Film Script of 'The Collector'
VIMEO TRANSCRIPTION – HISTORYWORKS FILM
TITLE: ANTHONY SHAW, THE COLLECTOR
I’m a Collector of ceramics, and generally of Art forms.
It is very much, I think, a felt Collection.
I have to sense the work. I choose it with the gut.
I don't choose it visually.
I'm not interested in what I see. It is what I feel.
I was born in 1951.
My father was a Town Planner and Architect.
My mother worked almost all her life for B.O.A.C, which became British Airways.
It allowed us to travel.
From the age of about five I travelled every year.
And it was always interesting places, museums rather than beaches. So I saw a lot of the world and that has influenced, obviously, what I look at, what I like, and what I’m after.
We always bought ‘Seconds.’ Everything was bought in the Sales.
You couldn’t afford to just spend.
And the Collection was my revolt against that!
Because I really did spend money, and that was my youthful rebellion
The first things that I was buying did relate to the pieces that I live with, the domestic pieces.
And it was about form. It was about glaze.
It was very contained.
But very quickly I was moving on to, as a lot of the Potters at the time were, moving on to the more sculptural work.
I just like its compactness, the little sort of beginnings of other forms coming out of it, which are slightly alien.
There were two main artists who radically changed the direction of the collection.
And I don’t think it would have existed at all, but for them.
And they are Ewen Henderson and Gordon Baldwin.
Ewen Henderson mixed his clays (which seemed a mad idea).
You sense that he is literally starting on a new journey and doesn’t know quite where to go…
And Gordon Baldwin was producing white ceramics,
which was very different, because I was collecting very traditional, ash-glazed functional wares.
So I was intrigued by the whiteness!
I was intrigued by the modern-ness of them.
And the fact that they were painted in a painterly way!
Infact, he started calling them “bowls in the form of painting”, “dishes in the form of a painting”.
And that’s another important aspect of the Collection.
Which I do feel is ‘paintings in another form’.
As it has a lot of paintings in it, by almost all the artists, who both paint and sculpt, and work with other mediums.
Gordon would make a cut on two sides and then he would tear the other two sides, contrasting this sense of an edge.
So that, what started out, - perfect pots, very contained, - very soon became the opposite!
And I was looking for and wanting imperfection.
I was wanting something that the Artist developed in the making.
This sort of work, he doesn’t know how it is going to come out.
It may just collapse completely, you know.
It’s another form of cooking.
I only like work that is full of ideas, usually not resolved.
I’ve worn off perfect pieces in the sense that are totally resolved.
It isn’t totally complete, because it lives.
If you complete something, then it is an ending.
Perfection is an ending.
It’s full of speckles, full of dust, full of detritis, because Ewen would never make a purely white piece
I think with all these things they are journeys, and you learn about your reactions.
You learn about the work, you learn about Artists.
I soon found that I didn’t want to have one piece by each person.
If I wanted the work from someone I wanted to have a whole group of work.
This is a very much a freer form, by Gillian Lowndes but there is always a great sense of balance.
The Collection in a sense took me over.
I would go without, as my mother used to go without for her books.
I went without for the ceramics and the rest of the Collection.
The more you look at it, the more you realize how considered it is. Yet it looks terribly fresh. It looks as though it has just been thrown together.
The main artists I collected in the 70s and 80s started with Ewen Henderson, and Gordon Baldwin
Followed with Sara Radstone, who was taught by both Gillian Lowndes and Ewen Henderson.
And then Bryan Illsley.
My first piece of his was a painting.
And Ian Godfrey is important particularly his early work .
He was a great visitor to museums. He seemed to be able to mix many many cultures, collaging in a very magical way.
My most recent acquisitions have been by three Artists; Kerry Jameson, Nao Matsunaga & Owen Bullett
Kerry is a surprise for me.
I never thought I would have such figurative work.
Individually you can tell their history – they are full of narrative – and I couldn’t just not have them!
My first acquisition of hers was a group of what she calls “Fears”. These are mostly heads, all in the state of fear.
I was just amazed!
It is the sort of narrative that she fills her work with.
They are so balanced, they are almost on the point of movement.
Whereas the ceramic was the ending with the firing previously, now it is the beginning.
She makes the form, and then dresses it.
And most people find the work just too real, too strong.
And that is perhaps one of the reasons why I like it so much!
You can go out and buy something to decorate a house– and what’s the point?
I want things that are going to intrigue me for a long time, and I’m going to learn about them.
And I’m going to go on a journey with them.
With them all there is this similarity that they are about balance – and out of balance –they are all about certain things that seemed to tie them all together as a family.
My Collection is unique, I think, because it shows a lot of work from a very few people who have treated clay as their medium.
Although they will be very proud of traditional pottery and Potters, they work outside that.
And therefore they are much freer.
They have much more to say.
Ewen has always been very concerned about, but not consciously, about edges…
There are Potters, that I’m not so keen on, who are oblivious to what an edge can do to a work.
They will simply cut it as though you were cutting up a piece of pastry!
And the edges are then meaningless.
And infact the edge is almost the most important part.
It is the ending of an object.
It is where it sort of reaches the outside world.
It mustn’t be too refined. It mustn’t be too thought about.
It must be just a natural edge.
It was taught to me really by Ewen, who had a mastery of edges.
He’s sort of thinking, and not thinking, as he is doing it.
He makes the different forms.
He had a way with his hand building – to make every edge correct – not perfection! But just right!
They work because they are not thought about, you know…
I mean it is almost like a shore line. It is almost like the water creeping up a beach. The line is correct!
I never intended it to be a Collection.
And I don't see myself as a Collector.
If anything, I see myself as a Custodian of this family, this family of things
I'm always amazed when I ask an Artist – is there a possibility that they will let me have something?
I’m always amazed, because I do feel that each time that one is going away with a little bit of the Artist.
And if you go away a lot of times with a little bit each time, in a sense one feels that there is less and less of the Artist left!
This is all work that is for me it’s full of questions.
Because it's not about endings, it’s all about beginnings.
And I love to get the reaction of others, and to learn from that!
Most work now says very little, tells you immediately you see it, and there is nothing more to learn from it!
Whereas these pieces do need a lot of time.
I'm still learning and I've had some of them for 40 years!
I don't want to create a lot of Collectors, but I would love people to start to see individual pieces, and feel they would like to live with them.
There needs to be a reaction to the work.
It doesn’t need to just look ‘pretty’.
I’m thrilled when people come in and are
Because I remain astonished!
That is why I want the sort of dialogue that you get with the work in a domestic space.
I think it is much more natural, and most of the work was made to be in domestic spaces.
I don’t really feel any sense of ownership of it.
I’ve just been, always been very privileged to have any of it, you know, from the very early days.
So I don’t really feel in a sense that it is mine.
So it seems to be quite the natural thing to pass it on to somewhere where it is everyone elses!
This period hasn’t really been seen by the general public.
They’ve been collected by a few people, and of course the public don’t see the work!
It is almost a hidden world, and this will start to open it up!
They all deserve to be in a much larger world.
So if one can capture a little of this and push it into the outside world, I think that’s you know that’s marvellous.
And I think these things have been telling me that for a long time! LAUGHTER