Ken Clark 1922 – 2012

Apologies for simply offering a direct lift from The Telegraph due to current time pressures. However I’d like to add that Ken Clark made several visits back to New Zealand after decamping to London. If you re-read old copies of the NZ Potter magazine you will see some of them recorded and if you read carefully, he did his very best to widen the scope of the New Zealand pottery expression and culture away from that determined full focus upon the Anglo-oriental that we had. Those quotes you can read from him are insightful and engaging around matters of style and philosophy. I sometimes suspect that in the end he realised it was something of a lost cause and eventually confined visits to the personal to see old friends and family rather than to give workshops and talks. His friend, pottery colleague and fellow Kiwi, Brian Newman also visited back but as far as I know, never joined the fray to deviate NZ from the full-on attitude towards the Anglo-oriental that these ex-pats could observe with the benefit/greater objectivity of their time away. Clark might have had spirits lifted had he observed the extension to our expression with a lowering of temperature and introduction of colour in the 80s. There are a number of Ken Clark works in the collections at some of our major institutions. You can always ask to see them. Further, his pieces can sometimes be spotted in junk shops, collecting dust on the shelves as our secondary market also has its main focus on the Anglo-oriental and what directly arose from that, rather than looking at our larger, and infinitely more interesting history.

Ken Clark, who has died aged 89, was among the leading ceramicists of his generation. His strengths included a sure feel for shape when designing solid objects such as candlesticks; masterly ability in imparting a particular hue to a glaze; and sureness of touch in applying a design to ceramics then firing.

Among his greatest triumphs was recreating the red lustre used a century earlier by the potter-novelist William De Morgan. This arose from a commission for red tiles by the film director Michael Winner. Clark went on to fathom the secrets of De Morgan’s other glazes, including those of Islamic origin which had been almost completely lost between the late Middle Ages and De Morgan’s rediscovering them in the 1870s.

Such skills brought Clark commissions from other patrons, whose celebrity could match the lustre of his own tiles. Socially, his crowning achievement was to reproduce the Windsor Castle dairy’s tiles following the disastrous fire there of 1992. He also made copious decorative ceramics for the Sultanate of Oman.

Artistically, he joined his contemporaries’ rebellion against the Bernard Leach school of gentlemanly, muted colours, substituting for them a fiery chromatic riot inspired by Picasso’s and Matisse’s work on display in the South of France, which he visited on his honeymoon atop a Vespa scooter, with his new wife (and muse-in-the-making) riding pillion.

Kenneth Inman Carr Clark was born on July 31 1922 in Nelson, New Zealand, the second son of Aubrey Clark, a farms inspector. The “Carr” commemorated his 18th-century ancestor John Carr of York, architect of the Crescent at Buxton and (with Robert Adam) of Harewood House.

At Nelson College, New Zealand’s oldest school, Ken won several drawing prizes. Ill health, then the war, curtailed his education. He initially joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, but transferred to the Royal Navy, taking part in the 1944 Normandy landings, of which he made superb drawings. He was mentioned in despatches.

Clark stayed on in Britain, enrolling at the Slade, where he was taught by Stanley Spencer. In 1953 he founded Kenneth Clark Pottery (later Ceramics), together with his wife-to-be Ann Wynn-Reeves, whom he married the following year. The firm’s premises on Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, were where Vanessa Bell had created her pottery.

He designed items for the Denby Ware and Bristol ranges of household crockery. Late in life he concentrated on reproducing Arts and Crafts tiles designed not just by De Morgan but also by William Morris and the architect Philip Webb. Ann, however, was the firm’s principal designer of motifs and decorative emblems, Clark using them to enliven its basic ceramic lines.

The firm’s list of private patrons included John Cleese , David Attenborough , Ben Kingsley, and Felicity Lott. Wayne Sleep, on being asked what shade of blue he wanted for his tile commission, told Clark: “the colour of your eyes”.

In the late Seventies, Sir Ralph Richardson had a part in a West End play requiring him to drink endless cups of coffee. This, if undertaken faithfully, would have strained the plumbing of a man Sir Ralph’s age. Clark glazed a coffee cup brown inside to make it look permanently topped-up.

Nor were institutional and corporate clients lacking. For the accountants Arthur Andersen, Kenneth Clark Ceramics created a vast relief mural in the company’s London headquarters. Perhaps Clark’s outstanding achievement in meeting commissions was the reproduction of Islamic decorative tiles for the celebrated Debenham House (or “Peacock House”, as it is colloquially known) near Holland Park.

Clark published four books on his craft . He was appointed MBE in 1990 and awarded the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s Centennial Medal in 1991.

His wife survives him, as do a son and daughter.



1 Comment

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One response to “Ken Clark 1922 – 2012

  1. Michael Loveridge

    i worked for Ken and Ann during the late 60.s early 70.s in covent garden .
    i was 17years old i still have great memories of that time and will be forever gratefull . Michael Loveridge.

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