Maltby, John

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Great Brittain
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John Maltby is born in the coastal town of Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire in 1936. His father was a fish merchant. He studied sculpture at Leicester College of Art and during one year at Goldsmith's College, London. He then taught painting for two and a half years before working with David Leach at Bovey Tracey (1962-1964), whose imagination and philosophy made a profound impression. In 1964, he started his own workshop Stoneshill Pottery near Crediton in Devon. Having trained with Leach in the Anglo-Oriental tradition he realized on reflection that he had little identification and interest with the great ceramic traditions of China, Japan and the East and was more familiar and excited by Western Artists - Picasso, Klee, Moore & Nicholson and the primitive Wallis. His work has gone through several distinct stylistic periods taking him away from functional pots towards the making of more individual sculptural pieces. He has lectured widely in England, and has been a visiting lecturer at the Bergen Kunsthandverksskole, Norway. In 1987, he was sole judge of the International Ceramic Competition in Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1988 conducted two week seminars ("Creativity - the development of a personal style") in Berne and Basle, Switzerland. In 1989, he was invited by the Galerie Handwerk, Munich, to give a lecture and open the exhibition "English Ceramics". He has also published articles in Ceramics Review.

He has received a numerous of awards for his work. He is a member of the Craftsmen Potters Association of Great Britain and the British Crafts Centre, and is an advisor to the Leach Archive at the Holbourne of Menstrie Museum in Bath. John Maltby is widely represented in a number of public collections, including the V&A in London and others in Edinburgh, Aberystwyth, Belfast, Exeter, Leicester, and Faenza in Italy and Hamburg in Germany. He has exhibited widely in the UK, Europe and USA.

In 1996 John had a major heart operation leading him to make smaller sculptural work. Of his recent sculptural work, Maltby says "the flexibility of idea and image can be explored more freely. Constraints of function are no longer present and I feel newly liberated from some of the limitations of the ceramic tradition; but I hope that those skills of the 'Leach' tradition (so hard won!) can be assimilated into and contribute to the vitality of the work".

The subject matter of much of John's work is inspired by the English tradition; our landscape and our weather, our myths and legends with figures of kings and queens and family groups appearing most often.

"The figures themselves - mostly queens, kings and angels, seem to represent a pure and ideal world and radiate great dignity….They are imbued with a cautious love of life - This makes (Maltby's) art timeless, deeply human and at the same time comforting."

Rudolf Strasser, Collector (courtesy: Bircham Gallery)

Pictures: Portrait (courtesy: Galerie Besson); teapot (source: Oxford Ceramics); King & Raven and Royal Barge, c. 2007 (courtesy: Gallery Beaux Arts Bath).

Work of the artist: 

John Maltby's work was inspired by English landscape, the sea, architecture and music.

A personal view of John Maltby's work by Rudolf Strasser (collector)

'When one looks at them (the works by John Maltby) closely, they show themselves to be exceedingly communicative, telling of the small and wider world of their maker, of the churches and ancient ruins, of the boats and lighthouses of his Cornish home, of landscape, clouds and birds and of the memories of Kenzan, Klee and Wallis, of Picasso, Dubuffet and the music of Benjamin Britten. It is a world full of life and serenity, a joyous and poetic world - and the carefree world of a child. John Maltby possesses great intellect, knowledge and experience. The cultural influences to which he was exposed have not succeeded in suppressing his innocent and childlike joy in his creative work. The playful interaction with objects and memories is of vital importance to him. Play enables him to understand the meaning of life, to embrace it and to love it.

Major heart surgery in 1996 made any strenuous work at the wheel impossible, but the potter's heart of John Maltby continued to beat as passionately as before. He did not allow these circumstances to spoil his fun, he made the kitchen table his workshop, and from then on began to create small figures. The reduction in size of his pieces gave them a wider and deeper spiritual dimension. The figures themselves, mostly queens, kings and angels, seem to represent a pure and ideal world and radiate great dignity. Some of them gaze into the distance apprehensively, as if aware of the sinister and ominously macabre side of life. They try to find support on solid pedestals or in front of protective walls. Their message is ambivalent: Life is beautiful but also under threat, vulnerable, even fragile. John Maltby's medium is clay. As with life itself, clay is a material which presents an infinity of creative possibilities. One can never be certain, however, whether the firing will be successful or whether all will be lost in flames.

Since the early days of human history, man has used symbols, often made in clay, to express fears, anxieties and tribulations but also his love of life and his hopes. Art has always been an aid in the mastery of life and survival. In this way, John Maltby's figures are highly functional. They are imbued with a cautious love of life, while knowing full well that happiness can only be fleeting. Warts and all, they are a singular reflection of Maltby's life and tell of his joys and anxieties, which have been those of mankind since time immemorial. This makes his art timeless, deeply human and at the same time comforting.'


• Thormann, Olaf, Gefäss / Skulptur - Vessel / Sculpture; Keramik / Ceramics seit / since 1946 Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig, 2013.