This thrown porcelain vase is a prime example of Julian Stair’s investigation of the relationship between form and surface in pottery during the early 1980s. This and other similar examples in the Sainsbury Centre Collection (936, P.058, P.075) showcase the striking variety of effects that Stair was able to produce in very similar forms, through contrasting treatments of surface decoration. They are a testament to the artist’s technical expertise and the intricacies of the inlay technique.
In this vessel the curved, incised lines create movement across the surface of the clay, in an alternating motion from left to right, up and down the vessel. The use of two mottled colours in the clay body produces further decorative and textural elements for the eye to explore, against the gentle curve of the vase’s form. A protruding horizontal white band circulates the body of the pot. Its positioning, just above the widest point of the vase, accentuates the swollen form, as it intersects the flow of the surface decoration above and below it.
In 1985 Stair exhibited this and another vessel of a very similar form (936) with Contemporary Applied Arts at the Chelsea Craft Fair, London, where Lady Sainsbury was one of the judges. He won second prize and Lady Sainsbury purchased both pieces for the Sainsbury Centre Collection. 
Stair describes the context of the field he was working in during the early 1980s:
‘Minimalist Art was one of the dominant strands and factors of contemporary practice at the time…and, ultimately, that attitude was something that made me dissatisfied with a way of working that…somehow had moved me away from the original reasons of which I was attracted to making pots.’
‘I was able to have a second chance in education and I went to grad school at the Royal College of Art…I sent myself back to the beginning again, a kind of self-imposed return to basics and I started to investigate ways of making pots…eventually I realised that the wheel was the most appropriate way.’
‘Fortunately I came across someone who turned out to have a huge impact on my practice whose name was Phillip Rawson…[who] bypassed all of the political debates, …small world in-fighting of ceramics…and wrote about pots in a global sense…it was a truly radical and visionary approach because he was looking at pots in a kind of transnational way and over history…and it was just such an interesting and uplifting way to think about these objects.’
‘I started to think about pots in the round and think about the relationship between form and surface which I think is a really fundamental part of pottery and something that is really unique. Pottery isn’t painted sculpture and it’s not paintings in the round…pottery occupies a very distinct physical space.’ 
Julian Stair is one of the UK’s leading ceramic artists with an international reputation. Stair has become a leading historian of English Studio Ceramics, completing a PhD at the Royal College of Art researching the critical origins of English Studio Pottery. His engaging work is produced on both an intimate and monumental scale.
Katharine Malcolm, June 2020
 Cyril Frankel and James Austin, Modern Pots (Norwich: University of East Anglia, 2000), p.156.
 Interview with the artist, phone call 19/06/20
Frankel, Cyril, and James Austin, Modern Pots (Norwich: University of East Anglia, 2000)
Jones, Jeffrey, Studio Pottery In Britain 1900-2005 (London: A & C Black, 2007)
Watson, Oliver, Studio Pottery (London: Phaidon, in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1993)
John M. Anderson Endowed Lecture Series: ‘A Sense of Place’, The Pennsylvania State University, 18 February 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTyzNba2KL4
Not on display
Artist/Maker: Julian Stair
Born: 1983 c.
Object Type: Vase
Measurements: h. 143 x w. 84 x d. 84 mm
Accession Number: 945
Historic Period: 20th century
School/Style: Studio Ceramics
Copyright: © Julian Stair