Digital Pots
Analogue Pots
Text & Statements
Artist Resume
 
 
 

 

Q&As
Edited Answers to Questions from Students and Press

Statements
Recent Artist statement - Jonathan Keep
Statement for Crafts Computed - Jonathan Keep (2001)
Drawing Statement - Jonathan Keep
Technical Information - Jonathan Keep ( Pre 2010 - analogue pots)

Texts
The Language of Pots - by Candida Wingate (Ceramics Review, no 193 Jan/Feb 2002)
Introduction to Earthness - by Linda Theophilus (Catalogue for Solo exhibition, The Pearoom, 1999)
Connections - by Les Bicknell (Catalogue for Solo exhibition, The Pearoom, 1999)

ARTIST STATEMENT
Jonathan Keep

Nature - not objective nature out there but subjective nature within us - maker and viewer is what interests me. Us, as part of nature.

Somebody schooled in Western European Art might describe my work as sculpture, and that the content of the sculpture deals with ideas about pottery. I chose to call myself a potter in support of the gradual acceptance of pottery into mainstream Western contemporary art. Having begun to work as an artist in South Africa - twenty years ago - when European notions of high art and other cultural imperialist attitudes were being seriously questioned, the pot offered a format of universal appeal and a common human visual language. Implicit in what I do is the questioning of the reality we create for ourselves and the questioning of Western notions of high art, and culture in general. In an increasingly global community I believe an understanding of the commonality of human experience and cultural development needs to be reinforced.

Using the pot as a metaphor for the human body, I seek to explore the psychological will to use the object to express and communicate thoughts, emotions and concerns beyond utilitarian need. As conscious beings I feel we forget the role biology plays in our lives, especially with respect to aesthetic experience. How often do we have a sense of appreciation, of intrigue but cannot explain why. For me this experience is both physical and mental. Pots posses a highly developed visual, social and material language of their own. It is this inherited language, and how as a contemporary maker I can use and reinterpret this language to express something of the age that I live in, that interests me. Language, in its structure and vocabulary reflects our poetic and symbolic imaginations, as in my pots I am not interested in the usefulness of these objects but in their ability to carry ideas and emotions, and to communicate these to others. Intrinsic to this language is the material clay, and the elemental qualities of fire and water - stuff of the earth. I seek to explore the relationship between nature and culture; the relationship between what we make, why we make and the resources and process used to make, as an exploration to understand our existence.

Concentrating particularly on scale and form, it is how we respond in a very direct physical manner to these characteristics, which intrigue me. Scale is defined by the relationship to our own body size. Form, is almost felt more than understood. Form as a bodily awareness. The rhythm, structure and pattern of the form create a particular mood or feeling - a poetic image. In particularly the dialectic of exterior skin or shell and its inner void, of positive and negative. I am as interested in the inside form as much as the outside form and the way light reveilles these elements. I like to think that my forms grow from inside to out. Working in coarse stoneware clay my pots are constructed from elements thrown on the potter's wheel. It is the process of exploring my own natural creativity that generates how my pots look. The importance is not in the object itself, but how the object can communicate the surprise, the bracing effect on our lives that the expression of creativity offers.

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COMPUTER AIDED DESIGN
Jonathan Keep

The physicality of the real pot was what I found I missed when working in virtual reality and exploring the possibilities of multimedia technology in the CD-ROM, 'The Language of Pots'. That is not to say I did not thoroughly enjoy the exploration of the virtual world but it is something else, not a substitute for the real world. In our minds we might live in an equivalent 'virtual world' but we have a long way to go before the home computer can get anywhere near that experience. Three things in particular struck me while working on screen. Scale, orientation or the effect of gravity, and that lack of physical contact. These then have become particular areas of perception that I have explored in my studio pots. I was made aware of just how important these qualities are within pottery, and our appreciation of pottery. How we measure scale in relationship to our own bodies. How the pot sits on a surface and its weight - an objects physical presence. It is a thing we can walk around, that we can identify with and read with our bodies, our whole being and not only our minds. In virtual space objects appear to float, but in the real world we know materials have weight. In the pot Bowl that is suspended at head height I wanted to maintain some of that feeling of the pot floating, like a thought, while emphasising it's earthiness in the realisation it is made of stoneware fired clay. The 'stuffness' of the material is lost in virtual space. In the CD-ROM I explored sound associated with pottery, and the idea of sending the viewer inside the virtual pot. With Bowl I am inviting the viewer to consider the inside of the pot as well as the outside form. Put your ear near the lip of the pot and listen to that inside space. With the series of pots entitled Hand held Pot I am concerned with the scale of the pot. The measurement of size against the hand. They are pots that fit comfortable in the hand. With the idea that we can feel form - haptic awareness. These pots have no specific base. They settle on a surface however you set them down. They are conceived as object to be held in the hands so do not require a base. In the group of tiny porcelain pots I continue to question our perception of gravity and scale. These pots play with our sense of orientation, like objects held in the imagination they are free, suspended in space. We are reminded that the physical world becomes a construction of our own subjective perception. Mirrors and lenses lead us into other realities.

