Melting pot - Issue 167 - Magazine | Monocle

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For author, artist and master potter Edmund de Waal, creation is a physical experience. “Clay is a gorgeous, messy untamed material,” he says at his office-cum-studio in London. “But so is language. I often think of the pressure between words when I put one next to the other or when I make spaces between them.” 

De Waal, whose best-selling memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes has been published in more than 29 languages, is just as well-known for his work as a visual artist. Often crafted in response to historical processes or other works of art, the potter’s large-scale porcelain installations touch on movement, diaspora and materiality. They are also cross-disciplinary. De Waal currently has two shows in New York. To Light, and then Return at Gagosian’s Madison Avenue gallery features works with titles that allude to poems by Seamus Heaney and Emily Dickinson, as well as responses to photographs by Sally Mann, whose pictures are also on display in the collaborative exhibition. “Creating installations, like writing, is an art of construction,” De Waal tells monocle. “You’re constantly putting things together then taking them apart.” 


De Waal credits the breadth of his creative output partly to the people around him, most of whom come from different disciplines. “It’s a privilege to be alongside people whose own creativity sits in another place,” says De Waal. “It’s why I’ve always collaborated.” From working with ceramicists to going through drafts of his books with his literary agent, to recording with musician Simon Fisher Turner, communicating with his peers and the outside world has always been a key part of his creative process. “I come from a big family and so I never felt like creativity came from solitude,” he says. “That’s why this studio is full of people, materials and books. We have events and music playing. It feels like a library of possibilities.” 

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