Donvé Branch: I’m a Potter. Not a Ceramicist. I’m not sure why I make the distinction, but it is visceral! Initially I thought that, perhaps, it was simply that I THROW. That I love the feel, rhythm and life of throwing, and of making multiple forms and refining their shape. Through this process, I became critical of form. But rural African people don’t throw clay on a wheel, and yet they are the original potters.
So, perhaps, I’m a potter simply because I love to express myself only through clay and spend my life trying to transform it into art. By this distinction, Ceramicists are artists who, perhaps only temporarily, use clay to express artistic ideas. But for me the Clay is the ‘raison d’être’, it is the earth through which I express my desires. It allows me to say: “I am a Potter”.”
I started working with clay in 1971, and for nearly 45 years it has been a continuous part of my life.
I have always loved the rhythm and focus that come from working on the wheel. I spent some difficult years managing a pottery business, where I was continuously frustrated by glaze problems.
When I retired in 2001 I returned to my home studio and began to burnish the surface of my pots, and to experiment with the many different forms of pit-firing. I wanted to throw pots of white earthenware that retained their European form but upon which I could explore the dynamic interplay of earth and fire that characterize traditional African unglazed pots.
I gravitate to closed-forms that are influenced by the functionality and strength of the rural potter’s ware, and like theirs my forms are increasingly globular, even bloated. Their large burnished surfaces allow me to explore primitive firing methods. I love to test, perhaps control, vagaries of the delicate hues and serendipitous highlights that adorn pit-fired pots.
I experiment with various combustibles, surface covers and chemicals, fire bisqued vessels in open pits or saggers, subject the pots to single or multiple firings; anything to push the boundaries of my knowledge.