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MUSIC AND MAPPING - DRAWING STATEMENT
Jonathan Keep

In this body of work my interest is in drawing for its own sake, as an abstract visual language. I enjoy the immediacy of the expression, its directness and simplicity of means. The basic formal elements of surface and mark can carry an essence or feeling. It is this essence of creativity, of thought, of idea, of communication and not representation that I aim to capture in these images. I would like my work to be felt more than understood. This is why I use the analogy with music. Often I take a solo instrument, line, and while considering the whole, the composition, the structure and the relationship of differing elements I explore tone, form, rhythm and the subtlety of each. Some of these drawings have been made using black iron oxide and magnets. The process becomes important as a way of exploring the 'nature of creativity' and offers a way of mapping it out. I am interested in the natural abstract qualities underlying creative expression and how we collectively respond to these systems. By sprinkling iron oxide over the paper and then drawing it around with magnetic forces from underneath the paper I am playing with the paradox of chance and control. The magnetic force has a life of its own independent of the forces I bring to bear. The imagination of the viewer then completes the creation.

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THE LANGUAGE OF POTS (Ceramics Review, no 193 Jan/Feb 2002)
Candida Wingate - arts consultant

Clay and its use as a creative and expressive medium, is what links the range of work produced by the South African artist potter, Jonathan Keep. While the forms and decorations of his domestic ware reflect his passionate belief that pots should be handled and touched, "What a shame", he reflects, "to walk past a shelf and not touch a pot", it is in the larger sculptural and architectural pieces that his principle preoccupation becomes most obvious. This preoccupation lies in the many analogies between pots and the human body, both in their formal design and the symbolism they contain; from 5-feet high sentinel pots to kneeling figures and large-bellied vessels, his work speaks to us of pots as people and people as containers.

It may appear, therefore, somewhat incongruous that, consumed as he is with the physicality of pots, he should wish to create a CD-ROM programme in which, by definition, the pots have only a virtual existence, devoid of any tactile qualities. Yet he was immediately drawn to the possibilities presented by such a challenge; "I felt there was potential here for a really interesting interpretation of what I do," comments Jonathan. "Using computer-generated multimedia seemed an ideal way of making my work and the concepts that lie behind it far more accessible to a wider public."

The resulting work, 'The Language of Pots', contains nine distinct elements, moving through the development of the archetypical form to an exploration of virtual bowls moving in space and on to experiments in symmetry. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that there is a definitive route through the work. On the contrary, 'definition' is anathema to Jonathan's working practises. His virtual pots, just as with his studio pieces, pose questions about perception over experience, what is real and what makes it so and why we respond as we do. It is up to the viewer to supply their own answers.

First, however, he had to provide some answers of his own. A complete novice at computer technology, Jonathan had to learn how to manipulate the various pieces of software used to make the programme, a task that immediately became easier once he discovered the many similarities between the digital processes and physical pot making.

For example, using modelling software to explore archetypal forms through a series of evolving wire frames, it became obvious to him that he was working the frames just as he would a lump of clay on the potters wheel, pulling, stretching and drawing up the shapes. Transforming the throwing process into another visual medium led him to work at a conceptual level, experimenting with shapes that could not be sustained by the physical material of clay.

Similarly, he was able to create a visual reference for the transformations that occur during the glazing process, capturing the liquidity of the material that happens, unseen, in the kiln. Using animation software, Jonathan applied surfaces to the forms, which on screen continue to evolve and alter the pattern and colour as the viewer goes deeper into the image.

While building this part of 'The Language of Pots', another similarity between the digital and physical experience arose; that of having to wait until the end of the process to be sure of the results. Once the animation films had been created, they had to be 'rendered' onto the pots, a process that took several hours. "Until the computer had done its job you could never be certain what would emerge," says Jonathan. "It was very like waiting to open your kiln door to find out if you had achieved what you thought you would."

