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  • Teabowl, Lisa Hammond. Photo: Michael Harris

The beauty in imperfection

Sarah Brownlee previews a new show on Lisa Hammond and Jeff Shapiro in Oxford

Celebrated potters Jeff Shapiro and Lisa Hammond may practise their craft in very different places – upstate New York and Maze Hill in London’s Greenwich, to be precise – but the many parallels in their work make them an ideal pairing for a forthcoming exhibition at Oxford Ceramics Gallery.

‘About a year ago I heard from Lisa that Jeff would be visiting the UK to give a masterclass with her at the Maze Hill Pottery,’ says James Fordham, director of Oxford Ceramics Gallery. ‘At the time I thought what a fantastic opportunity it would be to exhibit one of the leading US potters. Jeff has been on my wish list for a while now. After a few conversations with them both I decided it would be better still to exhibit Lisa’s work, which I have always admired, alongside Jeff’s. They have a lot in common and I thought it would add an interesting dynamic to the show.’

Dark Stoneware form, Jeff Shapiro, 2014. Photo: Michael Harris

Born in the Bronx in 1949, Jeff Shapiro is one of the world’s most revered contemporary potters. He studied ceramic arts in Japan for nine years – a hugely inspirational period that influenced his style and approach to the craft. His work has been exhibited extensively and he continues to travel widely, particularly around Europe, giving workshops and seminars. He has built two wood-fired kilns in Italy (another country close to his heart) with more to come.

Meanwhile, over in south east London, Lisa Hammond has established herself as a British potter of international standing, having also garnered enviable experience of the Eastern tradition in ceramics – time spent with potter Rizu Takahashi in the Mino region of Japan being a highlight. Hammond set up her first pottery in 1980. ‘Shapiro and Hammond have both been influenced by Japanese ceramics and each, in their own way, has gone on to produce highly individual work,’ says Fordham. ‘Lisa has become a master of shino glaze, but she often uses a soda kiln for her shino firings, which is quite idiosyncratic. Jeff, on the other hand, is a master of the flame, using long wood firings in his anagama tunnel kiln to exploit the effects of natural ash deposits and add colour and drama to his work.’

Lidded Pot, Lisa Hammond. Photo: Michael Harris

Hammond is also known for the functional aspect of her ceramics. As Fordham says: ‘She wants her work to be part of everyday life, regularly used and enjoyed,’ while Shapiro’s pottery tends to be more abstract and sculptural. ‘I think that although we make very different work, we have a similar attitude to making and we can appreciate the beauty in imperfection,’ says Hammond. And both love to experiment – researching new clays and techniques with a determination to push the boundaries. They also share a passion to demonstrate their craft and so the exhibition will kick off with a Clay Live event on 10 July at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, with demonstrations and talks by Shapiro and Hammond. From 11-13 July they will be over at Maze Hill Pottery for more workshops.

Just prior to the exhibition, Shapiro will be in France spending time with potter friends, while his work (a precious cargo if ever there was one) will make its way separately from New York to Oxford. ‘Logistically speaking it is quite a challenge to put on a show like this,’ says Fordham. ‘We couldn’t transport hundreds of Jeff’s pots over from the US, but there should be a good body of work from both potters… One of the best parts of the exhibition process for me is unpacking the pieces. And of course it is very exciting to bring work from different sides of the world together.’

Lisa Hammond and Jeff Shapiro: New Ceramics is at Oxford Ceramics Gallery until 3 August 2014.