The New Craftsmen & Inigo present: Exploring the Art of Slipware Pottery with Dylan Bowen

Dylan Bowen 

This week The New Craftsmen and Inigo visit the Oxford studio of renowned slipware potter, Dylan Bowen.

Known for his loosely thrown monochromatic work, Dylan’s approach resonates spontaneity and energy. His gestural application of contrasting slip is inspired by abstract expressionism and graffiti, resulting in one-of-a-kind pieces that combine traditional painting and avant-garde mark-making, with the centuries-old ceramic tradition of slipware pottery. It is this unique, dynamic, approach that makes Dylan’s work so instantly recognisable and utterly covetable.

Dylan Bowen

Slipware pottery, which dates back as far as the 12th century, experienced a resurgence thanks to British studio potters, Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew in the early 1900s. An age-old pottery tradition, the process involves drenching a leather-hard clay body (vessels, platters, or whatever the potter has produced) in liquid clay, as a means of decoration before firing.

As a form of direct mark making, there are many different decorative applications of slip; these include sgraffito (scratching through a layer of slip to reveal a contrasting colour beneath), carving, painting and trailing – to name but a few.

Dylan Bowen

Dylan pours, trails and brushes slip onto his pieces which are usually wheel-thrown, but also incorporate hand-built elements. The work Dylan creates is experimental and expressive, but as The New Craftsmen discovers, years of honing his craft has enabled him to create an approach that is now as ‘steady and un-dramatic’ as he can possibly make it.

We invite you to read the full story, below, for an insight into Dylan’s making methods and creative process. To explore individual pieces, please visit his maker page and product gallery.

Dylan Bowen

What motivates you to make?

A combination of things motivate me to make – a lot of them are fairly practical and unexciting, but two are recurring. Firstly, solving problems (both practical and aesthetic), and secondly, questioning how to penetrate the fog of the future. How does something go together? How do I make my materials do what I want them to at each stage? How can I find out what is not working and make it work? Where am I going? I can’t imagine these concerns ever going away, but I have learnt how to work at them, if not perhaps solve them.

What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?

The two biggest influences on my work are my Dad (Clive Bowen) and my wife (Jane Bowen). Both are slipware potters and I feel most of what I am able to do is built on the foundations of what they have already done. I think after a while you accumulate so many influences that they form a kind of stew in which it is harder to extract specific ingredients. I know I am constantly looking at marks, whatever the source, and sometimes that becomes distracting. Rather than enjoying the work, my first thought is, can I use this? Can this be mine? Can I use this emotion? Like a vampire!

What is your unique approach to your craft and how have you honed your skills?

I don’t have a unique approach, I don’t think. I have eventually learned that I need to turn up for things to happen, and my approach is now as steady and undramatic as I can make it. I sometimes wonder what skills I have acquired. I suppose the main skill I am working on is knowing when to leave things alone. I am more interested in what I can get away with, testing the amount of skill and knowledge needed in order to get what I want. And if it falls apart, does that matter? It could be great! However, slipware is both very simple and very sensitive. Things go wrong and if I am too casual, it can fall apart in a way I don’t like. I suppose negotiating this is another thing I am working on.

What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?

I can think of a few moments when I have felt “this is good”! I think having my work accepted for the first CAL Exhibition was a real step, as was having work in Galerie Besson at around the same time. I also gave a talk and a demo at the Ashmolean Museum with my Dad a few years back. I think there have been many smaller moments along the way, but the ultimate prize – which is to fully express every part of my being through clay – is sadly always going to be out of reach.

What is your dream project?

My dream project would be something collaborative in the sun. A large ceramic mural maybe. I have made a few larger works myself, but I like working with people who have different skills, who are more practical. I have been working with slipware for a long time and the chance to work with other materials, with different firing and glazing techniques, is something I would be greatly interested in.

Photography by Paul Whitbread