One area where multimedia effects overtook the material process was in the extent to which viewers could interact with the vessels. Initially, Jonathan was concerned that presenting 2-dimensional images on screen would be proscriptive, as he was essentially choosing how the pot could be viewed; in the real world, a pot might be displayed on a plinth or a mantelpiece with the viewer free to choose their own angle of observation. He wanted to offer a similar freedom, and found the means within the software QuickTime VR which captures the image photographically in 360 degrees. The viewer is then able to click on the pot and turn it around, upside down and even view it inside, a possibility that certainly would not be available in many gallery settings where large 'DO NOT TOUCH' signs are often attached to exhibits.

One of the most exciting aspects for Jonathan was the creation of a series of mirrored forms, exploring the concept of reflected symmetry. Relating back to his studio work which contains constant reference to the natural world, the series question how we arrive at and react to our perceptions of that world. Is it because we see ourselves in another human being that we respond positively to that person? And to what extent is it our observations or assumptions that trigger our reactions? His mirrored forms not only demonstrate perfect symmetry, but emphasise how little in nature is truly symmetrical. Creating his programme extended Jonathan's understanding of the processes employed by the ceramicist but, more importantly, it gave him the opportunity to think laterally about what drives his own work, extending the metaphor of the pot as mirror of the human form and condition. It also provides the perfect platform from which to encourage us, the viewers, to examine more closely, consider more carefully, what we see.

Images of his lips, shoulder and foot morph into corresponding parts of the virtual vessels, while photos of skin, hair and even his wife's arm, grid-marked and swollen after a lengthy allergy test, are tiled onto their surfaces. Zooming in on large, revolving globes reveals areas of his body, an obvious if slightly voyeuristic reference to the potter's body, i.e. clay and his own body as a potter. 'Look at my pot, see me' could be an alternative title for this work.

The roots of this fascination with clay as the embodiment of the human condition go back to Jonathan's childhood where, growing up in South Africa, clay was a natural and abundant play material for all children. His interest continued throughout school and he went on to do a Fine Arts degree at Natal University. It was during the time of rising Black consciousness and he found himself at the heart of the debate concerning the relevance of the European art and its hierarchy over indigenous African Art. When he came to England in 1986, he was dismayed to discover that, paradoxically, a less liberal attitude towards ceramics prevailed here, with pots being 'pigeonholed' as crafts and not recognised within an artistic context as they had been in South Africa.

The influences of that indigenous art are evident in much of his work; it also provides the context for another recurring question he addresses in his work, the need for pots to be useful. "African pots were obviously made to fulfil a function, to carry water or to hold grain, but they were also beautifully made and embellished. My virtual pots cannot be useful in that sense, so does that mean they are not 'good' pots?"

It was the potential to provide a vibrant visual interpretation of his work, rather than as a tool to create new pieces, that attached Jonathan to the CD-ROM project and, once it was completed, he was keen to get back to the physical world of his studio and start making 'real' pots again. He recognises, however, that his experience of virtual reality has informed his latest body of work, in which he explores this question of function over form.

HAND HELD POTS is a series of pots without any sense of orientation, a direct link with the forms in 'The Language of Pots'. They do not have a single base and so may be laid on their side, upside down or upright or, as the title suggests, held in the hand. Given this degree of ambiguity, does this mean they are not good pots? Jonathan would argue that the answer does not matter; he is not concerned with definitions but rather with how the viewer or, in this case, the handler, relates to the work. As an object maker he is interested in using his craft to evoke sensations and responses, to plant questions and stir emotions. He uses his craft to engage in constant dialogue with his audience, as admirably demonstrated in 'The Language of Pots'.

EDITORS NOTE: 'The Language of Pots' is one of a collection of ten original digital artworks created specially for INSITE. In addition to the artworks, the CD-ROMS contain video clips of the artists responding to questions about their professional lives and text pages containing information about their work together with biographical details. INSITE has been developed by Suffolk County Council and is funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of England and the European Regional Development Fund. For more information about INSITE please contact the Suffolk County Council arts consultant, Candida Wingate, telephone 01986 784720, e-mail candid@lineone.net.

