Belgrave St Ives - Modern & Contemporary Art

Alan Wallwork

Alan Wallwork (1931-2019)

Watford, Hertfordshire, England 1931

Organic Stoneware Forms

With an early interest in film design, Wallwork was put on the waiting list for a training scheme launched by J. Arthur Rank studios. Two years of National Service intervened and now with other ambitions he began the NDD course at Watford School of Art. A severe illness and hospitalization cut this short. As a form of recuperation it was suggested he took a two-year residential course at Newlands Park Teachers Training College, Buckinghamshire. Here he had unlimited access to well-equipped pottery and painting studios. A lengthy delay in the appointment of a lecturer left him to find his own way in pottery techniques, guided only by Bernard Leach's Potters Book. High grades on graduation won him eligibility for a special one-year course at Goldsmiths College, S. London with access to any Art School classes of choice. He chose pottery, painting, etching and fabric printing. The pottery classes were run by Kenneth Clark and Gordon Baldwin. Their broad approach to pottery techniques and an open-minded view of original uses for craft pottery made a strong and lasting impression on him.

On leaving Goldsmiths in 1956 he took a series of posts at local secondary schools, reducing teaching time as in 1957 he converted shop premises in Forest Hill, S. London, for use as a gallery with the upper floors as studios and accommodation for himself and a partnership of other ex-Goldsmiths students. Opening in 1958, and named the Alan Gallery, paintings by the partners were to be shown with bought in ceramics by London potters: Lucy Rie, Kenneth Clark, Ann Wynn Reeves, David Eeles among them. It was soon clear that pottery sold better than paintings and Wallwork fitted out rooms at the back of the gallery and began making his own pottery, at first thrown domestic ware, moulded brush decorated dishes and hand built pieces, including lamp bases and pinched bowls... All were fired at earthenware temperature. Domestic ware was tinglazed and brush or sgraffito decorated. Later matt glazes in black, brown or yellow-green were introduced. Much use was made of rubbed on oxides to give a warm, toasted look to unglazed areas of hand built work. Incised textures, often inlaid with white slip and impressed decoration using clay stamps and roulettes were favoured. While experimenting with dripped and trailed glaze pools, he hit on effects that he developed into a range of tiles, which rapidly found an avid market. This success paved the way to phasing out domestic earthenware and the purchase of a better kiln for high temperature stoneware, in alternation with the flourishing earthenware tiles. The weight of pottery sales against paintings led to the amicable withdrawal of his original partners and the dropping of bought in work as his own took over the gallery space. Advertising possible need for an assistant led to the appearance of Bernard Rooke, also ex-Goldsmiths, whose kindred views on techniques and aspirations prompted an offer to him of a share of the workshop and living space. Both potters soon found rapidly growing demand for their work and Wallwork became aware that he was blatantly infringing the approved use of the gallery for retail only.

He found much larger premises in Greenwich comprising of a large shop with three floors above and a basement below, all with existing use for light industry having formed part of a hacksaw blade factory, now divided off. Bernard Rooke agreed to rent the basement; Robert and Sheila Fournier took a large upper room as did the painter Cyril Reason. The shop area was fitted out as a showroom, Wallwork working in the rear and other rooms above. The aim was to offer show space for all the occupants, hopefully attracting the custom of architects, interior designers and craft retailers.

Sales rose rapidly, especially for Rooke and Wallwork. Wallwork had designs accepted by the Design Centre and his work was included in their touring exhibitions abroad. His tiles were also on the Design Index. He formed a rewarding and friendly relationship with Heals of Tottenham Court Road through their amicable buyer, Mark Ransome. Heals and the flourishing Craftsmen Potters Association, of which he was elected a Council Member, became major outlets, then easily accessible from Greenwich before the days of traffic congestion. Demand developed so rapidly that he began taking on assistants. These were employed partly to help decorate the tile ranges and partly to help with a growing repertoire of small and medium hand built pieces, made in quantity, Wallwork completing the final shaping and decorating. These more modest pieces were marked either with an impressed or incised W. Large pieces were coiled or thrown or a combination of both. Some assistants with exceptional aptitude in hand -building alternated with Wallwork himself in the building up of large pieces so that several forms could be under construction at the same time under his supervision. A large electric kiln was installed. The clay body now used incorporated a coarse fireclay with many impurities. At stoneware temperature the burning off of the impurities created a reduced atmosphere in the kiln chamber giving the work the toasted look normally achieved in a flame kiln and added subtleties to glaze colour and surface. The kiln elements suffered as a result of the reduction but the results were judged worth the cost.

