and it's not specifically Mediterranean or anything, but it was a form of decoration that Dora Billington had already written about before the war as having huge possibilities. And it obviously can be dealt with in all sorts of different ways. Someone like Alan Caiger-Smith went off in a kind of lustreware direction, making it into a very grand, remote form of decoration. But this is accessible and playful isn't it? But without being in any way banal. So it's a really powerful creation.