Colour, Form and Rhythm: New Work by Elizabeth Fritsch

By Bird, Joanna | Ceramics Art & Perception, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Colour, Form and Rhythm: New Work by Elizabeth Fritsch


Bird, Joanna, Ceramics Art & Perception


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ELIZABETH FRITSCH IS ONE OF BRITAIN'S GREATEST CONTEMPORARY potters and an influential figure in the world of arts and crafts. She challenges the conventions of the discipline of 'potting', introducing a whole new aesthetic far removed from the pottery of traditional craftsmen.

Fritsch is a truly modern potter. She recognises the ambiguous, yet potentially fertile position of artist and craftsman that her times provide. She sees pottery as a common language and she uses it as a springboard for an aesthetic largely composed of ideas and sources outside the medium. As Andrew Lambirth points out "Elizabeth Fritsch sees herself as a painter who makes pots, but also an architect manque". (1)

The uniqueness of her vision was recognised when she initially applied to the Royal College of Art, where David Queensberry, head of ceramics, found himself "aware of a most unusual sensitivity ... and from an intellectual and spiritual point of view she was in a completely different category from most of the students who applied". (2)

At the RCA Fritsch was encouraged by one of her tutors, Hans Coper (1920-1981) to develop in her own way, and as a result she started to discover an individual style. Coper liked her use of slip and lack of glaze and regarded pots primarily as art objects, which suited Fritsch's thinking: a tradition of studio pottery very different from the inter-war period, when Bernard Leach (1887-1979) strove to combine Oriental, especially Japanese, craft traditions with those passed down by British potters of the Middle Ages.

When she graduated from the RCA in 1970, Fritsch left with a silver medal and the Herbert Read Memorial Prize. From there, she went to one of the ateliers at the Bing and Grondahl porcelain factory in Copenhagen where she held her first solo exhibition, in 1972. In 1985 she set up her own studio in London and two years later her work was chosen alongside that of Leach, Coper and Lucie Rie (1902-1995) when the Royal Mail issued four stamps to commemorate the centenary of Leach's birth.

Fritsch's first London show was in 1974 and the way in which her work has developed since betokens her originality and artistic integrity. Among the fundamental channels of expression in her work are colour, form and rhythm. Her colours have a matt appearance and the use of layering produces subtle and unpredictable hues. This palette is close to that of the ancient fresco painters and she admires the work of the early Renaissance painters, such as Piero della Francesca, and the Flemish primitives, while also being influenced by twentieth-century artists such as the Constructivists, particular Kazimir Malevich.

When the pot is made and fired once, the painting begins. Fritsch sits with the pot balanced in her lap with perhaps a grid, equivalent to a time signature in music, marked in freehand to guide her brush. She is guided by--in her own words--"Those elemental movements, from earth to air, in the dynamic uplift, both of the forms of the vessels and the rhythms of the painting". When discussing how the painting develops, she talks about improvisation and "letting your hands do the thinking" (see Blown Away Vase, With Collision of Particles). This painting is not intended as decoration but as an inherent part of the form and modified by the form as is the case with rhythm in music and dance. On the Blown Away Vase, the painted particles are created on a grid system which is modified by the third dimension of the globular form, making collisions which are created by the form itself. In Andrew Lambirth's insightful essay on Fritsch, he points out that "There is a dialogue in her work between the real space of the pot's form and the illusory space of the painting upon it. Sometimes the two spaces work together, sometimes in parallel, occasionally they even seem to produce the frisson of conflict, which contravenes Fritsch's basic desire to integrate paint and form, but may inject a required element of mystery.

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