Alison Britton: Content and Form traces 40 years of maverick ceramics at the V&A

By Richard Moss | 28 January 2016

The V&A celebrates the pots of Alison Britton, a pivotal figure who helped redefine the course of craft practice in the late 20th century

a flat brown jug with handle and stork and reeds motif
Alison Britton, Flat backed jug with Stork (1978)© Victoria and Albert Museum
There is something wildly abstract yet subtly traditional about the pots of Alison Britton. Pieces like Flat backed Jug with Stork (1978) manipulate the everyday form of the jug, pushing it to the edge of functionality while referencing traditions of 20th century practice and design.

Britton, whose works have just gone on show in an overdue retrospective at the V&A, rose to prominence during the 1970s as part of a loosely affiliated group of women potters who trained at the Royal College of Art. Their work challenged established traditions but Britton's pieces, with their bizarre spouts and impractical handles, are unique.

The V&A has collected her work since the late 1970s and Alison Britton: Content and Form features more than 60 pieces from key moments or phases across four decades, including her most recent body of work made in 2015, shown for the first time.

a geometric pot with several sides and abstract design
White and Brown Pot, Big Spout (1990)© Victoria and Albert Museum
The display also highlights Britton’s union of ceramic sculpture and painting and in works like White and Brown Pot, Big Spout (1990) visitors will see how the earlier pictorial decoration shifts to abstract mark-making.

A later series of pieces explores the theme of ‘flow’ with titles like Outpour (2012) referring to the containment and movement of water. Britton’s later experimentation with the technique of pouring rather than spraying and painting glazes and slips, extended the idea of liquidity through her treatment of surfaces.

“The longer I work, the more I am intrigued by putting things alongside each other that were made at very different times, showing how my work has continuously changed in small ways through almost 40 years,” says Britton. “The improvised relationship between the painted surface and the irregular form is what continues to engage me”. 

An additional gift to the Museum in 2014 of nine pots from Britton’s long-standing collector Ed Wolf, is also featured together with works from the artist’s studio and other private collections.

  • Alison Britton: Content and Form is at the V&A until September 4 2016.

a photo of a green pot with corners and yellow top.
Green and Brown Pot (1996)© Victoria and Albert Museum
a photo of a ceramic plate with expressive blue, black and cream glaze
Charger (2015)© Alison Britton & Philip Sayer
a photo of a large jar resembling a milk churn with four small handles
Dark Jar (2015)© Alison Britton & Philip Sayer
a photo of a large pot with a fluted collar, spout and handle
Day Jar (2015)© Alison Britton and Philip Sayer
a photo of a double handed pot with square collar
Jar with Handles (1998)© Victoria and Albert Museum
a photo of a ribbed pot with a large hollow handle fixed to its neck
Outcrop (2015)© Alison Britton and Philip Sayer
A photo of a large brown and cream pot with two small handles and a long spout
Outpoor (2012)© Vitoria and Albert Museum
a photo of a fluted green and brown pot with a small neck
Upland (2015)© Alison Britton and Philip Sayer
a photo of a ceramic vessel shaped like the beak of a bird from an Indian totem pole
Yellow Pot (1990)© Victoria and Albert Museum

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