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Book of the Week: The Ceramic Art of James Tower by Timothy Wilcox

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It was a precarious business negotiating around James Tower’s exquisite ceramic vessels at the private view of Erskine, Hall & Coe’s exhibition last night, particularly if you were encumbered by a large handbag. But Tower’s distinctive ceramic pieces, at once delicate and substantial, were beautifully displayed within the gallery’s high, bright-white yet quirkily intimate space, and refreshingly free of glass cases.

James Tower, Currents, 1980. Earthenware with pale brown and white glaze. H. 33 cm. Private collection

James Tower, Currents, 1980. Earthenware with pale brown and white glaze. H. 33 cm. Private collection

James Tower’s work is surprisingly unknown. He died in 1988, a generation ago, and has remained associated with the art of an earlier age and with an aesthetic which was always outside of the mainstream, concerned as it was with the creation of beautiful objects. ‘The objects which I strive to make are attempts at hymns to the beauty of the world’, he wrote. His pieces are both sculptural and decorative and range from objects with functional domestic titles (‘Flat Dish’, ‘Owl Plate’) to forms which are more purely abstract. And so he oscillated between the worlds of fine art and craft, never quite at home in either.


Timothy Wilcox’s book The Ceramic Art of James Tower, my Book of the Week, was the first serious attempt to place Tower’s work in a broader art-historical context.  Since it was published in 2012, new works have come to light, indicating an encouraging resurgence of interest. His current Bond Street show certainly consolidates Tower’s position within Modern British art and should help to give him the wider exposure which he deserves. Spotted at last night’s private view were several representatives from Sotheby’s (where one of Tower’s pieces goes on sale in April) and a senior Tate Britain curator.  For under £10,000 you can still pick up a beautiful work of ceramics from Erskine, Hall & Coe’s James Tower exhibition – but they are selling fast, and may never be that affordable again.

Lucy Myers, Managing Director

Tower jacket lo-res

The Ceramic Art of James Tower by Timothy Wilcox. 978-1-84822-070-6. Hardback, April 2012. Includes 60 colour and 220 b&w illustrations, 290 x 245 mm, 176 pages. £45.00

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