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Object of the Day… Whitefriars Concentric TV Vase

August 20, 2014 Leave a comment

The first in an occasional series of posts with a single image and a short explanation…

Concentric TV

This beautiful grey vase was designed by Geoffrey Baxter and first manufactured in the last 1960s by Whitefriars Glass. Known as the concentric TV vase, it stands about 18cm/ 7″ high and weighs considerably more than you would think it might.

Baxter’s technique for producing the textured surfaces of his pieces derived from the timber moulds he made in his spare time, moulds he lined with anything he thought would make in interesting finish including bark, old nails and wire.

Unfortunately due primarily to the downturn of the mid/ late 1970’s, Whitefriars closed its doors in the 1980’s but it’s generally accepted that the final 20 years or so of the company’s existence was almost solely down to the designs of Geoffrey Baxter.

A huge thanks to R&S for rescuing this wonderful thing from the shop (and then deciding to give it to me…)

Tony Morris @ Poole Pottery

August 30, 2012 5 comments

I’m the kind of person who if I like something, will generally make the effort to find out as much as I can about it..

Take Poole Pottery… an odd subject maybe, but me & And have a number of really quite beautiful plates and pots that we’ve collected over the last few years and I’ve always got an eye out for shiny new things to acquire…

So I was somewhat surprised when despite having looked a bit into Poole Pottery and its history, I came across a designer that I’d completely missed, which is disappointing, as the plates and chargers of Tony Morris, are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, with the kind of style and colour that really, really floats my boat,

I can’t believe I’ve never seen them before now…

It all started when I was contacted recently by The Virtual Museum of Poole. They had read my post on the Gordon Cullen Mural in Coventry and asked if they could borrow some of my photos. Poole Pottery was previously known as Carter & Company, who in their day were justifiably famous for producing high quality ceramic reliefs and murals including much of the London Underground and Cullen’s wonderful work in Coventry.

After I’d responded to say of course, I had a look around their very informative site and knew as soon as saw these images that I had to have Morris’s extraordinary work up on my blog…

Morris, who had never worked on ceramics before joining Poole Pottery straight from Art school in 1962, was offered the position purely on the strength of his paintings. It’s not clear how long he stayed, or how many designs he was responsible for, but the quality of his ideas and their execution is truly amazing…

It may sometimes be difficult to put into words what makes an object or a piece of art stand out as aesthetically pleasing, but I knew as soon as I saw these, that I wanted them… Sadly so do lots of other people and the best two pieces available on eBay tonight are available through “buy it now” for £1800 and £995…

So it looks like I’ll just have to make do with these photos until I make my first million…

Ultima Thule – Tapio Wirkkala for iittala (1968)

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

My little A recently bought some glasses from Scandium, which I knew I liked when she chose them, but having now had the chance to use them and look at them properly, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are actually very beautiful things indeed…

Designed by Tapio Wirkkala in 1968 for the Finnish Iittala company, the form of the glasses was intended to represent the dripping and refreezing ice drops from the glacial landscapes of Finland. The name Ultima Thule is in fact a latin phrase and was historically used to describe a distant place that was beyond the borders of the known world…

The technique for making these beautiful objects is called the ice glass technique, and Wirkkala himself was involved in developing and perfecting it over a period of many years. The rough surface structure characteristic of this technique are achieved by blowing the glass into a wooden mould, and as I understand it, the skill is to know when to stop blowing as the colours and patterns change as the hot glass burns the wooden surface of the mould as it begins to cool.

The Ultima Thule range encompasses glasses, jugs and bowls and in all variations, there are only three small drops of glass that touch the table, a very nice touch… I suspect we will be getting more of these glasses, which I for one would be very happy about…

As for Mr. Wirkkala himself, well he seems to have been something of a talented all rounder. As well as designing these and many other beautiful objects in glass, he was also accomplished in wood, ceramics, metalware and plastic, and also found time to design the Finnish Markka bank notes in the mid 1950’s…

He certainly looks the part in this photo from the 1980’s…

Three Murals… William Mitchell, Gordon Cullen & Dorothy Annan

February 13, 2012 8 comments

A trilogy of Murals today… Starting with my favourite artist, William Mitchell and his fantastic mural at the Three Tuns pub in Coventry.

Little A and I went on an explore of my home city over the Christmas holidays and as well as visiting the Herbert Art Gallery to see the very excellent George Shaw exhibition, we also took lots of photos of some lovley mid century stuff……

The mural is an incredible thing. It dates from 1966, is about 11m long by 4 m high and is full of amazingly rich textures and a truly astonishing depth of surface. The whole thing was cast in concrete with a pebble aggregate and is two sided, offering a less modelled, but equally impressive view on the inside. I actually used to go to this pub in the early 1980’s (not very often as it was a townies pub and I hung around with students). It’s an Indian restaurant now and the inside wall has been painted white.

