Charles Bound - The Human Form in Clay by Jane Waller

"Work is the philosophy, being able to work, so in time you may understand what that work is, its provincial and sometimes greater context and meaning."

The workings of this artist are bold statements, tightly formed but freely handled, so that when you know that Charles Bound has his studio on a farm in Yorkshire, where he is close to things that matter, the rough texture and vitrified rocky appearance begin to make sense - for their ruggedness connects them direct to the earth. It is a great pleasure to have found this artist for the book. I was introduced to his work by Tony Birks-Hay at the Alpha Gallery in Sherborne and saw that its forthright strength and unfettered sensibility was dominant.

Charles Bound has a true, natural affinity with his material. He has had a life in three countries, and from each has collected a poignant influence for his work. He was born in 1939 in New York City. At the age of 28 he left for Africa with its wide open spaces. "Eventually", the artist says, "I arrived in Europe, middle-ages, took up with clay - all else having gone adrift. Missed that art college thing, its extendings and limitings."

Bound tells us about his artistic journey, the influences upon him and his technique:

"That work is the philosophy may sound privileged, pretentious (I can hear it being said), where work inclines to be something you do directly for someone else, taking away that part of your life, just grinding you down. This is part of it, certainly, but a part wanting to exclude what we generally separate out and call play, that process of the body and mind's imagination always extending the task at hand, messing about."

"On the farm where I am privileged to work, my own and occasionally the farm's, there is a three-year-old who now and then during her busy life wanders in and works with me. At the moment we agree what I am making is houses, and she willingly draws, carves windows and doors, adds people. Other times we just prepare clay together or she works on her own uses of the stuff. Of course, she is a pure artist, a magician at the art of becoming herself and a great teacher of these things. What she is doing is working. Together we keep accumulating skills, ways of seeing things, now and then with much delight, what we have done being more than we haad imagined. It is an ordinary human thing, this kind of activity, this work, some understanding coming now and then for when a moment you think of such things or someone asks. So my aim is to work, keep trucking, see how the going is, where one might arrive, and then again depart."

"As for technique - always work beyond yourself. This doesn't mean, as some think, give way to chance, ignore skill, accumulate experience; it means accept that at any time there's more there even if you don't work it out. I have found that when I back away from pushing, directly try to repeat something that seems to have succeeded, everything goes dead. I imagine that it is because what I am then doing is totally favouring existent skill, a certain dominance of materials, whatever you may call it. Yet, knowing, I often do this because something has drawn me I want to get at again and so I start to copy, afterwards wondering what my blindness was, why sucker myself again. Given this, many of the best things I make come from collapse, bits retrieved then off the floor suggesting where I wasn't looking; come from turning things upside down, cutting apart, reassembling in frustration at the intractability of it all, the clay occasionally then saying, "See, now, this is the way I'd rather be", a lump suggesting what hadn't been thought about, beginning to be seen."

"That I work on a farm helps. There's stuff around to remind how extraordinary are disintegrations and reconfigurations: rusting bits seemedly ignored in a field, cut and welded, painter plough blades, mirrors once used again, mud on tracks drying and cracking, trampled by sheep. This are 'gifts'. Clay, even as bought refined, has as well in its states of ooze, bend, break, becoming stone again. My way of working is to try to latch on to such things, be as interesting as their casual intensity. I figure if I have enough bits full of information around something will happen. Need one say this is not a way the farm at large can work."

"The work is fired in a wood-fuelled, tunnel kiln now. This being the crucial tool (flame, time) has much to do with results that feed back into the process of seeing and making. The nature of the kiln, as the qualities of the clay, much determined how I continue with things. One might ask, as an afterthought, what someone basically seen as a potter, ambiguous as that is, is doing making figures? Well, it just turns out that way sometimes. And why not? Tell me great pots don't sit there like Buddhas such that you would be certain, if you only look at the right tangent, they are vital in the way of a vibrant live thing about to dance. As for what influences me - anything by Stephen De Staebler, who, in an overly self-conscious time, can work as if a pure force of nature on clay while being complexly human. I also have an object which has influenced me - which has a story behind it: twenty-six years ago, a bowl was forced on me in Northern Kenya by a woman who needed money during a regular brutal drought. I didn't want it for all the complex contradictions Europeans experience is such a situation, and anyway I was working hard to travel light in all ways. She insisted. This bowl has been with me ever since. It sat around on the floor for years in Kenya, ignored among the cats, the frogs and insects that wandered in at night. When we came to Europe it came along, something we had, continued to be ignored except that on particular damp days the scent of it would catch me back. And so I began to pay attention to it, its graces, elegance, perhaps in isolation only for the longing that can overcome one about Africa. This bowl (its curves, hand-worn patina, the way it sits, seems so easy in itself) is that woman. She has been tracking me with her gift, the idea of herself, ever since. And I can say, in one way or another, everything I do tries to talk about her, with her."

Extract from
The Human Form in Clay by Jane Waller
© Jane Waller 2001
Published by The Crowood Press Ltd
ISBN 1 86126 413 5