Q&A with Jonathan Barrett-Danes / by Kellie Miller

Jon at work

Jon at work

The idea came to me to run a series of Q&A to give you an insight into an artist/maker's life and an understanding of how their work is made.  Hopefully you'll  understand why I choose to work with the artists I do.

I have known Jon since 2003 when we exhibited together at an art fair.  When I started the pop-up gallery I knew I wanted to represent his work.   Jon creates a range of indoor and outdoor ceramic animals.  He approaches his work in a quirky manner and his pieces often have a sense of humour.  As one of my first artist/makers at the gallery I wanted to approach him first for my Q&A series.

The Barrett-Danes name has a long tradition in ceramics. How long is that and what sort of work was produced?

As far as I am aware my Great, Great Grandfather, who was already an established potter, was employed by the Upchurch Pottery in 1913.  It was based in Rainham, Kent and was owned by Mr Seymour Wakeley and his brother Sidney, who were brick makers at the time.  His remit was to create a range of decorative ware and one off pieces and to emulate the taste for Chinese Sung Dynasty pottery, mainly for the London market. This was very different to the country pottery that was being produced by most potters at the time.

What inspired you to follow this family tradition?

I wasn’t so much inspired as it was just something I immediately connected with and I mean the whole process from digging the clay to building kilns and firing them. My pots and my present work followed on from that basic knowledge and understanding and my curiosity of the material was satisfied.

You are renowned for your hand built animal forms, but started your career as a potter predominately using the wheel to construct vessels.  What prompted this change in direction?

From the viewer’s perspective it was a change of direction but for me it was a continuation of some of the fundamental elements of what I was trying to achieve with my pots at the time. So I just transferred those elements of humour and strong classical aesthetics through into animals as this enabled me to develop those ideas further without having the constraints of a pot of some description.

There is always an element of humour in your pieces.  Why is humour so central to your work?

The humour element is just there. Maybe it’s a way of not having to deal with reality and so you could say that it is my way of dealing with life and all that it brings.  It cushions life's ups and downs.

I’m an owl and definitely not a morning person, preferring to work at night.  Are you an owl or lark?

Definitely a lark.  I very much associate my working day with sunrise and sunset so as you can imagine I do struggle when the clock go back.

What is the first thing you do when you get into your studio, apart from turning on the lights?

Coffee is first and then I will make a list of what I would like to achieve, which are often totally unrealistic and then I get going. I am easily distracted so it’s important to try and stick to it

How many hours do you delicate to creating your pieces a week?

I work on average six day weeks and probably in reality only about two thirds and sometimes less, is actually hands on making, which can be quite frustrating. There are always so many other things to do!

What is your favourite part your creative process?

I still love throwing on the wheel the best.  It’s just very therapeutic and really rewarding and I gain a sense of achievement that I don’t always get when I am hand building.

What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I think the most difficult part of the process is finding the time to be genuinely creative and experiment fully with ideas

What is the biggest piece you have created to date?

I was asked to make a dragon in a school playground which had to involve two whole year groups. That was about 10ft long in the end!

You create almost life size, sheep, rams and large pigs, which will be heavy when the clay is wet.  How do you move them?

When they are being constructed to be honest I don’t’ move them much at all. Only from one bench to another and everything is the same height so I don’t carry them any distance.

You starting making rats because of a client challenged you.  Are there any other animals you would like to sculpt?

I am considering Indian running ducks (big ones) and I have had the odd go at a cat but not quite there yet.

How do you see your work progressing in 10 years time?

I expect I might drift more towards making pots and I would like to integrate the animal and humour back into a range of decorated thrown ware. But I have never been one for making plans so we shall see where the wind takes me.

Pig with Ball

Pig with Ball