David Whiting September 1999

 

Micki Schloessingk's pots have explored every nuance of saltglaze, and with a style and philosophy of approach that has become her hallmark. Her pots possess an authority that is distinctly 20th century, and yet Micki's assimilation of ideas from her own time and earlier chapters in the history of ceramics is quite complex. While her use of tradition seems particularly modern and vibrant because of her subtle reinvention's of form, these objects are also generously evocative of those traditions. Her pedigree as a saltfirer is unshakeable. Having trained at Harrow School of Art where the famous experiments with salt technology in the seventies helped to establish a new wave of interest, she became associated with a number of teachers and students, including of course Walter Keeler, Michael Casson and Jane Hamlyn. However, Schloessingk's disciplined and architectural sense of form and design is perhaps the most direct to come out of this "school". It has a down-to-earth clarity, which is a far cry from more playful work of Keeler and Hamlyn, or the robustly large volumes of Casson. This is not to say that she cannot be playful, but it is the intimacy and spontaneity of her work, its lack of cerebral intervention, which singles it out on the gallery shelf.
 
Micki produces extraordinarily tactile pots, which demand to be picked up and explored as much for their fluidity of form as for their character of surface. The strength of her designs is best judged when seen, not with other salt glazed or wood fired pots, but with a comparable austerity of say, Joanna Constantinidis's porcelain, David Mellor's cutlery or George Elliot's table glass. These objects may be domestic in scale as well as intention, but they have the powerful resonance of history behind them. They recall the earliest European saltglaze, from its origins in medieval Germany to the riches of 17th and 18th century Fulham wares. Indeed Schloessingk's work puts one in mind of John Dwight's deeply glowing bottles and bellarmine jugs with their mottled orange and rust glazes and marks left from the firing. Her mugs and tankards in particular have this kind of freedom of surface - a careful placement in the kiln which ensures the most satisfying variations of colour and patina resulting from the vagaries of the flame's course.Perhaps of all British ceramists who operate exclusively in saltglaze, her pots, with their relaxed throwing and highly organic walls, are the most closely related to certain Japanese forms. Look at her freely thrown lidded jars and baskets with strident overhead strap handles. She has become well known for her simple variations on a teabowl shape, the most recent of which have been elaborated by diagonal faceting and decorative glaze variation. Other pots, equally robust, have a more directly medieval feel - particularly her jugs and tankards. In the firing the pots lie on their sides on cockle shells which leave their lasting impression in the clay, leaving a path of fire and salt which can create a wonderful variety of desert colours; oranges, yellows, reds and so on.
 
The overriding quality of Schloessingk's pottery is elegance - powerful but well balanced teapots, strong bowls and expansive oval serving dishes. All of these show how this potter has achieved a rare equilibrium - of the weight of the past with a highly developed appreciation of the needs of contemporary life. There is an essential 'life' in these pots - preserving an energy is as much to do with the preserved rhythm of the wheel as with personality of form. Their character has been underlined by other recent developments. A new decorative flourish is found in sponged patterns or swathes of creamy slip which give her pots a more playful edge; however, they remain fundamentally simple objects for use in the home, which seem to reflect, without pretension, the pulse of everyday living.
 
Such freshness is never in infinite supply; in Micki's case re-invigoration has come with time out to travel. Meeting other potters working in wood fired salt glaze in Australia, and contact with makers like Jeff Oestreich and Linda Christianson, has refreshed her sense of commitment, connection and dialogue.Whether we are looking at her wonderfully tactile handbuilt spoons, or her tiny squared footed egg-cups, or her grander bottles and teapots, we realise that Schloessingk has that rare commodity in British studio ceramics - economy. While learning much of the pots finish to the flame, these objects do not drown in their surface effects. There is a balance of colour, texture and good drawing. She is a succinct designer, so that her work would fit as easily into an urban kitchen as a country house. It has a discerning modernity.To cook in, stack and serve food out of Schloessingk's pots deepens our appreciation of the simple rituals. Not only do they genuinely enrich our living space, but they teach us much about how in the best ceramics, each pot can be a new sensory adventure.