Svend Bayer’s latest pots exude vitality from strong forms. The result of a period of experimenting with making celadon glazes from local rocks, including granite, and with exposing shino and kaki glazes to the wood ash in the kiln, they achieve some new and dazzling results. They were at Sladers Yard from 5 July to 7 September 2014.
Born in Uganda to Danish parents, Svend Bayer came to this country when he was 16. He graduated from Exeter University and joined Wenford Bridge Pottery as student to Michael Cardew. Cardew called him ‘easily my best pupil… his is a force of nature. Everything comes to him so easily.’
In 1973 Bayer travelled, searching out potteries with big wood-fired kilns in Japan, S Korea and SE Asia and in 1975 he set up his own pottery near Beaworthy, North Devon, where the ball clay mines and the sawmills could supply clay and offcuts to burn in his kiln. Since then he has worked with tremendous levels of energy, strength and application making the pots which are recognised around the world.
He is known for the extraordinary size and beautiful forms of his pots and for the exceptional colours and textures he achieves with his glazes. His firings are unusually protracted and hot, lasting five days and nights during which the kiln has to be continuously stoked with wood. While the shapes of his pots derive from traditional forms, he breaks tradition by exposing delicate glazes to the wood ash in his kiln. This high-risk practice causes the glazes to ooze and flow with remarkable colour and texture. Svend exhibits his work in leading galleries in this country and has shown in USA, Australia, New Zealand, Kuwait, India, Malaysia and Brazil.
‘I have always fired with wood. Initially wood firing was simply a way of hardening the clay and melting the glazes. The sometimes spectacular side effects of wood firing were neither encouraged nor discouraged. The pots simply took their chances. Over the years my approach changed and I began to seek out the pots whose surfaces had been modified by the presence of ash and embers melting on them. The firings were extended to as much as six days in order to maximise this work.
‘Some years ago I noticed that the celadon liner glaze changed to a wonderful blue when exposed to ash. I also noticed an amazing transformation in the Shino glaze and more recently, in the Kaki glaze. These glazes are traditionally protected from kiln ash but I love the startling colours and movement in the surfaces that result from this treatment.
‘Of the three glazes, Kaki is perhaps the one that undergoes the most profound changes. Under normal conditions it is a very reserved matt red / brown. When ash lands and combines with it, it first turns black and shiny and as the ash builds up over the length of the firing, blue, yellow, green and silver streaks appear.
‘The best that I can do is to encourage these effects. There are far too many variables in this kind of firing for anything else to be possible. In this respect it is like gambling and, like some jaded old gambler, it works just often enough for me to keep coming back for more.’ SVEND BAYER
His work exudes personality. He had a full traditional training but breaks the rules with the hand of a master. ‘If you look for perfection in my pots you will not find it.’ He says, ‘ Look at them as you would on survivors… they have the signs of a life lived which, in my pots, come from the firing process.’
Examples of Svend Bayer’s pots that were in our last show are below. We do not currently hold any stock of Svend’s pots. However do let us know if you would like an email when we next show his work.
Watch Svend Bayer short films:
Lisa Hammond‘s atmospheric description of helping Svend Bayer with one of his long firings.