a life in pots

The Devonshire potter Jacob Bodilly talks to Hole & Corner about work, life, and pottery.

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What do you do? 
I am a potter by trade and an artist by nature.

I make functional stoneware pottery on a kick wheel and prepare all my clays and glazes by hand following the Leach tradition. That said, I hope to use the tradition as a foundation for my work rather than copy it. The tradition serves to ground my practice in certain techniques and approaches from which I set the standards for my work.

I specialise in wood ash glazing and fire my work in a reduction kiln. This is a process derived from medieval Asian technology for formulating glazes based on a content of processed wood ash. The reduction atmosphere is an atmosphere in the kiln that is starved of oxygen in the latter stages.

Where do you spend most of my time?
In my head.

What’s your ideal working situation?
Isolation. In the countryside, in a barn. No too hot, not too cold, Listening to Rachmaninoff or silence or birds or rain or wind and drinking coffee by the cafetiere full. I am ideally suited to organised chaos. I enjoy buildings that are changeable and spaces that are multi functional, I need to be able to change things about but also able to keep dedicated areas within the space. I like to feel my freedom, as though nobody knows where I am or what I’m doing. I love feeling the freshness of aloneness, of a day making and smashing and building. Obscurity is a word that comes up a lot for me, I create my own world at my studio. I do also love my visitors so I’m always ready to share my world with customers and friends who come by the workshop.

My favourite tool?
My favourite tool is my body. My head, my heart and my hands. I guess the wheel is important and the kiln too. My hands are very important, they have the knowledge that cannot be put into words, they are more experience than my brain. I also have a bit of wood that I couldn’t be without, it is a little slither of hardwood with an angle on the end, it is broken but still works. I use it to concentrate the clay body after throwing with my hands, it smoothes everything out and I use it to control the lines of the form. I have a relationship with all my tools, I even love my buckets and rubber gloves.

Another maker who has inspired you and your work?
My friend and former colleague Michel Francois has been my most important inspiration. We became the first two apprentices at the Leach Pottery when it re-opened in 2008. Michel had studied Sculpture at Edinburgh University and had been a stone carver, until later re-training as potter. He was deeply inspired by medieval Korean pottery and felt strongly that the works from Korea held a definite sculptural perfection. Michel was that bit older than me and had experience in the art world. Throughout our time together we made our work
side-by-side, criticised one another and became good friends through our passion for discovering the direction for our work. Michel helped me to break through a barrier of negativity in my work and encouraged me to set a high standard for my progression as a maker. He taught me many powerful things and told me many a mystic story whilst we made and fired our work together in St. Ives, and later at our own personal studios.

After I finished my apprenticeship, and took on Boscean Pottery, Michel supported me by allowing me to use his kilns whilst my studio was still in disarray. We later co-designed and produced 'Pots for Eden', a year long production of our Co-designed Pottery range for the Eden Project at St Austell. We speak on the phone regularly and he is still my closest ally when it comes to Pottery. We discuss every aspect of the subject regularly, we still keep a keen eye on one another's work and criticise if necessary.

Particular philosophy or values to approach the work?
My work is inspired by what I can only describe as ‘the essence’. This essence is the centre of my gravity as a potter. I believe in this essence, it can be seen and felt in people's work, in their crafts, in music, art, or architecture. It is a type of human magic I guess. It is relative to the purity of life and nature. It can only exist in purity, in honesty, in ‘the’ [sic] truthful reality of nature/life.

I knew early on what I’d like to achieve. I knew I would have to go beyond my ‘self‘, into what is in a sense ‘no mind’ territory, to get a good pot.

If you spend enough time making something it becomes as natural as eating or talking, you can do it without too much thinking involved. At this point you have gone beyond your ideas or concepts and almost become a portal for your work to be born. This is a very abstract idea relative to Buddhist thinking that I discovered as a college student studying traditional Japanese Raku wares.

I am upset with any destruction of beauty by the modern standards of what is acceptable for humanity. I am also upset with the loss of wisdom in regards to our everyday experience of life. I admit I do not have wisdom, that is why I am being a potter. I hope to learn something by living out this experience and, were possible, paying homage to the mastery of the past.

In the past, makers worked without ego, without a perception of the modern world we have today. It is very easy to get confused in the modern age as to what is appropriate for production, the possibilities are endless. That is why I have chosen such a simple approach that I hope can re-invigorate a timelessness through my process, rather than re-invent the wheel from my mind. Although the mind must be wise to eliminate Its own mind to promote a purer approach, beyond the self and for the people instead.

When I saw archaic works as a student I realised, quite profoundly, that the makers of old were closer to nature. Their work was produced solely for the purpose of serving, and any additional decoration was closely linked to nature. Their relationship with their world was unfettered, unharmed. Beauty was abundant in everything, as it was all hand made. But is wasn’t handmade for the hell of it, they had no choice. Their materials and process’s where also raw and unaffected by machinery.

I have dedicated my life up to now for a belief in this mystic notion of 'The Essence'. In a world where 'whoever' can be 'whatever' we are bombarded by opinions and values, therefore it is easy to become cynical. I wish to live a life that is not a compartmentalised life, but rather a life through pots instead. It is a constant study and an act of service for my chosen craft. My work is my life, and my commitment is to make a truthful beauty manifest through my work.

Is there a piece of knowledge or advice that you’ve always kept with you?

My dad once taught me - 'Do the hard bit first and everything is easier afterwards.'

A Hole-and-Corner is a secret place hidden away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Where is your hole and corner?
My workshop, but particularly my showroom. This is where I have my armchair, my finished work, and my books. This is where I can study and contemplate my work and my life in peaceful quietude and relative comfort.

Jacob Bodilly Pottery

Photographs Darcie Judson