Jo Keogh: Pots about Pots

I’ve wanted to make pots since I was about twelve. At school, my form room was next to the pottery room so I could see the wheels and shelves full of work at various stages of making but we weren’t allowed in until the third year (now year 9). It was something I knew that I would be good at. I got as far as an A level in Art and Craft (for me this was mainly pottery with the odd painting thrown in for good measure). I even got a place to study Studio Ceramics at Harrow. But life was complicated back then and I ended up doing what I thought was more sensible – medical science! I didn’t touch clay for about 20 years.

For me making pots is an all or nothing thing. It became everything again about five years ago when I did a Ceramics A Level at Leicester College followed by an MA in at Loughborough University. I am now based at Makers’ Yard in Leicester and am an associate member of the Craft Potters Association. In addition to my own practice I run a number of classes from my studio including evening classes and ‘Clay Days’.

Jo Keogh 1.jpg

I love the processes of ceramics from digging up a lump of clay from the garden to messing around with glaze chemistry. It’s about making something out of nothing. Pots have a very long heritage. For thousands of years people have used clay to make vessels to eat and drink from, or for storage, and this skill and the processes used seemed to evolve simultaneously across many cultures. Pottery is a very human thing. Now we seem to be losing our ceramic traditions, it is taught less and less in schools, factories have closed.

My work looks at ceramic traditions and uses a variety of conventional processes but mixes things up a bit to create unconventional pieces that are a hybrid between handmade and industrial. But really they are just pots about pots.

Jo Keogh (1)

I usually begin by throwing or hand building a basic cylinder or bowl. Then I make a plaster mould of the original form which I saw up quite randomly. This destroys the original clay form. Then I either piece the mould back together but misalign the pieces or create a unique mould from different sections of different moulds. Either way the mould I construct is different every time. The new ‘constructed’ mould is then used either to slipcast or press mould a final piece. But because the sections of the moulds don’t fit together properly the clay is able to force itself between the gaps, from the inside to the outside, forming strange protrusions. These would usually be trimmed away in conventional moulded ceramic forms but here they are allowed to become a feature of the work.

Jo Keogh 2.jpg

I try to stick to basic forms, cylinders or hemispheres, that don’t have an obvious function. The protrusions that form sometimes suggest handles or spouts but they are not deliberate. I want people to think about what a pot may or may not be used for. People see different things in each pot.

I often use a semi-porcelain clay with a bright glossy white glaze that is clean and sterile, like lab equipment or sanitary ware. More recently I have started to use a course black stoneware which gives the work a rough, craggy quality, it’s much more primitive, like it’s just been dug out of the ground.

Jo Keogh (2)

The use of gold and other precious metals also follows ceramic traditions. I read somewhere that Chinese emperors had gold lined tea bowls. The gold was thought to react with poisons so that the emperors could see if somebody was trying to bump them off. The Japanese use a gold resin to repair broken pots. The damage becomes part of the history of the object. The imperfections are embraced not disguised.

Jo Keogh (3)

For me making pots is a selfish act, yet incidentally it gives others pleasure. It has allowed me to do something that is uncontrolled and unpredictable, sometimes it’s a total failure, but its ok, it’s all part of the fun. I don’t always like what I have made and that’s ok too. I want to make new things that people haven’t seen before. I want them to wonder about how a pot was made and what its intentions might be.

Jo Keogh (4)

To see more of my work, please visit my website. I will be at our Meet the Artist event on Saturday the 13th May – come along to find out more about my ideas and inspirations.

I will also be taking part in a number of exhibitions and events throughout the coming months:

Ceramics in Charnwood, Market Place, Loughborough LE11 3EB. Sunday 14th May.

Art House, Leicester, Friday 9th until Sunday 11th June

Earth and Fire International Ceramics Fair, The Harley Gallery, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire S80 3LW. Friday 23rd June until Sunday 25th June

Ceramics in Southwell, Market Square, Southwell, Nottinghamshire NG25 0FS. Sunday 27th August.

Ceramic Wales, School of Creative Arts, 49 Regent Street, Wrexham, North Wales. Friday 1st September until Sunday 3rd September.

Oxford Ceramics Fair, St Edward’s School, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 7NN. Saturday 28th October until Sunday 29th October.

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