Despite making Star Wars characters out of old cereal boxes as a youngster Chris Taylor didn’t turn his fascination with interstellar travel into a career. Instead he did the next best thing and became a potter.
After completing a degree in ceramics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, he moved from his home in South East London to Devon to embark upon an apprenticeship at Dartington Pottery. When the pottery closed down he then worked for other people for a while making things to their designs before deciding to set up his own business where he developed his own range of tableware. However something was missing. Although he was immersed in the world of pottery he says that ‘ultimately I got bored with making the same thing again and again’. Like his Star Wars world there were other horizons and as he recalled ‘there were other things that I had a burning desire to make.’
He also believed that there was more to the world of ceramics than the archetype image of a potter. ‘That notion of a stereotype of the guy with the big beard living in the countryside smoking a pipe and making pots has changed to a kind of urban young designer’ recalled Chris. However, reading a book by craft writer Glen Adamson he realised that he had become that stereotype; ‘partly deliberately and partly unconsciously’ he said. He had fallen into it, although he saw that it could be a logical trend that goes with any profession. ‘I guess if you’re a hip-hop artist you’re expected to wear a baseball cap and big trainers and a big gold chain; if you’re a potter you’re supposed to wear a fisherman’s top, have a beard and live in the country.’
Chris decided to return to London and undertake a Masters at the Royal College of Art and whilst doing that he won a scholarship that stipulated that he must use the money to travel. For Chris the obvious choice of travel location was Jingdezhen in North-eastern China. It is known as the ‘Porcelain Capital’ and although he believed that it was the enormous output from that city that had put so many British and Western potteries out of business, he knew that there was much he could learn there. Finding a whole street of glaze shops he fell in love with some of the techniques used to create very individual finishes. ‘If you want pattern under the glaze you can buy these print sheets on tissue that go straight onto the green ware’ he explained. ‘I bought a load of these and totally fell in love with them, they bleed into the glaze.’ Unable to avoid the clutter of advertising on the walls and as Chinese is quite a pictorial language he was influenced by the façade. ‘I couldn’t read it and it all became like patterns and textures’ he said. Although it was just a mess of posters but he found it quite beautiful.
Today Chris is a lecturer in Ceramics on the Contemporary Crafts Degree Programme at Plymouth College of Art. Despite the traditionally solitary image associated with his craft he enjoys the interaction with his students. ‘You’re in an environment full of people that are interested in the same things as you’ he says. Teaching and talking to people about making is what he enjoys. He believes that Britain has a lot to offer the world in terms of quality and depth explaining: ‘In Britain we’ve got a great reputation for the thinking behind making’.
Chris Taylor will be selecting three people from the entries to the Ceramics and Glass category of this year’s Marshwood Arts Awards.