Studio Visit with Feature Artist David Barnes

Studio Visit with Feature Artist David Barnes

May 13, 2019

David Barnes has a lot of stories to tell.  Combine that with his incredible ceramic talents, and that he and his wife Glynis run an equestrian center, and it makes for a pretty interesting studio visit!  Rather than share a list of David’s many accomplishments, I’ve chosen to share a few of his stories.

Once you view David’s work, be it sculptural, decorative or functional, you can immediately see it is of the highest caliber.  He has been refining his skills for over 40 years.  David is literally a born maker – always needing to be working with his hands.  As such, classroom learning proved challenging, and all it took was a good looking ceramics teacher to get him started at the age of 14!  David continued his ceramics education at the Kent Institute of Art & Design in England.  After receiving his diploma, he set up a business called “Higham Pottery” gaining a high percentage of his income selling his pottery on a Party Plan basis.  The business was run out of his Dad’s garage.  He produced functional wares and sold it like Tupperware!  At one point, with the addition of his soon-to-be-wife’s organizational skills, he had 12 women selling it for him at house parties – that’s brilliant if you ask me – and a great story!

His path led him back to the Kent Institute of Art & Design where he began teaching kiln building, wheel building and throwing. He eventually became Head of Ceramics at South Kent College Ashford Kent.  After a number of years, David and Glynis decided it was time for a change of life style and so they moved to France for 6 years.  While she focused on horses, he set up his first teaching ceramics workshop and also started flipping French houses.  Many great stories came out of their stay in France, including that David found himself exhibiting some exciting collaborative works with the French painter, Philippe Mocaer…but you’ll have to ask him more about that!

A trip to Canada to visit friends had David and Glynis relocating to Naphtha, Alberta in 2006.  They set up an equestrian center and a ceramic studio where David teaches and works today.  One thing I noticed when I entered was that the throwing wheels were unusual.  David put his handyman skills to work and built all the wheels, based on one he built in England, in 1977, and still uses today. They are ergonomically designed and comfortable to use, as compared to the standard setup.  You can throw all day and not have a sore body when you’re done…a potter’s dream!

Potter’s wheel built by David.          Studio shelf of functional, decorative,
                                                          sculptural and test pieces.


David showed me the maquette (small preliminary model) he’s currently working on.  He begins all his big sculptures in this way, including “Prophet” and “Vicious Circle” which are currently on display at Bluerock Gallery.


David and maquette.


His sculptures are evocative pieces with a lot to say, not to mention incredibly well crafted.  Inspired by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, and books he’s read or documentaries he’s watched, sculpting has become a way of sharing his deeper thoughts.  “Prophet”, for example, is his response to the Book of Enoch.  He says “since scientific theories are constantly being disproven –  why not entertain ideas other than what we’ve been indoctrined to believe?”  You can join this discussion at Art Church on Sunday May 26th at 12pm.  David will be hosting and it promises to be an interesting, engaging conversation! 

 Prophet – front view.                           Prophet – rear/side view.


David and I also talked at length about his strata vessels.  They are unique works of art that sure garner a lot of attention in the gallery!  People wonder what they are made of, how they are made and marvel at their design and metallic interior!


  Strata Vessels.                              In the hands of the maker.


David shared that he makes different coloured clay bodies using stains, and that each vessel is comprised of 9 or more colours.  The coloured clay bodies are put into the extruder (another homemade piece of equipment) and coils are produced. 


The extruder.  Handmade templates
allow for different shapes and sizes
of coils to be made.


He throws the coils on the wheel, one at a time and usually only 3 in a row before he has to stop and let the whole thing dry a bit before continuing.  A lot of testing went into these labour intensive pieces, including what temperature to fire them at, in order to yield the most vivid colour results.  You can learn more about his fascinating process by watching David’s Strata Vessel Demo scheduled for Saturday July 13th at Bluerock Gallery!  Going forward, David would like to try handbuilding pieces so that he can create different shaped forms and angles of the coloured clay bodies.

Last, but certainly not least, David makes functional pottery.  He is so technically skilled, he can throw 30 mugs an hour and all to the same dimensions!  Though he tries to avoid that now…let’s not forget how long the finishing takes!   His sculptural side often comes out in the making of his teapots and jars.


We are so pleased to represent David and all his ceramic art forms at Bluerock Gallery.  Don’t miss your chance to attend our upcoming events with him – there’s sure to be a story or two you haven’t heard!


Text and photos by Bluerock Gallery Ceramics Manager, Annika Clennan.

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