Gesamtkuntswerk Bowl Part 1


Gesamtkuntswerk (gəˈzɑmtˈkʊnstvɛʀk) :Germannoun

Meaning : Total Artwork, involving and encompassing a range of forms; “in the aesthetic theory of Richard Wagner, an ideal Combination of performing arts, including music, drama, décor, etc. into a kind of total theatre,as in opera”


This project to me has been quite a learning curve, I have renamed the project for my own uses the “G” Bowl, and another title appeared after deliberating how I would approach the subject, “The Precarious Bowl”.

THe G bowl

Drawing by Barbara Hepworth

Having researched the word Gesamtkuntswerk (Definition above), I decided to embark upon a journey into what, for me, would make the perfect bowl, encompassing all the knowledge I have received regarding the bowl form, clay and aesthetics which I value to date.

The best place for me to start my research for this project was to go back to my old favourites the works of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

Bird Basket 1939

“The Bird Basket” 1939 by Henry Moore.

Re-inspired by my recent visit to St Ives and in particular returning once more to the house of Barbara Hepworth.

The Gardens of Barbara Hepworth St Ives.

The curved forms of these artists works have drawn me deeply into the world of Modernism where abstract forms represent possible natural forms, of humans, nature and the landscape.

Pelagos 1946 by Dame Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

“Pelagos” Barbara Hepworth

The use of strings add tension to these pieces which for me symbolise inner struggles these may be both physical and mental. Taught filaments which may convey inter-relationship divides and yet through their use create a contradictive statement of interconnectedness. This truly fascinates me, how something can be both “Ying and Yang”, and have so many finite meanings that it requires the beholder to really question the “Truth” behind the piece of work. Does the spectator then become a further extension of the work itself through merely observing? At this point the artwork has done its job, served its purpose… or has it?

Ai wei wei Han Vase 680

Ai Weiwei Dropping of Han Dynasty Vase 1995

There are three contemporary artists whose works I greatly admire. The naked Raku works of


Tim Andrews,

David Roberts

and of David Roberts,

Zoe Preece.jpg

and the fine work and artistic underpinning of the ceramic artist Zoe Preece.

I will come back to these artists later on my journey. I at this point decided to go back and look at my previous works and to interrogate the reasons behind making them and to attempt to determine if they were in anyway relevant to this new brief. I found that they are as important to me now as they were when I first created them. I also recognised then that if I am to succeed on this quest to determine what the outcome of my perfect bowl should be, then I would need to distil some of the values of that work into this form.


The first piece I re-examined was a piece I named “Orbit” for reasonably obvious reasons. When I created this piece I was examining the qualities of fine bone china in the form of paper clay. The process of making the clay was both tedious in the making of the clay body and extremely difficult to work with. Non plastic and short the clay dries out very quickly it is also nonpliable and prone to tearing and snapping. After many attempts with this process I only had one piece to show for it and this then was so delicate and fragile that it broke on firing and I was left to glue it back together in order to assemble it!


“Orbit” Johnathan English

However the configuration of the piece confused my position, using string in this way conveyed a completely different statement than that of either being inwardly strung or of being strung in connection to another piece. My intention was to show a piece which would feel as if divided between two rotating disks, maybe even being led in two directions at the same time. In contradiction to this, I felt that the piece had a harmony about it and a happy playfulness which was completely unintended. Something very joyful was to be felt about both the oscillation and bounciness of the rings when touched and given motion. A more interesting outcome I think that that which I had intended, a bit of a “Happy accident” feeling about it, especially as it was so difficult to physically create using the chosen materials.

orbit under construction

The second piece I revisited was that of my “mother and child”, which is a cathartic piece I created, inspired by Henry Moore, and in memory of my mother. The making of this piece was for me a huge breakthrough into the world of both Modernism and Symbolism. I had no idea when I started out on the making of these pieces how meaningful they would become to me.

My mother passed away when I was 14, she died of lung cancer, she was 36. The larger of the two ceramic forms is for me representational of her the smaller form of me. The use of the “Naked Raku” process in this work was instrumental in giving the observer a sense of a diseased skin.

Mother and Child 2014

Though thoroughly tactile the objects are mottled and you can almost feel the disease seeping through the veins of the pieces.

mother and child umbilicus 2

The red silk symbolises the umbilicus which feeds the child in the womb, here representational a pathway for the cancer to spread to the second form and infect it if it were. The open areas on the surface of the pieces represent the decay of the form.

mother and child twine

Where the inwardly intertwined dark lattice of threads give a feeling of the innerworkings of the bodies as if they represent decaying blood vessels, nerves and sinew.

mother and child twine 2

The positioning of the pieces in relation to one another was also very important, symbolising the way my mother always raised me on high, “Putting me on a pedestal” as it were.

mother and child umbilicus

One most important symbol of all was the use of gold in the recesses at the top of the objects. This I used to show the brightness of the human spirit, glowing on brightly in spite of all else that was happening at that time. Never to be tarnished by the passing of time.mother and child gold

From these works, the works of the afore mentioned artists and the brief for a “Perfect”, all encompassing bowl I found my starting point, and so I took out my sketchbooks and started to explore shapes for bowls which I felt contained some of the values which I was searching for.

to be continued…

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