John Chipperfield

John Chipperfield graduated from BA Ceramic Design in 1966

Why did you study at Central Saint Martins?

I had read Dora Billington's book ‘The Technique of Pottery’ and was impressed, both by her writing and by some of the illustrations of lan Auld's work. The location in central London appealed to me.

The course seemed to me to have a broader and more comprehensive approach to ceramics than some others with it's inclusion of industrial processes together with throwing and hand building.

What are your best memories of studying at CSM?

Creating ambitious personal objectives and achieving them.

What is your worst memory of studying at CSM?

Everything was dependent upon our showing at the Diploma exhibition. Having set up what to more recent students would seem to be an astonishingly wide range of work covering many processes and addressing numerous course requirements, one of the staff looked at my show and asked ‘is that all you've got?!’ (As if – ‘boy, you're in trouble now!’)

Feeling naturally vulnerable and insecure at that time – this sounded like a forecast of impending failure ­ actually reinforced by his taking me to the pub and buying me a double whisky as if to anaesthetize me for the anticipated bad news! However, my pessimism proved to be unjustified.

At college, what students and teachers made a lasting impression?

Of my fellow students Peter Ford and Laurie Smith are the two whom I remember as being most impressive in terms of the qualities of their thinking and doing.

Amongst the numerous members of staff who had the most influence in the first stage were Gordon Baldwin, Kenneth Clark and John Colbeck --all concerned with various making processes but also purveyors of wisdom in a whole range of different topics. 

Bonnie van de Wetering and, later, Eileen Nisbet were very helpful in encouraging us to observe and record etrectively in two dimensions whilst, throughout the course, the perconality of Gilbert Harding Green the course  director was an important stimulus and guiding fore and acted as a conduit to relate us to the philosophy and sympathies  of Dora Billington with whom he had worked so closely. 

How did the course shape and define your future career?

Practically it shaped my career by virtue of the fact that, upon graduating, I was employed first as a technician and subsequently as a part time teacher on the course from 1965-2009.

The comparative versatility which the course required us to develop enabled me, with my wife, to run a production workshop accepting a diverse range of commissions including electrical insulators for Hollywood film studios, and for the NASA Space Shuttle, sculptures and tiles from architectural settings, wall tubes to control damp in buildings and many thousands of vessels - especially domestic tablewares – produced by slipcasting, jolleying, throwing and turning, and pressmoulding etc.

If you are still involved in education, what are the main differences between then and now?

Fifty years ago we received maintenance grants from our local authorities which enabled us to be more single-minded about our time in college. We were required to attend every day during the academic year and expected to take paid employment only during the vacation. 

We had no computers to work with so our technology was much more based upon manual processes. Photoshop was somewhere you visited to get your (mostly monochrome) films chemically developed and printed.

Nine of us started the course in 1963, only six completing it in 1966. ln 1966 there were far fewer outlets available for the sort of work which we wanted to make and very few grants available to set up in business as a producer. The Crafts Council had yet to be born and galleries interested in exhibiting ceramics were thin on the ground. The prevailing taste of the day was for pottery made with a philosophy and aesthetic which were at odds with what we were doing and there was considerable hostility in the then pottery establishment to our endeavours.