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Heaven and Hell: with artist Jonathan Keep

PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 September 2020

Jonathan Keep in his studio. Picture: Supplied by Jonathan Keep

Jonathan Keep in his studio. Picture: Supplied by Jonathan Keep

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This week Gina Long meets Suffolk-based potter Jonathan Keep.

Fractals by Jonathan Keep. Picture: Supplied by Jonathan KeepFractals by Jonathan Keep. Picture: Supplied by Jonathan Keep

Jonathan Keep is an artist and potter who has pioneered 3D printing in clay. Inspired by the wilderness of Hluhluwe Game Reserve in South Africa where he grew up he aims in his artwork to reinforce our connection to the natural environment. His work is exhibited internationally, and he has lectured and presented workshops at universities and institutions in over 20 countries. Here he talks with Gina Long MBE.

What’s the impact of Covid-19 and how have you adapted?

My default character is as a hermit impersonator. I have always worked on my own and my pottery studio is at our home, so Covid-19 has fortunately not affected working too much. Where normally I travel quite a bit doing projects around ceramic 3D printing, stay home has enabled me to spend a concentrated and uninterrupted period in the studio that has been good. Exhibitions and showing work has been a problem but I have been posting on Instagram so my new work at least has a public presence.

SeedBed by Jonathan Keep. Picture: Supplied by Jonathan KeepSeedBed by Jonathan Keep. Picture: Supplied by Jonathan Keep

What is your connection to East Anglia?

On emigrating from South Africa in 1986 my wife and I settled at Snape Maltings, as a weaver and a potter. Some years later we moved the short distance to Knodishall where we raised our family and still live.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?

Cycling. East Anglia is so good for cycling and there is no better way to see the countryside than by getting out on your bike, preferably sitting upright and then you do not need to wear Lycra.

What is your East Anglian Hell?

I’m just very thankful to be living here. I’m an immigrant and stopping to think of the ‘hell’ in other places in the world offers a sobering reminder of how fortunate we are to live here.

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

Unfortunately, they keep closing down…The British Larder that was near Woodbridge and now Darsham Nurseries!

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

Playing Mölkky - Finnish in origin, it is played outdoors and is somewhere between skittles and boule.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?

The Alde estuary from Snape Maltings to Shingle Street. Some time ago, I did an artist residency on the Sailors Path that runs from Snape to Aldeburgh. This included working with local schools looking at the layers of history and archaeology of the region and it brought home to me how we are just custodians in time of this mysterious landscape.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

The sun comes out, there is not a breath of air and sounds carry for miles, it is just magical – be ready to make the most of it when it happens.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?

It changes every week, currently it is electric cars!

What is always in your fridge?

The light – the life of an artist can be a bit up and down.

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

Keep it simple, too often I over prepare, overthink it. Artistic creativity teaches you to be honest, direct, and not to overwork your subject. Know when you are finished and 
move on.

What’s your favourite film?

I tend not to seek out theatrical storytelling, preferring biopics. Gandhi, which came out in 1982 made a big impression on me at the time. I will have seen it in a segregated cinema in Pietermaritzburg, Natal province in South Africa, the very town where 90 years earlier Gandhi was thrown off a train for having the wrong colour of skin. I wish more people could be leaders with his integrity and humility.

What was your first job?

I’ve always been a self-employed potter; it was my first job. Teaching art and design, part time and presenting short courses helps with extra income.

Who do you admire most?

Anybody who can be themselves without pretence.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Doing my own work. Hopefully, my artistic work is appreciated and enjoyed by others, but I do it because I have to, it makes me who I am, it is my indulgence.

What do you like about yourself most?

My ability to make a good cup of tea. Loose tea in a handmade teapot of course.

What’s your worst character trait?

Dithering, I’m a great ditherer and it’s such a nice word.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to teach ceramic 3D printing and do artist residencies in lovely places, from Reykjavik to Tallinn, the Austrian Lakes to Sardinia, America 
to China.

This has taught me that it is not the destination that is important but who you share it with. It’s friends and family who make 
the destination.

Best day of your life?

Still to come, in a positive way.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Which day of the week is it? I have a favourite breakfast for different days of the week, don’t you?

What’s your favourite tipple?

I can leave alcohol so anything that is sociable and relaxes me.

What’s your hidden talent?

To give the impression that I know stuff while knowing that the more you know the more you realise how little you know.

When were you most embarrassed?

Every time I need to do public speaking, and that is quite often. It just never gets easier although I think I outwardly manage to hide it now.

What’s your earliest memory?

Hey, I am getting to an age where last week is difficult to remember.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

It wouldn’t be a song, but any piece of Shostakovich would do. Make the mourners sit through the 7th symphony. They can relive the emotions of a lifetime in 70 minutes.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

I’m good at licking stamps, such a pity snail mail is becoming something of the past.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

That I have big ears.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.

I couldn’t face the move. The thought of moving a pottery studio with heavy kilns and clay, and then 30 years of accumulated family stuff in the house, that just exhausts me.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

Over the first weekend of October, during London Craft Week I am involved along with six other artists in an exhibition, demonstration, and online talk around ceramic 3D printing.

More information can be found on the London Craft Week website at www.londoncraftweek.com

Are you doing something special during Covid-19 times? Email gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram:ginalongmbeAre you doing something special during Covid-19 times? Please do email me at gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram:ginalongmbe


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