Masters of Slipware: East & West

26 Mar 2020

The best laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men gang aft agley, An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!

Robert Burns, To A Mouse, 1785

What happens during an international crisis…. Christina Jansen

The Scottish Gallery would like to thank Clive Bowen, Rosie Bowen, Masaaki Shibata and Koichiro Isaka, Gallery St Ives, Tokyo for all their help and beautiful pots. In 2017, Clive, Rosie and I discussed with great enthusiasm the next chapter for Clive at The Scottish Gallery. I wanted to celebrate the fact that Clive Bowen is regarded as a master potter in Japan and I thought it would be a great idea for Clive to curate an Anglo-Japanese exhibition which explored slipware. Clive wanted to honour the relationship he has developed with the master potter Masaaki Shibata. The help of Koichiro Isaka was sought, as translator between Clive and Masaaki and to liaise with logistics. As time went by and real deadlines approached, everything felt extraordinarily organised (we work to tight deadlines to meet a monthly programme of up to five exhibitions) – we’d agreed that Masaaki’s works should come extra early from Japan to allow for any import hold ups and allow us to take additional images of the work. His beautiful slipware arrived in late January and we felt ahead of the game. All was going well.

Masters of Slipware: East & West
Clive Bowen at his North Devon studio, image credit: Drew Raitt
Masters of Slipware: East & West
Masaaki Shibata in his studio in Sasayama, Japan, image credit: Takasumi Shibata

Meanwhile, Clive was still making pots and worrying away in his Shebbear studio in Devon. His kiln is only fired once he has made 1000 pots. I visited Clive and Rosie in early February ahead of Storm Ciara which I renamed Storm Clive. Much of England was submerged in flood water that weekend. I took over 500 images of pots and several films (including one fabulous accident which we have yet to reveal) and we came up with a Tartan tour of Scottish Castles and Whisky distilleries for the Shibata’s. It was a fun, hard-working weekend and I wished Clive the best of luck with his firing. I introduced them to Steve Coogan’s The Trip. During conversation, we discussed the small matter of a virus in China which had locked down the cities of Hubei and Wuhan….. We were looking forward to everyone coming to Scotland and welcoming Masaaki Shibata to The Gallery.

Masters of Slipware: East & West
Masaaki Shibata, Flat Bottle, 2018, credit: Takasumi Shibata
Masters of Slipware: East & West
Masaaki Shibata, Large Round Dish, 2017, credit: Takasumi Shibata

As the coronavirus situation in China began to cross into Europe and inevitably the UK, I questioned whether it was wise for Masaaki Shibata to risk coming to the UK with a potential health crisis. The idea of Shibata not coming to Scotland was out of the question: the exhibition would have to be cancelled or postponed. By this time, Kirsty and I had already signed off the production of the publication - we knew we’d created something special and we were especially proud of the tactics we’d used to extract a wonderful essay interview with Clive! The virus situation was becoming more critical by the day and I knew that sooner or later, the UK was heading for a lockdown so we had to make clear that Masaaki Shibata coming to Scotland was out of the question. That was a difficult job. Clive and Rosie began to get nervous too but we decided to get on with it and make the best of a bad situation. The original plan was for Clive and Rosie to drive up to Scotland in their trusty campervan with the pots and stay with us in Edinburgh then head off into the country, but each day it became clear that they were both ‘at risk’. Clive is 77.

Masters of Slipware: East & West
Clive Bowen, Slip Decorated Japan Plate, 2011
Masters of Slipware: East & West
Clive Bowen, Large Decorated Earthenware Bowl, 2019

The week leading up to the 20th March was very stressful – a scramble to get our IT system completed for remote access and make sweeping changes within the gallery. We were also faced with getting our monthly mailing out at speed – we could feel the approaching lockdown in the face of a pandemic. Rosie was WhatsApp’ing me with ideas and suggestions and threw in a few good jokes and banter along the way. Her stepson Dylan Bowen (a wonderful ceramic artist based in Oxford) had offered to bring the pots to Edinburgh on Sunday 22nd as he needed to rescue his student daughter. Clive and Rosie dropped the pots off in Bristol ‘at distance’ and Dylan and I unpacked the pots in Edinburgh ‘at distance’. On Monday 22nd, we unpacked, consigned and photographed the pots and made a makeshift presentation in the gallery. My colleague Elizabeth asked if she’d be coming in for the changeover the following week. I said no, this is it. The lockdown was announced 3 hours later. Pots don’t save lives but they are like rays of sunshine and it is such an honour to have his work in the gallery in the best of times and a miracle that they are here in the worst of times! Please enjoy viewing this exhibition and whatever you see never fails to surprise in person. Beautiful, humble pots.

We have featured a short film below where you can view a selection of new works from Clive Bowen from the comfort of your home.

PUBLICATION AVAILABLE

You can still immerse yourself in the exhibition and explore the collections from Clive Bowen and Masaaki Shibata by viewing the exhibition digitally on our website or by purchasing a copy of the accompanying publication here.

Masters of Slipware: East & West
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