Can you tell us how you got into bonsai pottery?
I began with bonsai about 15 years ago, but soon the commercial, industrially manufactured pots no longer related to my ideas. Fortunately, I had a chance to make a bonsai pot myself. It was the start of it all, although I cannot say that the result has been what I had in mind.
Who was your teacher and what was the most important thing you learned?
First I learned about Monika Herbst, a ceramist from Osnabrück who’d studied ceramics at the Kunsthochschule in Kassel. There she made her name with the technique of wood and salt firing . After studying in Kassel she went to Japan for a year, where she worked with a Japanese Master with large Anagama kilns. (An anagama or ‘cave kiln’, consists of a firing chamber with a firebox at one end and a flue at the other.)
She has taught me much about the Japanese pottery, including Japanese aesthetics in general, but above all she allowed me to assist her with many firings in her wood fired kiln. My first participation in such a 40-hour firing was really a key experience and my desire to explore this burning technique and build my own kiln was born.
Why ceramic? What do you find fascinating about it?
The wood fire in particular. There is something archaic about it. In principle, you create with very simple materials, namely with clay and fire: a new stone. The difficulties are of course in the detail. How to reach the required temperatures of up to 1300°C? How to build the oven? How to deal with ‘no pot tears’? It is a struggle sometimes against the elements. To understand the varying results of fire and yet never quite able to control it, makes the confrontation so exceptionally exciting.
Tell us what is your philosophy of bonsai ceramics.
As an artist, I create single pieces, I’m not drawn to repetitive manufacturing. I chose the two techniques that, of their nature, only allow individually made pieces. On the one hand, I like the rough, origins of a wood fire with natural colour spectrums, but am also fascinated by the elegance and purity of porcelain. To make and to paint porcelain pots individually is a challenge for me that requires an intense interest in the subject.
Do you make your own glazes?
My glazes (also the unglazed surfaces) emerge via the draught of the wood fire with its ashes, the reduction of oxygen in the fire and the optional addition of salt and soda during the firing and finally the fire itself. In addition, the appearance is influenced by the selection of a clay mass and slipware. Sometimes I also use Shino or ash glazes that I produce myself.
You use a kiln fired with wood only. Did you ever work with kilns using gas or electricity?
I also use an electric kiln for the biscuit firing and of course for my porcelain works. Additionally I also use it for unglazed pots with very dark clay, because these don’t survive the high temperatures of the wood fire.
What do you think of Japanese glazes, tones and shapes?
Classic Japanese pots are examples that cannot be ignored. I especially like the simple pots and also the quality of the surfaces of unglazed Japanese pots.
Do you think handmade pots are appreciated and valued by the bonsai enthusiast?
If you have created and maintained a bonsai over many years, it’s obvious to look for a custom pot for it. Once a tree reaches a certain level of maturity, I think most bonsai lovers prefer a handmade or antique pot.
What do you like about bonsai and making pots for bonsai?
Viewing a good bonsai is an emotional experience for me, just as it is for an especially impressive tree in the wild. We make a bonsai and so giving it a worthy framework to support its expressiveness is a task which gives me great pleasure.
Can you tell us a little about how you make your pots?
With the exception of some azalea pots and the round porcelain pots that I turn on the wheel, I build my pots without moulds. This way I create the required types and sizes without having to rely on pre-defined shapes. Each pot is unique in shape and despite the higher expenditure in time, I find the more personalized results worthwhile.
Can you make a living out of bonsai pottery?
I have been a musician and producer for 37 years and I operate my own recording studio. But more recently the ceramic work has developed into a second business.
Are you not afraid that the pot becomes too dominant and therefore more important than the bonsai itself?
What makes wood firing so special is that it’s both very expressive yet restrained, simple surfaces occur, with very natural colours as well.
One can perhaps compare these with the colours of the stones in a river bed, which appear infinitely varied, but never leave the confines of the natural colours. Such surfaces in conjunction with simple, reduced forms and good proportions are likely to support a tree, without becoming over dominant.
What is the charm of working with porcelain?
It was a challenge for me to understand the technical side at first. How much porcelain mass? Which glaze and colours? Under glaze? Glaze painting? I’m now in a fortunate position. I can focus on the shape of the pots and the designs of its paintings. The design of my motives and its execution requires high concentration and patience, but is very contemplative and satisfying. A beautiful work when the weather for the wood fire kiln does not want to cooperate.
What was the most difficult, time-consuming pot you have ever made?
One of my dragon pots was very complex, constructed by hand and fired in a wood fired kiln. And then there was the square porcelain pot, cut and biscuit fired, glazed, fired up and entirely decorated with a Japanese wave pattern and again fired. The painting alone took me four days and two bottles of red wine!