Jonathan Keep

Jonathan Keep is a British Ceramicist who’s studio is based on the Suffolk Coast. His work can be thought of as being sculptural although he considers himself a potter.
He says off his work: ‘Implicit in what I do is the questioning of the reality we create for ourselves and the questioning of Western notions of high art, and culture in general. In an increasingly global community I believe an understanding of the commonality of human experience and cultural development needs to be reinforced. I seek to explore the relationship between nature and culture; the relationship between what we make, why we make and the resources and process used to make, as an exploration to understand our existence.’

This is of real interest to me, particularly the ‘…why we make and the resources and process used to make, as an exploration to understand our existence.’

Keep has a interest of the digital, he has used digital means to design his pots for some time. More recently he has delved into 3D printing in ceramic, using a self built printer that has been modified to extrude clay. The section ‘Digital Pots’ on his website houses the works that are designed in the digital realm and are then printed. As for inspiration for his digital forms he says:

‘From the elemental forces of earth, fire and water pottery has traditionally drawn on nature for inspiration. In using computer code to create this work I aim to add a further layer to include the elemental, naturalmathematical patterns and structures that underlie all form. The appreciation of this work illustrates just how much we are connected at a very deep level to the natural world.’

My favourite examples of his digital pots are the Icebergs, Random Growth, Sound Surfaces and Morphologies. The description Keep provides about the Icebergs pots is fascinating to me. He talks about the beauty of the forms that have been apparently randomly grown but in fact have an underlying structure in the code. The code has a noise value written in which causes variations each time the code is run creating new forms endlessly.

‘ICEBERG SERIES – This work is about the beauty to be found in apparently random natural forms. As in nature, my porcelain pots have an underling coded structure and logic. The algorithm used to generate these shapes has an inbuilt randomness, a ‘noise’ value actually and I am interested how similar this is to the erosion of icebergs. The natural structures have an underling logic that computer code can mimic so a different and original object is created each time the code is run. The cumulative layering of the 3D printer’s extrusion recalls the glacial strata of icebergs, and offers a sense of process and time. The choice to use white porcelain is also deliberate so as to echoes the translucency of ice – the process, material and content of the work are one.’

Icebergs, Jonathan Keep

Looking at Keeps work and reading his packets of information alongside them I felt excited and began to think about how I like to work and what I want to make. Algorithm and Material are brought together through Digital Processes and Tools to create beautiful forms which are complex, interesting and most likely impossible to make by hand. This is really exciting to me, the work is about the processes the ways and means, ideas and forms can be realised in previously unimaginable and impossible ways. This is I think one of the angles or directions that my work is trying to take.

I was wondering however, if Keep can just make endless versions of these unique digital pots, how does he select forms? How many does he make? How many does he need to make? What happens to their value if he creates 1000’s of ‘unique digital pots’? What happens to the work? Is it still craft-work? Or for that matter art?

A couple of the initial questions at least are answered in this passage (below) that Keep wrote about his Random Growth Series:

‘RANDOM GROWTH SERIES – In this series, as in nature and the formation of stalactites or ant hills, these forms have an underling coded structure and logic, but there is also an inbuilt variation or random function and a different form is created each time the code is run. I am selective as to which of these computer generated forms I select but my interests are in how us humans have an inbuilt desire to make sense of the world around us even from the most random forms. I want the viewer to bring their own subjective interpretation to the forms. In trying to make sense of the shapes the viewer brings their own personal and imaginative reading of the object. I guess this way of working continues the long tradition in pottery where the ego of the artist is held back allowing the form, natural processes and materials to speak through.’

J Keep, Random Growth

Seeds

To realise his digital pots Keep built his own 3D Printer. ‘Keep’s desire to create a clay 3D printer was born from frustration over 3D Systems purchase of, and then discontinuation of, the RapMan 3D printer, the first 3D printer modified to print with clay. He is not an engineer, so when Keep decided to try to create his own clay 3D printer, he wanted to use the simpler to construct delta style build, with DIY tools and parts that were easily attainable from the internet or local hardware stores. He also plans to keep his printer completely open source so others can improve on his work.’ from article on 3dPrintingIndustry.com

He built a standard delta style 3D printer with a handful of modifications that would allow it to 3D print using clay, rather than plastic filament. In order for the clay to stick to the print bed, he uses a piece of damp wood, rather than the traditional glass or metal print bed. Here’s a video of Keep building his ceramic 3D printer:

https://youtu.be/MYd_AmkCWfM

This article details his ceramic 3D printer self build. In one of his more recent posts about him attending and talking at the Aberystwyth ceramics festival he has a WASP brand delta printer. I was really interested to read this article as I am currently gathering the components I need to build my own 3D printer. Mine shall extrude plastic but the idea of using clay is exciting and could be another project to contemplate for the future.

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