The story of studio pottery and ceramics over the last century has been a quite extraordinary one, the invention, or at least re- invention, of a complete new tradition in the wake of the Industrial Revolution’s large scale destruction of the craft tradition in favour of manufactured wares. As so often, a huge debt here is owed to that revolutionary genius William Morris and his insistence that the work of art remained in the hands of the same craftsman, who was both artist and artisan – a good pot, in short, came out of a good process and a satisfied creator. And although it has now gone a lot further than that again in the 21st century with a radical blurring of lines between craft/making/design and fine art, that simple but utterly radical belief changed everything everywhere in Western craft traditions. All of this is exemplified in some first rate ceramics’ shows this month. Robin Welch, for example, at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre is now in his early 80s, and among the most distinguished living Britishceramicists from the great Bernard Leachtradition that, emerging in the early years in the wake of Morris’ revolution, owed muchin turn to Japanese ceramic art which had survived untouched by Western industrialisation. Trained as a painter, Welch studied just after the war with Michael Leach in St Ives (where contemporary Japanese masters like Hamada often came to work). But he also went to the Central School in the 1950s, where he was exposed, like many of his fine art colleagues, to the thrills and excitements of American Abstract Expressionism, his glazes becoming infused witha richness and exuberance of colour and sense of landscape that was far removed from the quieter austerities of the Leach ethic. And so it has remained, in ever developing form, to this day, his work a significant stepping stone on the road to ceramic art’s creative emancipation. Just how far this process has gone in recent times is shown in Claudia Clare’s work – her latest group of large scale and distinctly political and subversive painted ceramic pots are showing at Zuleika Gallery . In an imaginative piece of curatorship, these are being shown alongside a group of prints by the man who, with his own satirically uproarious and often scatological painted pieces has, in many ways, changed the game for ceramics over the last decade or more, Grayson Perry. Like Perry, Clare owes muchto the social commentaries of the great 18thcentury cartoonist James Gillray to which she adds her own very distinctive sense of narrative, painterly dramas: “I make pots to record the effects of social change and historic events on ordinary, everyday lives” she has observed. We have moved a long way on from Morris and Leachin some ways, in others the concerns are, movingly, very muchthe same. Withher ‘naked raku’ process Moyra Stewart has developed a very different landscape-inspired aesthetic, one where the abstract patterns that cover her extraordinarily satisfying pieces, showing at Birch Tree Gallery, which are inspired by the shapes and forms of 6 billion year old Lewisian Gneiss rock, seem embedded in the very core and substance of the work – craft skill and artistic judgement pushing in another intriguing direction. Finally there is the annual exhibition of the London Potters at Morley Gallery. Founded 30 years ago as a voluntary group open to professional and non-professional potters alike, they provide both a showcase and a shared skills forum, and as suchthis is an excellent snapshot of the health of the art form – on the evidence here, bursting with vitality, ideas and marvellous inventiveness. N icholas Usherwood 10 GALLERIES NOVEMBER 2017 above M oyra Stewart ‘Lewisian Gneiss Stones’ Birch Tree Gallery rt Ceramics ‘. . . a good pot came out of a good process’