Jonathon Cox and family moved to Peniel in 1996. Described as an ‘idyllic valley’ about three miles north of Carmartehn it is indeed a wonderfully green and remote spot- and very easy to overlook. We only became aware of his work when we picked up a simple, single sheet flyer at an information kiosk near where we were staying. A minor detour brought us onto a minor road, which in turn brought us onto an even more minor road. Grinding down a steep and twisty, but admittedly picturesque lane, we were on the brink of deciding to turn back…but turning back is dependent on there being somewhere to turn around! There wasn’t, so onward, but as it turned out the next remotely possible place to execute this manoeuvre happened to be the yard outside his Jonathon’s tiny showroom/studio. Peering through the windows, we got a tantalising glimpse of something special, but the large padlock on the door suggested that it was going to be another frustrated visit…but just as we were about to start our exit strategy, a cheerful figure strode down the lane towards us, and apologetically asked how long we had been waiting. Jonathon sells most of his work in galleries in London and South East England, but also exhibits around the country.
The advantage of a trip to his studio is that rather than being confined to his latest pieces, there are examples of his work from over the years. In this ‘mini retrospective’ it’s intriguing to see the subtle style shifts that occurred over time, and to note the consistent themes and interests evident in the different groupings of work. Predominantly vases and bowls but also lamp-bases, plaques and jewellery, he specialises in two particular techniques, tubelining and lustre ware, the latter having intrigued him since he started his career. A technique dating back to ancient Egypt and Persia, this difficult process took him a good many years to master, but once learnt the results are spectacular.
In very simple terms metallic solutions are applied to a pot and fired in a controlled atmosphere. By carefully adjusting the amount of oxygen during the firing, a wonderful array of shimmering, iridescent colours can be achieved. In some cases, the pots require several firings to achieve the desired effect. The other technique he uses to great effect is tubelining, or as it is known at Morris and James, slip trailing.
The design is sketched onto the pot and a fine line of liquid clay is drawn over the top. This raised outline can be loose and ‘sketchy’ or quite precise, becoming the frame for delicately applied coloured glazes or lustres. You can see how effectively he has used the two approaches; on the one hand the work that is almost like an impressionist painting, shapes and colours blending, whilst other designs feature clearly defined areas of colour and quite precise outlines. Plants and organic shapes are a consistent feature in his work and the techniques are well suited to this. The work has direct lineage to Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement, which to me was an added appeal. Drawing on historical precedents in style and technique, the work has its own distinctive character and was (in most cases) a controlled but contemporary interpretation of those sources. It really was lovely work, and in retrospect I regret not having bought a piece, particularly as the prices were pretty reasonable for work of that quality.
In the same vein is the work of Moorcroft Pottery in not too distant Stoke-on-Trent, which uses similar techniques and has in broad terms something in common with Jonathon’s work. We visited their tightly guarded showroom and enjoyed looking around their small museum, a comprehensive collection of pieces that date from when the pottery first started. Some of the early work is exquisite, with a painterly style that the contemporary work has not quite replicated. We were unable to visit the factory as it was a ‘potters holiday’, apparently a local holiday period for those involved in the pottery industry. Neither were we allowed to take photographs in the showroom, so…no pictures! Take a look at their website if you are not familiar with their work, it is beautifully made and if you like elaborate designs and brilliant colours, it should appeal. It is not inexpensive, but clearly the pottery is targeting serious collectors. Surprisingly we were told that only 30% of their production goes overseas, so I imagine that their reputation is more widely known than their work is seen. www.moorcroft.com
- Nick C