Frustratingly and like so much of this great artist’s work, I can find little about it online, so what I obviously what I need to do as we are now in contact, is ask the man himself how he made it and then update this post once I’ve spoken to him…

Until then, here are some close ups of what the Listed Buildings website calls his “distinctive Aztec style”.

The future of this wonderful work is somewhat in doubt as I write this. As recently as last week, Coventry Council announced plans to redevelop the Bull Yard area of the precinct in which this (quite rightly and thankfully) Grade II listed mural can be found. The city’s website for the huge £300m project is here and a flickr site of images is here, but I wouldn’t bother too much. It’s all fairly standard developer stuff; bland and non location specific, promising blue skies, bright colours and smiling people, but in reality delivering the same old, same old…

Still I have it on pretty good authority that the mural will be saved and incorporated into the new scheme, maybe on an inside wall somewhere so it can avoid the worst of the Midlands weather.

Which brings me neatly onto the next mural that’s caught my eye recently, this marvellous wall of cermic colour by Gordon Cullen, which is also in Coventry. Cullen was an architect by training but was also a very gifted artist and is perhaps best remembered as one of the pioneers of Urban Design through his seminal 1961 book The Consise Townscape, in which he set out his thoughts on how the urban environment might be visually organised to achieve a better overall coherence.

This beautiful piece used to sit in a prominent position in the centre of Coventry’s main shopping precinct and I remember it well from my younger days.. So called improvements to the precinct in 2002 (i.e. squeezing more shops in) resulted in the mural being relocated to a rather austere corridor somewhere “round the back” and although I knew it had been moved and was looking for it, it was quite by chance that we actually came across it…

The mural was designed by Cullen in 1958 to illustrate the history and spirit of Coventry and its Citizens and was considered an important part of Donald Gibson’s recently completed City Centre rebuilding works. It was originally much larger than as shown above, but a sign nearby informed me that “careless workmanship in the 1970’s” (I can only imagine) lead to the destruction of panels that included medieval maps of the old city.

Still the panels that remain give a good idea of Cullens style with their bold shapes and bright colours, referencing the new city centre buildings (including Spence’s Cathedral), bicycles (which the city was famous for manufacturing) and dinosaurs (although to be honest, I’m not quite sure where they fit in)… Bizarrely, this work is currently not listed, however it appears to be safe enough for the time being in its new home.

Which brings me to the third mural, which I have known and wondered at for many, many years but which I only found out last week was finally (as recently as November of last year) given Grade II Listed status. I think we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Twentieth Century Society for its tireless work in ensuring our recent heritage has at least a fighting chance of survival…

The mural is to be found on the old telephone exchange building on Farringdon Road in Central London and comprises nine stunning, hand painted ceramic panels designed in 1960 by the little known artist Dorothy Anann.

Although the work is untitled, and there is precious little about her on the net, I gather that Annan set out to depict various aspects of the communications and telephone industry, relating the work very much to the idea of Harold Wilson’s “white heat of technology” in a series of wonderfully stylised and abstract panels that although rather weather worn and grubby, are still in surprisingly good condition.

Interestingly when I went to take some photos on a bitterly cold evening last week, I was stopped by two security guards in hi-viz jackets who told me in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to take photos as it was a dangerous structure and I was on private property. Quite how this can be when both the footpath and the mural have clearly been in the public domain for more than 60 years is beyond me…

It was only later that we realised that their attitude was probably to do with the activities of the Occupy Movment, and that they assumed I was casing this huge building with a view to sleeping in it…

The building was designed incidentally by Eric Bedford, the Chief Architect of the Post Office Tower, and like so many telephone exchanges across the country has been empty for many years and is facing almost certain demoltion, as unlike the mural, it was not thought worthy of Listing.

Let’s hope the developers honour the Grade II listing status of Dorothy Annan’s fabulous work however, and find it a new home that is both appropriate and publicly accessible.

Grayson Perry & The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll start this post by stating for the record, that I’m a bit of a fan of Grayson Perry.

Not so much his penchant for women’s clothing or his strange Teddy Bear/ deity thing and not all of his art, although those things obviously go to make up who he is. No, what I really admire about Grayson Perry is his eloquence, his self deprecating sense of humour, but above all else his belief that craft has a large part to play in good art.

Grayson was on TV the other night talking to Alan Yentob and driving around Germany on a pink and blue motorbike, looking something of a prannet with his idiosyncratic take on bike leathers and his teddy Alan Measles. He was also shown choosing artefacts from the British Museum for his recently opened exhibition, and all in all generally not taking himself too seriously.

The new exhibition is entitled The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman and in it Grayson pays homage to the unacknowledged and unsung craftsmen of the olden days through a selection of objects that Grayson argues are intrinsically beautiful regardless of who they were made by. We’ve not managed to get there yet, but my friend Wong has been, and he says it’s really excellent, so we will get there as soon as we can.

