Tanya Harrod on Alison Britton
TH: Yes, it is a big white jug. I think I must have held this before because I wrote a little ... well I didn't really write a book about Alison Britton, I encouraged her to talk to me for hours. And I did a kind of chronology of her life, but incorporating things she said and some of my thoughts, year by year. And this, what did you say the year was?
TH: 1987 I think was rather a good year for Alison, although I remember she said she thought she'd played a safe wicket using blue and white to decorate this piece, because I think there's a general feeling in the ceramics world that anything blue and white will charm people. You can't go wrong with blue and white. But no, she exhibited in a ... she had a solo show, I think, in that year from which this comes, I imagine. And seeing it here close up I suppose I'm finding it difficult to get my head round the construction of it and I'm constantly frightened it's going to fall over in a way that I don't quite remember. Perhaps if I had it pointing towards me?
MP: It's possibly largely an illusion that it looks like it's going to fall over, but ...
TH: Yes, I suppose it's an intentional illusion. I mean, this is an area of ceramics which is very different to the world of Richard Slee, for example. It's not really about ornament at all is it, this piece? [video clip starts] It's some kind of synthesis of painting and sculpture, that's what I feel about it. It is a curious way of playing with the vessel shape sculpturally, and then mark-making which makes you think of St Ives painters like, I don't know, Peter Lanyon or maybe William Scott. And there's a certain tension between those two activities, the shape and the way in which it's been decorated. [video clip ends]
Alison has written most eloquently of anyone of her generation, and her generation loosely includes figures who were taught by Hans Coper at the Royal College, like Carol McNichol and Elizabeth Fritsch. She's written most eloquently about these kinds of vessels that in some ways aren't really vessels. She calls them two-faced objects and they're at once a vessel, but vessels about vessels. Again I think this isn't [the] kind of pot you'd necessarily like to handle that much. You might want to hug it, I suppose, but it keeps you at a bit of a distance.
MP: But you need to see the whole thing, don't you, in a way that you don't necessarily with the Elizabeth Fritsch [pot]?
TH: Yes, and actually it needs to be on a plinth, which is a funny thing to say. You'd think all pots would need to be on plinths, but they don't. This is a plinth pot and I know that Alison, in fact, got a furniture designer - I think Floris Van Der Brucker, it might have been him - to design a plinth, I think it was for a beautiful blue pot that's now in a collection in Cleveland, and in seeing this I think that was a wise move. But this pot is crying out not to be sitting on this nice grey blanket but to be on a plinth so you can view it in the round. It's like a statuette in that way, you need a certain sort of statuette, a late Renaissance statuette, because you need to go round and round it.
MP: Do you like it? We haven't talked about really liking the pots, particularly.
TH: No, it's funny, I'm so used to viewing things almost through reading people's writings or talking to them or fitting them into the context of the time that I quite often forget, do I really like this pot? And shamefully I haven't always handled the pots that belong to the person whose work I think I'm trying to analyse and understand. And maybe I don't like this pot as much as another pot that was in the same exhibition which is now at Hove. I think I've got a picture of it. No ... I haven't got a picture of it. It's called 'Double White Pot' and, this may be something to do with me, it seems to stand more stably. It's a really interesting shape because it's [a] jug shape combined with a circular vessel [into] one thing. And it's got a terrific sort of sense of uplift. Sometimes I have a slight problem with the way Alison's pots sit; sometimes they can sit too solidly, [and] sometimes, as in this case, it's moving towards me rather menacingly. But they're most beautiful. They leap up, or they're conjoined in some incredibly fascinating way. So, well, obviously I like this pot, but it might not be my favourite pot.