Individual pieces were marked with an incised, linked A W. Heals were instrumental in his work being included in a major exhibition at Illums Bolighus, Copenhagen at a time when several important department stores were co-operating internationally. Another major development was a substantial order for tiles from an advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson for a promotional campaign. The scale of this order prompted the purchase of a large ex-chapel in Marnhull, Dorset to provide more workshop space and the installation of more kilns and the taking on of more assistants. Commuting between the two workshops became irksome and he wound down the Greenwich studios, subletting to other potters, Sally Vinson and Henna Thomas amongst others. In the mid 1960's he moved down to live and work full time in Dorset... In addition to the electric kilns for tile firing a large propane kiln was installed for reduction fired stoneware and local women taken on, mainly as tile decorators, the most skilled also assisting with pottery processes. A high volume of work was produced for a number of years, the tiles finding an eager market in the USA, Australia and Europe, as well as the UK. Pottery sales were channeled through Heals, Briglin Pottery and the Craftsmen Potters Shop. He contributed less and less to formal exhibitions because of the forward commitment, transportation etc.

By the mid 1970's however he became increasingly concerned with the environment and his own profligate use of energy and felt an urge to downsize. He cut down more and more his contacts with London as the traffic problem grew. He built and fired a wood burning kiln but was unconvinced that this was enough of a solution to reduce environmental impact as, although the fuel used was renewable, pollution was increased. Events decided matters for him when inflation and national instability took precedence in 1979. With time his team of assistants had shrunk in number without being replaced and he began to sell off equipment preparatory to looking for more modest premises. One last venture was with a range of broken textured plain coloured tiles commissioned by a kitchen furniture firm. These proved alarmingly popular but tedious to produce and when he was asked to increase production twenty fold he called a halt to it all and put the Marnhull studios up for sale and began to look for new premises on the Dorset coast.

A house and workshop was found in woodland high above Lyme Regis in a spectacular but somewhat impractical setting. He produced a volume of organically inspired hand built forms with an emphasis on dramatic surface textures, cracked and pitted. Illness and hospitalisation interrupted and an opportunity arose to buy in a more accessible and sunnier position on an opposite hilltop across the valley. A substantial workshop was built next to the house; the big gas kiln lifted in by crane and after a difficult year work began again at Whitty Down Farm, Higher Rocombe. Pebble forms, seedpod forms - made from a basic sphere - two pinch bowls joined rim to rim then grooved, segmented, altered in various ways. Experiments were made with contrasting clay bodies: porcelain blending into stoneware, porcelain forms encrusted in craggy stoneware. Crescent forms with intricate piercing, the piercing inlaid with colour and translucent glazes. Cleft spheres - rounded forms deeply cut into allowing a glimpse of translucent glaze deep in the core, the crust heavily textured and pierced. Thrown and coiled oval forms half split open, the split edges fretted and pierced in manifold ways. Tall female forms, torso like, waisted and modelled with simple matt glazes and deep navel piercing.

A slight stroke in the late 1990's impaired for a time the use of his right arm and prevented throwing for sometime but he was still able to make his small pinched forms with his one good hand and the activity probably aided the restoration of almost full use of both once more. The experience seemed a signal that the time was nigh for a change of pace. Whitty Down Farm was sold, the kiln demolished and Wallwork set off to fulfil a long held desire to spend time in France. In 2004 an old stone building with workshop space was bought in Missegre, a delightful, fairly high and remote village in the foothills of the Pyrenees, near Limoux in the Aude. There he built a top loader propane fired kiln and began once more to make pottery. His original intention was to make leisurely trips back to England, exploring new routes each time with a van load of finished work for sale through favourite outlets back home. Two of these trips were enough to show him that long distance driving in a large vehicle was no longer a pleasure for him and his partner and longtime friend, Barbara Huxley. Reg Moon, also a longtime friend, drove down to Missegre and took back the first batch of work for exhibition in is his gallery in Henley in Arden. Since then several consignments have gone back by carrier to John Rastall of the Harlequin Gallery and Oxford Ceramics, some also to the Devon Guild and for a major exhibition at Walford Mill Craft Centre in conjunction with his daughter Amanda's paintings and his grandson, Rowan Stickland's sculptures. With declining health and physical capabilities the Walford Mill show was his last attempt to make large forms. He has settled for small and medium pieces, Variations on his favourite crescent forms made partly by slab, part by coil building take precedence being less physically demanding. The simple, sweeping outer curvatures, contrasting with the plane surfaces, allowing scope for tactile permutations - an outer crust protecting a complex inner core, pierced and glaze inlaid - continue to stimulate his interest

Public Collections:

Coventry Mead Gallery, Warwickshire
University of Warwick, Warwickshire
University of Derby, Derbyshire
Liverpool Museum, Liverpool
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Salisbury & Wiltshire Museum, Wiltshire
Stoke-On-Trent Museum & Art Gallery, Staffordshire