I’m very much in agreement with Grayson Perry’s argument that in contemporary art, the value and significance given to a piece of work appears to be directly related to who made it, even if it isn’t very good. Think of just about every scrap of rubbish Tracy Emin has ever signed as her own and still managed to sell for millions.

For me (and I guess for Mr Perry too) good art, sculpture, photography, graphic design whatever, usually has two distinct characteristics… you wouldn’t or couldn’t have thought of it yourself, and if you could, you wouldn’t have been able to make it, or can’t quite work out how it was made…

So many contemporary artists today have virtually no involvement in the production of their work: Hirst, Quinn, Koons etc. none of them appear to do more than take photos and/or sketch ideas that are then given to somebody else and get magically turned into “art”.  And I know the arguments about artists as business men and limited editions rather than single objects, and meeting demand etc.. but that’s all do with money and so much of their stuff is so thin, nothing but one liners, tossed off and forgotten as quickly as a student project or a bad idea after a heavy session in the pub.

So by choosing work from the British Museum, the name of whose creator has been lost to history, Perry argues (quite rightly) that other values come into play: culture, history, craftsmanship, society… Unsurprisingly the irony of him being the exact opposite of unknown isn’t lost on him, but he can’t really do anything about that, can he. And before anyone starts, I’m aware that Grayson gets some of his stuff made by others (the tapestries especially, and the cast iron version of the actual Tomb to the Unknown Craftsmen) but to my eyes the fact that he has spent time making the whole thing in one form, before it’s then scaled up and transformed into the final chosen medium offsets this completely.

I also like Perry’s argument that the art world has become disengaged from the real world and that the largely self appointed arbiters of good taste appear to be out of step. He cites Beryl Cook and Jack Vettriano as two hugely popular and gifted artists whose work is largely overlooked by the “serious” art world and will almost certainly never be hung in the Tate. I would also like to add Charlie Harper, the amazing stained glass artist Brian Clarke and of course that unsung genius William Mitchell to this list.

Grayson Perry to my mind is everything that so many contemporary artists are not: A talented person with a strong wilful character, considered viewpoints and an ability to express himself without sounding like an elitist arsehole…

Talking of which, I’ll finish with his rather wonderful Map of Nowhere from 2008. An image inspired by the now lost 13th Century Ebstorft Mappa Mundi and in which he replaces the Christ figure with himself (oh! the irony) and depicts the sun shining brightly on the world from his very own rusty sheriff’s badge……

Tremaen Lamp Base

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

We went to the Mid Century Modern Show at Dulwich College yesterday and although we couldn’t find the sideboard we were after, we did finally manage to get a large ceramic lamp base. We’ve wanted one for ages now (see previous post) and it seems our waiting has paid off…

Whilst it may not be to everyones tastes, we think it’s a fine object. It was made by Tremaen Pottery sometime between 1972 and 1978 and is from their Sculptural series, with this style known as Bowjey. The Bowjey style came in a variety of colours with ours being cream with greeny blue highlighting.

It stands about 16″ or 45cm high and is in perfect condition. We paid a bit over the odds for it I think, but then it was at a show and it was still a bargain, being exactly what we wanted… Now all we have to do is find a big shade to go with it.

We also ended up with this rather wonderful teak fish tray. A fell in love with him on sight and he just had to come and live on our living room wall, keeping all the other animals company.

Mid Century Menagerie

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I realised whilst tidying up the other day, that we seem to have a number of animals from the middle of last century… here are just four of them……

First up is this beautiful green plastic elephant. Designed by Luigi Colani for the German Bank Dresdners in the 1960s, these money boxes are something of a design icon, and are becoming increasingly sort after.

Originally made in several sizes (ours is a large one I think) in green, yellow and orange plastic, these “Drumbo’s” were given out to kids who opened savings accounts in the 1960’s and 70’s throughout Germany.

Next up is this ceramic bull who was created by the Celtic Studios,  near Penzance and also dates from the 1960’s. He was designed by Bill and Maggie Fisher and is part of what’s known as the “Folk” Range.

He’s a strange thing, a mix of soft rounded pottery curves, decorated with spiky black shapes and orange sploshes..  we like him though, or maybe its a she with those big eye lashes.

Next we have one of our two wonderful glass fishes. This is the smaller of the two and may or may not have been made in the 1950’s by the Italian glass blowing studios at Murano, near Venice.

These once derided ornaments were made in their 100’s of thousands throughout the 1950’s and 60’s and the interweb is full of “is it Murano, or isn’t it Murano”. Quite frankly I couldn’t give two figs. The fish shown here is full of beautiful swirling colours and is in perfect health… and that’s more than enough for us.

And last but not least we have this glass paperweight owl.

I’m afraid I know very little about this tactile and surprisingly heavy object. A quick look through Google images suggests that he might have been made by either Wedgwood in the 1970’s or Langham’s Glass in the 1980’s.

Either way, he sits proudly on the window cill keeping a watchful eye on all his friends….

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