Richard Phethean


Richard's pottery has grown out of domestic ware, drawing on the classic Minoan pottery of ancient Crete and the traditions of English country slipware, becoming less utilitarian and more sculptural in the last fifteen years. His recent work has been partially inspired by the exploration of planes and surface seen in the cubist work of Picasso, and the paintings and low reliefs of Ben Nicholson, that depict the abstraction of ordinary domestic objects such as jugs and vases. He reverses this idea by applying a two dimensional image on a three dimensional form. Richard throws, alters and combines slab elements to assemble vessel forms in course textured red and black earthenware clays, then applies layered washes of brushed clay slips over hand cut paper stencils, fundamentally seeking harmony between form and surface.


For over forty years Richard has been a visiting teacher and demonstrator of throwing. He was a member of staff on the University of Westminster, Harrow degree course for twelve years until its closure in 2010. For thirteen years Richard based his studio and teaching in an Oxfordshire Quaker school where he attracted potters from around the world for intensive training on the potter's wheel. 


On family holidays in Cornwall since early childhood, the rugged landscape, Atlantic coastline and ever-changing seasonal colours became great loves. A visit, in his teens, to the studio near Lands End of a Leach Pottery trained maker lit the spark of his career. In August 2014, Richard moved permanently to the SW peninsular, and into a large new studio in Lower Kenneggy, near Penzance. This continues to serve as base for his own practice and as a home for his short course programme and weekly classes. Here there is always a creative buzz for amateur potters and young artists, who come to improve their skills and develop new work. The Tresabenn Studio has received Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust funding to train a young Cornish apprentice over the next 3 years.


A ceramics graduate of the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, and further trained in the studios of tutors Colin Pearson and Janice Tchalenko, Richard has exhibited and is collected widely in the UK and Europe. He is a Fellow of, and recently retired as Chair of the Craft Potters Association. He is author of ‘The New Ceramics – Throwing’, published by Bloomsbury, a very popular text book illustrating throwing technique. 


‘The unglazed pieces, more overtly graphic with their stencilled blocks of coloured slip, have a markedly different feel to the glazed pieces, with their under layer of honeyed slip that creates a film of brush marks and delicate translucent tones and contrasting with the more solid motifs and the exposed areas of fired terracotta body. The capacity to know, or be confident in creating the space for the finished qualities, which are inherent, but not visible, within the technical process, is for me particularly impressive, and connotes the skill and experience necessary to achieve this. Seeing a body of work such as this, with its repertoire of referenced domestic ceramic forms – vases, cups, teapots, jugs – also enables one to appreciate the rigour and pleasures of the maker’s practice in exploring the possibilities of form and pattern, each in relation to the other, and testing the potential of each.’


Andy Horn - Curator at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 2014 – Ceramic Review


'Phethean's pots explore contour and profile, clay as an assembly of cut elements, as well as an effective ground for his expansive abstract surfaces. There is a process of construction and deconstruction about his work, as if he is analysing the structural nature of functional form, but doing it playfully, like the decorative still lives of late Cubism'


- David Whiting