Interview with Pete Bodenham

SOON met with Poppit based potter Pete Bodenham to talk a bit about his current work, where he gains his inspiration and life today as a working artist…

Introduce yourself and your work.
I’m a potter, visual artist, and part time ceramics lecturer. I live next to my workshop at St.Dogmaels Pottery. I grew up in St Dogmaels and went to school in Cardigan. My family lived on a smallholding and I attended art college, both environments encourage you to repair stuff, think, invent and create things. I’m happiest when I’m around my two sons and Ellie, at the beach with Poppit Sands Surf Life Saving Club members or making and being engaged in creative projects.

How did you become a ceramicist? 
As a child I used to repeatedly thumb through a book, ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’ by John Seymour. I loved the detailed illustrations and the underlying philosophy of the book. Within the book there were two pages on making pottery that sparked my interest along with tips on keeping hens, pigs and cows. I was lucky to experience ceramics at Cardigan School and as a teenager I used to hang out at Cippyn Pottery near Poppit Sands, which made me think you could be a potter. From there I went to Carmarthen School of Art and then onto Camberwell School of Art in London to study a BA in Ceramics & 3D.

Have you always lived in Wales?
No, but I’m a passionate Welsh Rugby and sports fan! My Parents moved to St.Dogmaels in the late 1970’s. I’ve lived most of my life in West Wales with short spells in London and Cardiff.

Would you say your surroundings play a big part in your work?
Yes, in a big way. I try to capture a sense of place within my ceramics and creative projects. Journeys and mini adventures on foot, often walking the shoreline, feed the work on a direct level. Intuitive brush marks reference the feeling of moving through water, or studying the edges or boundaries between land and sea. Motifs and gestural marks brushed on the pots can be seen as direct traces of my experience of a sense of place.

Who are your main inspirations/ favourite artists?
Alive – Francis Alys, Theaster Gates, Marcus Coates, Allora & Calzadilla, Bedwyr Williams, Wim Delvoye, Cornelia Parker, Takeshi Yasuda, Atelier N.L. Nao Matsunaga, David Gates.
Dead – Joseph Beuys, Antoni Tapies, Gillian Lowndes, Cy Twombly and many forgotten potters / un-marked pots in Museums.

What are you currently working on?
Part of my work as a lecturer at Bath Spa University is being a researcher. This involves either writing academic papers or creating innovative research art and design projects. I’m currently researching material culture and its symbolism regarding site and place. I’m interested in how you can make ceramics that can evoke or reference a sense of place, imbedding objects with meaning. On a practical level I am researching the history, geology and ecology of Poppit Sands beach. A local historian Glen believes the name Poppit is derived from Pot-Pit, this idea coupled with what I can learn form the beach has been my starting point of this year’s research. I’m collecting small amounts of clay, rocks, wood and seaweed from the beach using these materials to create clay and glaze experiments. On a regular basis I collect plastic from the beach both cleaning the shoreline and keeping some plastic containers to form part of the project. I’m making plaster casts from these plastic items, make pots by pressing the clay gathered from the beach into the moulds. The project will ultimately draw together research, information and images from visitors to the beach, geologists, historians, scientists as well as the creation of a small set of functional ceramics made from materials gathered from the beach.

Where do you source your materials? How do you make decisions such as choice of clay and glaze?
The raw materials come from Stoke-On-Trent, which is the centre of the British ceramic industry. I supplement these materials with local clays and materials. I use dark clays, which I feel evoke the local geology.

Describe your work in 3 words.
Utopic, practical, rooted.

What’s your favourite piece to date?
A coffee bowl featuring seaweed collected from the beach integrated into the glaze chemistry.

It’s rare for people to fully commit to a career in the Arts. What’s the hardest thing about being a full-time artist today?
To be honest, on one level it’s probably the easiest time in history to be an artist. The challenges are financial rather than cultural. Financially sustaining yourself and your art / design practice is an art form. The current political economic climate is challenging or put it another way messed up. It’s hard for artists and makers to find affordable spaces to live and work.

What would be your advice to a young artist starting out in the industry? 
Learn skills from highly skilled people and aim to practice your skills to the highest level. People with good skills will always get work. Study the history and theory of your field as well as being inquisitive about other fields of study. An inspiring art lecturer Osi Rhys Osmond I used to work with, repeatedly said ‘ art and design is all about making connections!’. Network and figure out who you need to talk to and where you need to show your work. Finally, commit to your creative practice.

What’s your SOON, your Something Out Of Nothing? 
Diving into a wave.

Follow Pete on Instagram here, or alternatively visit his open workshop, St Dogmaels Pottery in West Wales, (link to address and website).