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WEST GERMAN POTTERY
Print Exhibition - February 2015, Showcase Gallery, Birmingham.
The term West German Pottery (WGP) denotes post-war ceramics that were, in the main, industrially produced and only predominantly from West Germany. More particularly, many of the famous companies such as ES Keramik, Marei, Bay and Ruscha, were based either within the vicinities of Ebernhahn, near Koblenz, or Reinbach further north along the Rhein. That said, there were less-known companies (for example Ceramano or Hoy) that produced in a more ’studio-like’ fashion and in smaller quantities, and other companies that were based far from these centres. In fact, some work that is often grouped with WGP is the product of state-run companies based in East Germany (such as Strehla and VEB Haldensleben).
Some of the companies were, by the mid-20th Century, long established names; companies such as Dumler & Breiden, Jopeko and Fohr all date back to the 19th Century, and many others were founded before the Second World War. The economic rejuvenation Germany experienced in the fifties and sixties caused a proliferation of new factories such as Kreutz (1958) and Otto Keramik (1964), and an overall increase in production for the burgeoning export market. The established factories then both diversified and increased their output, and so ceramics subsequently became the most significant employer within the communities of Rheinbach and Ebernhahn, and held a position within the community not dissimilar to that of the Staffordshire Potteries here.
The production methods of WGP can be seen as continuing the techniques developed in the Bauhaus ceramics workshops in Dornburg (near Weimar) from 1919-25. As with much of the Bauhaus work, these workshops conducted experiments into producing thoughtfully designed forms that could be cheaply mass-produced and readily available. The utility essential to a good Bauhaus design, however, is not emulated by the WGP designers. The forms are much more eccentric, drawing from much Danish and Italian design of the inter-war period, and are almost exclusively intended as bold decorative statements. These objects are symptomatic of a renewed confidence in Modernist design after two decades of suppression.
The simple move from the potter’s wheel to casting forms from moulds, meant shapes could be standardised and pieces produced in their thousands. These standardised forms, especially post-1960, are incredibly diverse and range from classical pitchers to stylised animals and flying saucers. The real USP of WGP, however, is the glaze. The development of the ’Volkano’ glaze in 1959 by Otto Gerharz at Ruscha set the precedent for developing the craters, eruptions and dribbles that are typical of 60s and 70s WGP. After the forms were cast and left to dry, specific glazes would be applied by hand and sent to the newly-developed giant electric kilns where the firing would cause them to ’activate’; to blister and explode causing chance variations that would render each piece unique. This method allowed for extremely eclectic variants and combinations of form, colour, glaze and size, of unprecedented quantity and quality.
The history of these factories and the pottery they produced is still being filled in. Many of the factories had closed by the 1990s but a good percentage also continue to operate today, albeit in a reduced or altered form.
WGP’s wide popularity during the 70s, coupled with the factories’ subsequent decline meant that, especially for a certain generation, WGP quickly became representative of a 1970s ’Abigail’s Party’ style bourgeois taste. Today, the pots themselves still populate the trestle tables and car boots of Britain, carrying with them the left luggage of both the avant-garde and kitsch.
For this series of prints I have used a Risograph machine. This technology was designed for economical high volume printing and feels like part photocopier, part digital screen print. It is a semi-automated, mass-producible, imperfect process, which reflects the production of the pottery itself.