Biography

neil-reid-bioNeil Read graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1976 with a postgraduate in Ceramics and Stained Glass however it was working, as a child, in Mary Newbery Sturrock’s pottery studio in Edinburgh that the ceramics bug bit along with a love for pattern and colour.

He was educated in Edinburgh at Daniel Stewart’s where he developed subjects such as history, engineering and life drawing, water colour, mould making and ceramics. A year was then spent under Edward Gage in the Edinburgh College of Commerce Art Department followed by five years at the School of Art in Katie Horseman’s Ceramics Department and also with Sax Shaw in Stained Glass.  

His first studio was established in a yard owned by a neighbour at the foot of Upper Grey Street a few yards from his father’s home in Edinburgh where he built a natural draft gas klin. Production at this site was soon curtailed when there was a fireman’s strike and the neighbours asked him to suspend firings for the duration. At the same time a friend and fellow potter, Douglas Davies, bought an old farm house at Skirling in the Scottish borders and invited Read to join him there setting up a new studio. He moved in 1978.   
 
In the 70’s and early 80’s Read worked in the main with high fired stoneware and became known for his air brushed, geometric on-glaze lustre tessellation patterns which featured metallic golds, silvers and iridescent colours. The patterns evolved from his skills in technical drawing and were inspired by the works of the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher and the watercolours of Rennie Mackintosh. In Ireland this ceramics was shown for the first time at the Trinity Arts Workshop in Dublin in 1980.

At this time he was working as a photographer and supervisor of cataloguing at Edinburgh City Museums. This combined his interest in history and ceramics and also brought him into close contact with the city’s collections of silver and glass, a valuable experience that proved itself when he eventually became Head of the Department of Ceramics, Glass and Metals at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin in 1987.

A secondary ceramic interest had always been Raku, a process initiated in 16th century Japan which involves the work being removed from the kiln around 1,000 degrees centigrade and rapidly cooled. The modern version of this process, developed by Paul Soldner in the USA in the 60’s, involved the work being placed directly into a lidded metal bin containing sawdust, the resultant smoke making the technique better suited to suburban and rural venues. Accordingly it was not until Read had graduated and moved from Edinburgh to the studio in the Scottish borders in the late 70’s that he began to explore this style of firing.

Today he has evolved his own personal approach to the process constructing portable fibre and dustbin kilns, firing with bottle gas and sealing the sawdust bins to reduce the smoke to a minimum. This ensures that he can produce his one-off pieces at his studio in Clontarf, Dublin. Some would see a Raku firing as a group or social event. Read, on the other hand, prefers to work alone firing one piece at a time. Further to this the making and glazing of a Raku piece can frequently be seen as free, rather quick and spontaneous. In contrast to this Read gives time and thought to each of his wall pieces creating the form and, after the bisque firing, applying the glaze in a number of different ways employing brush work, sponges, scalpels and stencils to produce controlled abstract colour compositions. This by itself might result in surfaces that are somewhat tight or dead but it is the Raku firing that brings them to life. The glaze edges soften, scorch marks mute the colours which change radically and the clay blackens to set off those colours in a dramatic fashion. Post firing techniques such as sandblasting and gold leaf application frequently complete the work.

Recent visits to China have brought the use of porcelain back into his work, he is at present investigating the use of this material to produce figurative slip cast or press moulded forms and larger murals. At Fuping, near Xi’an, in 2011 he worked on two such panels, one in porcelain and one in terra-cotta. These were inspired by issues of displacement and the feelings created by living in an unfamiliar culture. The works were titled “Foreign Land” and “Vacant Space” and form part of the permanent collection of Irish ceramics at Fuping.
 
Read’s raku wall pieces capture a sense of space and infinity, each one is individual and they are produced in series such as “Oval Orbit” and “Eclipse”. Time, history and geometry inform his work which is to be found in private, corporate and state collections.

 

a new studio