First London Exhibition, Paintings by Paul Gell. Pottery by Kenneth Clark, Ann Wynn Reeves. The Picadilly Gallery. London (1956). London: The Picadilly Gallery., 1956. 12mo. Three panel folding sheet. 33, 27 and 19 item catalogues.
Ken was born in New Zealand but came to Britain while serving in the Royal Navy (he was present throughout the D-day landings). On demobilisation, he was awarded an ex-serviceman’s scholarship, which he used to attend the Slade School of Art in London. He then went to the Central School of Art and Design, first as a student and then for 25 years as a teacher, where he found his metier as the maker, developer, promoter and scholar of tiles.
In the 1950s he founded Kenneth Clark Ceramics in London (moving to Lewes in East Sussex in 1989), which remained in business for more than 50 years. Many of its tiles are now collectors’ items. Much of the firm’s success was due to his wife, Ann, whom he married in 1954. They honeymooned on a Vespa scooter around the south of France and visited the shrines and studios of Braque, Picasso and Matisse.
The two formed a working duo: Ann created the imagery for the hundreds of enchanting and varied tile designs they produced while Ken (whose work was more abstract) provided the context. He would get the commissions, convince the committees and deliver the goods for the large-scale, decorative wall panels they made for schools, churches, hotels and hospitals and other public buildings. Their many ranges could be adapted for anything from kitchens to large public buildings, and Ken sometimes designed tiling for floors and external walls in urban developments.
Projects included a mural for Arthur Andersen accountants in the City of London in the 1970s; a 1,000-tile mural for Harrow civic centre, north-west London; tiles for the Armada Way underpass in Plymouth to a design by Edward Pond in 1988; a mural for the Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex (1991); and tiling for the outpatients’ department at the Royal Sussex hospital, Brighton (1992).
He started out making single handthrown pots and bowls, goblets and platters before progressing to design work for the Denby and Bristol potteries, for which he created typical 1960s asymmetrical tableware in black and white. In 1990 Michael Winner commissioned Ken to make copies of William de Morgan’s famous red lustre tiles. The work was praised for its accuracy and brilliance.
Ken was chairman of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and was asked by the Romanian government in the 1980s to set up their nascent crafts council, to revitalise their pottery industry. He later similarly advised Afghan agencies and craftsmen.
In the 1980s, I worked with Ken on the upgrading of various hospital wards (including some at Ashworth on Merseyside), which involved huge kitchens and numerous treatment rooms and bathrooms. He would receive the architects’ drawings and my site photographs, and we would together decide how to transform these often grim premises.
As a teacher and colleague, and as a host and friend, he was the best natured, kindest and funniest of men, but his life was not without difficulties. The couple had a daughter in 1955, but during her next pregnancy Ann contracted polio which left her disabled. Ken found himself with a young daughter, a newborn son and a sick wife, besides a solo business on which they all depended. That the two of them refused to accept it as a tragedy says much for their partnership.
He and Ann bought a fine Edwardian house in Ringmer, East Sussex, where they hosted family, students, staff from the studio and anyone else who came by. Christianity was central to his life. Once questioned, he would gently ask to be excused from discussing something so important, so long-held and so complex. However many commissions he had at the studio or guests at the house, each Sunday morning he would be at church in his velvet jacket, alongside Ann in her wheelchair, similarly in Sunday best. The couple designed and made the mosaic panel sited behind the altar at St Mary the Virgin, Ringmer.
Ken wrote four books: two early paperbacks on pottery, then The Potters’ Manual in 1983, and his finest, The Tile: Making, Designing and Using, in 2002. Many of the reproductions in that book show the work of Ann. She survives him, along with their son, Simon, daughter, Camilla, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Kenneth Inman Carr Clark, ceramicist, born 31 July 1922; died 10 June 2012.
Publisher: The Picadilly Gallery.
Edition: First edition
Book ID: 034958
Out of stock