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Artist Interview: Jack Doherty

Artist Interview: Jack Doherty

Millie Cluzan at Maud & Mabel interviewed Jack Doherty in October 2022, in the lead up to his solo exhibition Vocation. The artist speaks about the upcoming exhibition, his technique and practice, and artistic inspiration. 

Potter Jack Doherty hugging his big 'Guardian' vesselPotter Jack Doherty with his 'Guardian' vessel, photograph for Jack Doherty solo exhibition Vocation (24th February-11th March 2023) at Maud & Mabel 

Millie Cluzan: You have spoken about finding a way of making that allows you to tell some of the stories that are important to you. What sort of stories does this particular collection speak of, or is it in line with your body of work as a whole? We are particularly interested in the inclusion of your Guardian and Keeper vessels and wondered if you could talk about the concepts behind these works.

Jack Doherty: In general terms, the past few days I have been thinking about this exhibition and this group of work as a point of change - with a different kiln, a new studio. What I want to try and do is to show the breadth of surface and colour that I’ve been developing the past few years. However, there were a few particularities I wanted to focus on in terms of the colour range. I want to focus on works that shift from white to black - I’m hoping there are pieces which may have those very pale, very ethereal, almost sky and light surfaces, gradually working through to a darker range of intense grey and black surfaces.
group of handcrafted soda fired vessels by potter Jack Doherty under soft interspersed sunlightVessels by Jack Doherty for Maud & Mabel, photographed by Justyna Kulam (@justynakulam)
Working within this palette, my Keeper and Guardian vessels feature, both of them describing how I feel about function. I see my things as being very domestic related objects that come from the everyday - the ways we live, the way we have used things and the ideas behind that. Rather than making jars to put tea bags in, Keeper vessels reflect the idea or act of keeping safe and storing. The idea of that tiny little closure at the top, totally impractical in one sense, a lid which provides the action of sealing - of putting something away, putting it safe, and then closing it. Vessels for secrets are how I think of them - it's an idea, it's a thought, it's a concept, it's something we want to keep secure and safe.
two large soda fired vessels and a small vessel by Jack Doherty with a hand inserting a tiny lid 
'Keeper' vessel by Jack Doherty for Maud & Mabel, photographed by Justyna Kulam (@justynakulam)
The Guardian vessels have their roots in the very old pots, the iron age vessels and prehistoric pots, for everyday uses of keeping and storing food. I romanticise it a little and think of storing the seeds from one harvest through the planting time, that way of protecting and providing for us, in a way that is now more conceptual rather than practical. The Guardians are things we connect with in very different ways, they do give us protection and a sense of security, with their weight and their substance and the big form of them - we can envelop them.
Grey, brown and blue soda fired vessel by Jack Doherty'Gaurdian' vessel by Jack Doherty for Maud & Mabel (image from Jack Doherty studios)

MC: Thinking about those shapes from prehistory and those vessels essential to communities protection and preservation, in a similar vein you have often referred to your works as ‘survivors’, in that they are marked by the kiln and the atmosphere within there.

JD: That’s right, and they do have quite a savage entry into the world really because the firing is quite extreme - it's a high temperature firing, they’re sprayed with water and sodium, some of them cool quickly, so it's quite a dramatic thing to happen to quite thin porcelain - there are always risks. That marking that occurs from the firing is very important to me as all of the making stories are, in trying to keep signs. The process adds a layer to the final object, and I hope to reveal that.

sofa fired cup by Jack DohertyVessel by Jack Doherty for Maud & Mabel
MC: Simon Olding has referred to you as a ‘mariner’ potter and evocatively describes your work as “of the sea and the land and the travels and imaginings which take place there”. Can this sense of elemental survival in your work be related or originate from your families maritime past, and the stories they tell of that very personal history as well as a kind of universal history explored through the forms of the vessels?

JD: Yes, Simon picked up on my background because the sea and sea faring has always been part of my life. No, it's been in my blood. It was only when I came to Cornwall that I reconnected with that and was astonished at how deep and important it was to me - relating not just to the physical landscape, seascape and the light, but also to the connection with boats and fishing vessels, the life around the sea. That’s been an underpinning of much of my work. I made a series of Newland vessels which were based a little bit on big trawler boats, first of all through the structure of the vessel but also in how they are used and the way the forms of them are marked - scratched, the way rust affects it, marks altering and changing. So there were those two things - certainly the broader, overall environmental sense of the sea was important but for me personally the connection with people and the working nature of it all.

detail of soda fired vesselsDetail of soda-fired vessels by Jack Doherty for Maud & Mabel (image from Jack Doherty studios)
MC: That’s what I find so fascinating about your process, in that you solely use one very refined technique but then those chance reactions that happen in the kiln speak in such an exacting way of this environment - feeling very elemental in the colours and surface textures you create. I know you often consider a group of objects in terms of how they’ve been positioned to interact within the physical parameters of the kiln; considering the space within the kiln as an important creative element. Is this something that was especially at play during the making process for this exhibition? Is it something you can imagine beforehand or something you don’t like to control as much?
JD: The ultimate destination of the work is never within any maker's control, but I do visualise space and my work within different spaces. I do some sketching and drawing around this, which is not about designing work but it's about what might happen later and how these things might connect with one another in different sorts of ways. So yes it's part of it for me, because I love to think of these things as having a life that is evolving and changing.
three soda fired vessels by Jack dohertyVessels by Jack Doherty for Maud & Mabel, photographed by Justyna Kulam (@justynakulam)


Read Maud & Mabel story on soda firing, technique mastered by Jack Doherty here.

Jack Doherty's solo exhibition Vocation runs from 24th February - 11th March 2023.


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