Multi-prize-winning Austrian ceramicist Thomas Bohle has acquired a reputation as one of Europe’s most gifted potters. His beautifully crafted bowls and vessels have been exhibited the world over in exhibitions, museums and private collections.
His signature feature is the double wall within his stoneware pieces which results in a hollow area within the pot visible only in an x-ray. It provides not only structural quality but also a certain enigma in the contrast between the visible exterior and the hidden spaces within. These are beautiful pieces that bridge art and function.
New Work, at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre, is Bohle’s first solo exhibition in the UK. This seems surprising since it was here, in Exeter in 1984 at the age of 26, that he first experienced sitting at the potter’s wheel when a friend ran courses there. “As soon as I felt the clay, I was hooked”, he tells me.
He gave up nursing to begin an apprenticeship in Austria in 1987 and he opened his first studio four years later. His reputation grew internationally after he made a study trip to Japan in 2004. He knew a girl who worked in a Tokyo gallery who advised him to make a few small pieces as presents for guests. Some months later, he received an email from her asking if one of these presents could be used in a Chinese tea ceremony. A Chinese collector saw one, looked at Bohle’s website and invited him to show in Tokyo and Shanghai.
By then, Bohle’s double-wall technique was well established. He works in a studio in Dornbirn, Austria which he opened in 2008. Using a single mass of clay, he particularly likes forms based on cakes. I was a little surprised when he told me this until I remembered that my mother, also originally Austrian, would make cakes in a mould with a protruding cylindrical form resulting in the cake having a hole in the middle.
Bohle’s technique is to form the pot upside down on the wheel-head by throwing the inside wall first and then throwing the outside part over it before then joining them at certain junctures. It’s a process that can take a whole day and one that requires a lot of strength and dexterity as well as skill. Some of his pieces can span up to 80 centimetres in diameter with the wet clay weighing as much as 100 kilos. “For me, it’s the nicest thing when you get into a flow,” he says. “It doesn’t always happen. If I have a problem I have to have quiet but when you come into a flow it comes from somewhere. It has to do with the way you’re feeling.”
He fires it in an open reduction flame at between 1280-1300 degrees centigrade. The interaction of form and colour in the kiln creates beautiful artistic forms accentuated by the lavish use of rich, earthy glazes such as oxblood, tenmoku, celadon and manganese crystal which he sprays on. Sometimes, he uses different colours for the inside and exterior to emphasise form. Inspired by nature, he often allows the glaze to drip off the edges which adds to the sense of depth. The combination of the high heat and glazes creates wonderful patterns within the pieces.
“You are not the only one who decides how it comes out. It’s fantastic but it it’s also difficult sometimes. When you open the kiln, it’s not always what you had in mind so you have to go backwards and take a lot of time to find the nice parts and then you have to rework it.”
New Work by Thomas Bohle is showing at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre, 63 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3BF until 2 March 2019
All images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.