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INTRODUCTION TO EARTHNESS (Catalogue for Solo exhibition, The Pearoom, 1999)
Linda Theophilus - Freelance exhibition organiser and consultant

It is doubly appropriate that this exhibition 'Earthness', Jonathan Keep's first solo exhibition of sculptural ceramics in the UK, should be shown at the Pearoom. Travelling to Heckington across the flat landscape of Lincolnshire, one is very aware of earth - dark, fertile fields stretching to a full circle of far horizon. On arrival, the second floor gallery seems to float above a sea of soil, glimpsed through its windows.

From Stornoway to St Ives, there is a tradition in Britain to stage the very best of contemporary visual art away from the cities; to make the audience seek it out in 'special' landscapes. The Pearoom has established a reputation for doing just that, for contemporary crafts. Keep joins an impressive list of studio craft artists who have responded to Clare Bryan's invitation to exhibit at this very particular place; like other old buildings converted to galleries, the Pearoom does not provide a neutral 'white box'. The long low dimensions of the space, the natural light through Victorian sash windows, the posts and beams, the work-worn floor all combine with the volumes, and textures of Jonathan Keep's sculptural forms to make a satisfying whole. Keep has also made new work for the walls. Exploiting the linear quality of the smaller gallery, he assembles separate pieces of fired earth to build tile "pictures" of great beauty, while in the main gallery, he counterpoints circles, hemispheres and horizons in pared down compositions that lose nothing of the voluptuousness of his earlier small sculptures.

Earthness is a collaboration between venue and artist; location and sculpture; all interacting to make a site-specific exhibition of great power.

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CONNECTIONS (From catalogue for Solo exhibition, The Pearoom, 1999)
Les Bicknell - Artist

Jonathan Keep is a potter; his insistence on the title is at the core of understanding his work. Part of his time is spent creating domestic ware. The duality of his practice informs the sculptural work. His acquisition of craft skills and their employment in the making of the pieces lead to the creation of well made pieces, which understand themselves and the context of their making. This anthropological understanding of the context of clay, its presence as part of our everyday, is at the core of the work.

The pot exists as an idea beyond its physical form. To drink a toast is to do more than just nourish oneself. Keep talks about the ability in certain cultures to insult ones sexuality purely by the method of holding a pot. There is an understanding about the connection between the pot and the soul, its metaphorical role as body.

Animal vegetable mineral? Although made from the earth the work is definitely animal in both form and intent. This includes man. The work exhibits the internal spaces and external forms of the animal world. A single piece can contain forms, which might suggest elements of several animals, be it a cows hoof, the internal organs of a cuttlefish or the shape of a snails shell. Each twist and turn of an individual piece reveals another aspect and connects us to each other. The ambiguity of the form is not confusing. It is this journey, the discovery of numerous elements which delight and intrigues one about the work, one canfind a sense of place within them and reflects on the earth and mans place within it.

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TECHNICAL INFORMATION
Jonathan Keep

Technically I seek to keep things as simple and as direct as possible. I have worked in clay since being a schoolboy and over the years I have developed a fluency in throwing, coil building, slab building and basic moulding techniques, and use whichever process is relevant to the work being produced. Often incorporating a number of techniques in a single work.

Similarly I use a variety of clays, depending on scale, desired surface quality and where possible I select the material and technique to support the content or idea in the work. Such as layers of different coloured clays when referring to geographic striations or stratum and coil building with different clays when conveying a sense of layering or growth rings. The glaze I use (fired to 1220c in an electric kiln) is a blend of china clay and wood ash. In differing proportions, subtle variation in surface quality and colour are achievable. The simplicity of this glaze appeals to me, and the fact it is made of such basic materials, clay and ash is very satisfying.

My basic working method is to throw a number of pot forms, then working on a small group manipulate, cut, stick together, turn up side down, cut again until an image or idea begins to emerge. Once I have this I add or subtract to refine the form and consider the surface. With pots that are slab built, the slabs are first moulded over bag formers. Once stiff, or leather hard these elements are cut and joined as with the thrown forms. I would be continually turning the form looking at the line, volume and balance as it evolves.

The pole sculptures are made up of extruded pipes of clay threaded onto a metal pole. The natural fired colours of the clays are allowed to show, giving a pallet from an earthy red, through brown, grey and touched with highlights of blue and turquoise glaze. In the tile works I similarly allow the intrinsic material quality of the clay to become the pallet for natural pattern making. All work can be sited out of doors and depending on the design is surprisingly robust.

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