December 13 2010
Lucia van der Post
Interesting things have been happening in the beautiful but old-fashioned world of fine china. Take Royal Crown Derby, one of the oldest and most venerable English pottery companies. Realising that grand dinner services and hand-painted objets were no longer on most of its customers’ hot lists, it has for some years been working with artists to create individual pieces that make us look at china with new eyes.
But Royal Crown Derby didn’t choose to work with artists merely so that they could add a bit of arty kudos to the products – it wanted the artists, as Hugh Gibson, who headed a buy-out of the company in 2000, puts it, “to get to know the nature of our business, both technically, aesthetically and through their personal relationship with the workforce. From that process,” he believed, would “emerge products of real worth.” Ken Eastman (already well known for his hand-built and decorated ceramic vessels) and Peter Ting are just two of several artists it has recently worked with: Ting was asked to design a range of tableware, Eastman a collection of vases.
Eastman has come up with entirely new shapes and forms but has clearly drawn on the archive for decorative inspiration, reworking the rich patterns so that when you look at his vases they seem both utterly new, fresh and contemporary and yet in some curious way deeply familiar – a beguiling combination. They come in a whole range of patterns, and the V&A not only sells them in its shop but also has them in its permanent collection. Prices range from £75 for a small blue-and-white vase and go up to £995 for the larger of the wonderful Imari-influenced ones (first picture). They’re primarily beautiful objects but, of course, can be used as vases. Any would make a wonderful present.
As for Ting, he too was inspired by the traditional Imari but has given it a very modern take. He has deployed it on an eminently usable dinner service called Hachi (second and third pictures). Small plates are £48, large ones £78. They are striking, interesting and would grace any table. What I like best is that the Imari influence is strong but it is used quite randomly, so that although the plates all work together they are not identical. Very de nos jours, that.