Words by Hannah Tapping
Where a dimension of consciousness beyond words takes form in clay and colour.
Ceramicist Jake Boex is Cornish, born and bred. His parents are both artists and makers themselves, and with such a heritage it seems apt that his studio can be found at the heart of one of Cornwall’s most quintessential fishing villages, Porthleven. He cites a school teacher, David Armistead, who was both a potter and a family friend as being his initial inspiration, and Jake’s still in possession of the first cup he ever made under his tutelage. “I was fortunate to be able to study for my A-levels while spending all my free periods doing ceramics – I just sort of learned the ropes from him.”
“I studied ceramics at college in Penzance,” explains Jake, “and during this period, I met and explored the work of Waistel Cooper, one of the leading ceramicists of the 20th century, which had a real impact on my view of what ceramics could actually be. Previously I’d thought that they were just functional and utilitarian items that happened to be made from clay. Subsequently my ceramics became materials of the Earth that could convey a sense of stillness seen in the natural environment. Waistel was inspired by the open expanse and raw elements of Iceland, which I later got to experience.”
I ask Jake whether he sees himself as a ceramicist or a potter, as both seem to fall within his vernacular. “Some days I call myself a potter and then others I refer to myself as a ceramicist. I guess, it depends on how ‘artsy’ I’m feeling is the real answer. If you identify with your work as being functional, then you’re a potter. If it’s more about the sculptural element, I think you’re probably more a ceramicist. I identify with both aspects.
“Rather than there being a conflict or having a split view about what I’m doing, I actually really enjoy both ends of the spectrum. A cup is probably one of the earliest of human creations and that spans right through to some of the highest sculptural work. For me, having the two in the scope of what I do is kind of cool, because one supports the other. If I’m working on a more detailed sculptural piece, ideas can come out of that and translate across to a cup, and actually, why can’t art be for everyday use? Part of the attraction of Jake’s pieces is in the handmade detailing that makes each unique. It is much more than their simple functionality – they bring a dimension, a human quality, with which we can connect.
Jake’s studio is located just off the high street, where he has the latest kilns which allow him fantastic control in the firing process. “I would say that my inclination or trade mark perhaps is the sea; I live by and find inspiration in it, as did the fishermen that first used my former net loft studio. I harvest the sea for inspiration and find ideas that people connect with and often like to take home as a reminder of their time in Cornwall.
“I have always enjoyed the wonder of the natural environment, as a walk in the country from my parent’s house as a child or later surfing on Cornwall’s wild coast. Ceramics offer a way to use natural materials to create objects that resonate with the experience of nature whilst also providing a functional role. My surroundings provide my inspiration; there is a depth when we really look and I try to convey something of this in my work.”
For Jake, the making is quite intuitive, with one thing leading to another: “I often find that ideas are born of a combination of thoughts and the space between thoughts; then a shape may appear and often a framework or narrative in some way that provides an additional dimension. I mainly work with porcelain which achieves a pure white surface, that nicely supports a wide range of colours. This is important as colour plays a big role in my work. Ceramics are both functional and decorative and so the possibility to bring colour into a living space with a ceramic piece is exciting. I like the colours at sun rise and sunset for example and so incorporate a lot of primary pastel colours in my work. In response to the changing depth of sea blue, I see out here when swimming in winter, I have a new deep blue glaze that I am excited to be using in the year ahead.”
One of Jake’s recent larger ceramic installations projects was See shells and Climate Change; a collaborative project with the University of Exeter exploring our emotional reaction to climate change. One thousand porcelain bowls acted as data points showing the changing temperatures of the North Atlantic Ocean over the last millennium. Each bowl was marked with a specific year and coloured, red to blue, by glaze made in part from the seashells that provided the data. Laid out like a mandala, the evidence illustrated the interconnection with natural processes. Jake has always had an interest in the natural environment and was fortunate to go on and study this at PhD level, giving him a unique appreciation for and insight into the natural world; he then tries to bring it into his work and the materials he uses are important, especially as clay comes from the earth.
“The pastel blues and the reds I used in See shells and Climate Change were in regards to warming and cooling, but I will say that more recently I have related to these pastel primary colours in relation to the sea, the sunrise and the sunset. I also have a resonance with the deeper blues in the spectrum, from turquoise through deeper cobalt; colour, along with texture, is as important as form.” Jake began experimenting with incorporating some of the rocks that he was using in his PhD research, both in the clay and his glazes, and continues to collect rocks from nearby cliffs that he grinds up and layers into his work.
Living by the ocean, Jake has recently found solace in sea swimming, an activity which aligns with his affinity to his natural surroundings. “Sometimes there might be a moment, morning or evening, when I’m looking out across the sea, and suddenly, it feels like I’m viewing much more than just the sea, the sky or the sunset. And that’s the bit that really interests me, and something I have tried to incorporate somehow in the work that I focus on. It’s a feeling that is central to yoga, meditation and Eastern philosophical teachings and has been a defining moment for me in that my interests have shifted with the realisation that there’s a dimension of consciousness that goes beyond words.
“It made me question the role that art plays. I think Western culture, is perhaps spiritually a little confused, relatively speaking compared to some of the deeper wisdom traditions that exist around the world. I think art can play a role in clarifying this, providing a portal to the dimension which is beyond words; it is something that gives us a sense of reassurance and happiness, and a reminder that that is there in all of us.”
Jake is currently working on ideas for the year ahead, including building the range of products that span the decorative and also functional ends of the spectrum. ‘I have a deep blue that sits with my ideas of ‘where the sea meets the sky’, touching on principles of stillness beyond words – ideas that are found within yoga and meditation teachings. I like it when people find happiness in my work, sometimes I can hear people outside the studio looking into the window display enjoying recent work; this makes me happy. I aim to convey something of the stillness of nature, if people find this through my work that is most rewarding.”