Wednesday 28 March 2012

Gordon Baldwin - Objects for a Landscape - 2

It is the combination of sculpture with painting that make Gordon Baldwin's ceramics so innovative and unique. He broke entirely with the Leach tradition that form was all that mattered and has created ceramic sculptures which he still calls vessels and in so doing has challenged what is seen as 'art' and what is seen as 'craft'.

The fundamentals of his art: the relationship between inner and outer space; the economy of the form reminiscent of Cycladic art; the depths of the glazed clay achieved by often using various pigments; the economy of the lines on the surface of the forms which tend to follow the vessel's dips and swells; a preference for organic rather than geometric forms that are rounded rather than angular.

The early work

Born in 1932 and still working, his body of work is extensive. His early ceramic pieces featured functional stoneware vessels as well as tin-glazed earthenware and those were followed by biomorphic standing forms (see Totem, York Art Gallery, 21 March 2012 in this blog).  The figurative elements lessened as he became more preoccupied with landscape, particularly a beach at Porth Neigwl which he and his wife called 'the place of stones'.

"There is a beach in Wales that I call the place of stones. It was found decades ago by a blind pin in a map. This chance event discovered me and chance has directed my projects and widened my horizons. In this place I looked for emotional correspondences; I listened to the sea alone and stared at the landscape almost empty of people. I celebrated it with my camera. Such places are best faced alone and now they are in my studio with me".

"I remember reading a poet describe her writing as opening doors into new parts of her mind. She also said that each new poem was part of her whole work like stepping stones on a long journey. I think of my pottery vessels in the same way and over the years I have sharpened my instincts for the task of making them".

In the middle 60s he changed his colours to a metallic matt and mirror black. The new pieces were about the 'darkness of space inside things'. The shapes and surfaces were simpler: he used coiling technique, the vessels were mostly closed with rocking bases that had simple piercings to remind us of hidden interiors. This was the beginning of the preoccupation with the hidden inside. The shapes were often reminiscent of landscape, perhaps from that place of stones.

Trio, 1970,  (earthenware)

Serpens, 1970,  (earthenware)

In the  1970s he started work using white slip on stoneware. As he explained it: "not looking into my own black space so much - moving outward". He started making pedestal bowls, lidded boxes. He also started the Inscape series  - such an apt way to describe the interior/exterior dichotomy that has been preoccupying him - which he continued well into the 90s.

Developed Bowl on a Base, 1979,  (earthenware)


Vessel for an Inscape, 1993  (earthenware)


Vessel for an Inscape, 1993,  (earthenware)


Dark Vessel for an Inscape, 1988  (earthenware)


Vessel for an Inscape, 1988  (earthenware)


Lidded Vessel for Jean Arp, 1976  (earthenware)

He later made boxes that were still hollow but completely sealed, so making them completely useless - a clear reference to surrealism and Dada.

The 1980s

His most productive, innovative and prolific period, in my view.

The paintings in the form of a bowl of this period signified the synthesis of painting and pottery both in terms of form and in terms of what was recorded on that form. The bowls were now free of a base and the painting was increasingly more abstract.

Painting in the Form of a Bowl, 1981,  (stoneware)

1985,  (earthenware)

1985  (earthenware)

1987,  (earthenware)

1986,  (earthenware)


1988,  (earthenware)

1989,  (earthenware)

1997,  (earthenware)

And then came the 'Seferis Series', bowls on a base, but very different to the early ones.

Bowl from the Seferis series, 1980,  (earthenware)

Developed Bottles

Developed Bottle, 1981  (earthenware)

Influenced by Umberto Boccioni's post-cubist ideas about sculpture, Baldwin's work took a new direction. He started making objects with a vertical direction which gave them a real sense of latent movement.

Developed Bottle, 1981  (earthenware)

Bowls and bottles were broadened out with wings and planes of clay, sometimes diagonally, and seemed to reach upwards, even to take flight. Surface marking was spare often emphasizing the sense of lift.

Developed Bottle, 1984,  (earthenware)

These bottle forms consisted of hollow tubes of clay rising diagonally from bases of different structures.

Developed Bottle with Buttress, 1981,  (earthenware)

He used white slip on clay and so created large 'drawing areas'.

Windswept Bottle, 1982,  (earthenware)

The Vessels in the Form of a Voice series, also during this period, was a group of vessels in two parts, the upper section being spherical resting on a broader base and were reminiscent of stones based on stones and showed his increasing interest in the balancing of forms.

Vessel in the Form of a Voice, 1983,  (earthenware)

The 80s also saw the return of black in the Enigma Series, work that related to

Man Ray's 'Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920

a sewing machine wrapped in sackcloth and tied with string

Vessel from the Enigma Series, 1986,  (earthenware)

Vessel from the Enigma Series, 1986  (earthenware)

Vessel from the Enigma Series, 1986  (earthenware)

The Monads series with figurative and megalithic overtones.

Monad, 1987  (earthenware)

1987,  (earthenware)

Monads, 1988-89  (earthenware)

The Belvedere series, inspired by the Belvedere torso

the fragment of a nude male statue, signed by an Athenian sculptor 'Apollonios, son of Nestor' . In the 15th century this statue became the focus of the classical revival

as exemplified here by this drawing of the torso by Rubens.


Vessel from the Belvedere Series, 1988,  (earthenware)

The 1990s

During this period he started making more black pots using copper oxide slip which he fired repeatedly. These pots had multiple piercings in the form of slits and grids.


Black Vessel with Signs, 1990  (earthenware)

White Vessel with Signs, 1990,  (earthenware)

Black Square with Grid, 1995,  (earthenware)

Dark Vessel I, 2001  (earthenware)

Latest Work

Some of the latest work is amorphous and flat

Sisyphus III, 2001,  (earthenware)

and most of it is black

Such Dark Geometries I, 2005,  (earthenware)


Such Dark Geometries II, 2005,  (earthenware)

Water Vessel, 2010,  (earthenware)

Water vessels is what he is working on at present - black, flat-topped forms with single small openings with circles that move outwards, reminiscent of ripples on water.

A return to his 'own black spaces'?


  1. Gordon's pots are very beautfiul - serious, sensitive and strong all at the same time - and wish I had bought one many years ago!

    I was a student when he taught at Central School of Art and Design and appreciated the gentle way in which he encouraged us to develop our individuality and to avoid cliched expressions.

    1. I love Gordon Baldwin's work and owning one of his pots would be such a pleasure, so I can understand your wish. But, weren't you lucky to have had the opportunity to be his student - I am really envious.

  2. He taught me too. I use what he taught me all the time.

    1. A great opportunity you had! You are very lucky.