My ex-business partner is a believer of prophetic signs. I was quite surprised when he told me because I didn’t think he would believe in such things. I certainly don’t. However, I might revise that after the strange, almost fated meeting I had with Rhian Jones.
Rhian is an emerging ceramic artist living and working in West Wales. She graduated from Camarthen School of Arts two years ago after which she was artist in residence at the school for a year. Rhian and I nearly didn’t connect. She dropped by Bath Contemporary to introduce herself to me just as we closed the doors to the public. Luckily, she had the presence of mind to push a business card under the front door with a hastily scribbled message. I could so easily have missed it in all the fuss of packing up the gallery. A few weeks later I looked up her website – and called her immediately.
Rhian hand builds the most incredibly beautiful vessels and pots that, as part of her process, draws on the ancient art of Japanese Kintsugi. an ancient form of repair work using precious metal. Directly translated, Kintsugi means golden repair and it is still practiced in Japan today. It involves the mending of broken ceramics using a special putty, which is later dusted with gold powder. The repair is then polished to create a smooth finish, which translates into a wonderful, irregular golden line that snakes all over the ceramic. The amount of time and skill it takes to achieve this is expensive and the gold makes it pricey too.
Rhian’s process is no less labour intensive. She builds each pot by hand from earthstone clay using a form of coiling. Once leather dry, she burnishes each pot using a special stone, which creates a beautiful, soft lustre. I can’t help but reference this finish to the traditional tribal African ceramics I used to see for sale on the side of the road as a child in South Africa. They are nostalgic memories of hot summer days under bright blue African skies.
The shape and form of Rhian’s vessels are also influenced by ancient Egyptian culture, in particular here burial rites introducing a darker, more spiritual energy to the work. Influences from neolithic/early bronze age Beaker pottery are also present.
The pots are then biscuit fired before being smoke-firing in a large, open pit for three hours, before being sealed and allowed to cool overnight. During this alchemy of fire and smoke, the pots absorb a myriad of wonderful and unpredictable patterns of colouring from the chemicals released in the burn. Those that crack or break are painstakingly mended in the Kintsugi tradition, using an epoxy putty before being finished with 24ct gold leaf.
Before I sign off, I need to share one more thing. My meeting with Jackson. He is huge and incredibly handsome. No, I’m not talking about Rhian’s partner or husband, but rather her kiln, which is large enough to walk in to. Rhian had just acquired him when I visited her and she was lovingly cleaning him and repainting his surface. He is, without a doubt, going to help her create some beautiful children.