Tim Morris – The painter-potter

“There are those potters who believe in freely expressing themselves and those like myself who believe that to freely express oneself without control of the medium is not enough.

What does one expect of a 20th Century potter in a high speed, rapid communications nuclear age? I suggest that nothing that is functional warrants the term ‘work of art’ until it can be viewed in the perspective of history and time.”

(Tim Morris, The Criteria for Selecting Pottery for Exhibitions, Sgraffiti, No. 4, 1974)

Born on 14 March 1941 in Windsor, Berkshire, England, elder child of Major William and Patricia Morris, Tim (Timothy William) recalls his first interest in art when he was 11 years old “…and from this age until I went to public school I painted from imagination or from cards or reproductions of flower, still lifes, etc. I also painted neat little homes in cosy Sussex sunlight. I remember studying a few art prizebooks of my parents and took an interest in using all the pencils from H to 6B!”1 Many years later he told a journalist that art “… was the only thing that my friends and teachers ever praised me for. Academically I had already decided I would never succeed and personality wise I was rather withdrawn in those days.”2 At primary school he was called “Dim Tim”3 (in fact, Tim was dyslexic) but at Lancing College he proved all and himself wrong by writing his ‘A’ level [Advanced Level General Certificate of Education, the standard entry qualification for British universities] on art in 1957, one year before writing his ‘O’ levels in English literature, geography and elementary mathematics with other “O” levels in Scripture knowledge and English language following in 1959. There were, Tim told a journalist, happy interludes at private and public schools “which were not obsessed with fagging and queering.”4

In private notes written in the late 1960s about his art education at school, Tim commented: “At public school I continued to paint. I tried hard at watercolour painting which for a long time hindered my application of oil paint. I took A Levels before my Ordinary Levels and enjoyed painting murals on various school buildings [such as the walls of the library at Lancing College in West Sussex where the “Temple of Mars” from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was painted, as reported in The Evening Argus, 12 February 1958] …to start a mural now would be a terrible task. Somehow I believed this confidence was only due to the lack of competition for when I went to Brighton Art School the situation changed. Here drawing and on a small scale broke any confidence I had. From that day onwards the way I have done under my own incentive has always been far better and sincerer than any work at St. Martin’s [The St. Martin’s School of Art, London] where I moved to after a year.”

Tim attended the St. Martin’s School of Art from 1960 to 1962 where he studied water-colour techniques and received his National Diploma in Design, majoring in painting. Amongst his fellow students were David Hockney, Joe Tilsen, Peter Koker and Elizabeth Fritsch. During this time, “persuaded by a reputable portrait painter” he participated in exhibitions by the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. The 1959 Summer Salon of the Royal Institute Galleries listed two works by Tim: “Castle of Ludovic II of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein” at a catalogue price 15 Guineas and “Shoreham at Dawn” priced at 30 Guineas. In October 1960 there was a single work exhibited by the New English Art Club: “The Albert Bridge, Battersea” with a catalogue price of 50 Guineas. Three works were included in the March 1961 exhibition of the National Society at the Royal Institute Galleries, one being a portrait study “Nicolette Morris” which was not offered for sale and two other pieces: “Clay Mines in Cornwall” at a catalogue price of 35 Guineas and “Folkestone Harbour”, priced at 30 Guineas. Later in 1961 in he exhibited “Solliers Ville, South of France” with a catalogue price of 15 Guineas with the New English Art Club.

Upon graduating from St. Martin’s, Tim enrolled at London University for a teacher’s training diploma. He attended the university from October 1962 to June 1963. He confessed to the Sunday Times journalist Len Ashton that St. Martin’s and London University were not such happy experiences: ““I hit the 1950s Bridget Riley pop art. Not my scene. Part of my difficulty in adjusting to art school arose from the fact that I’d been brought up so conservatively. Tweed jacket and cavalry twill. But people don’t survive on matric or university. They survive on understanding themselves.”5

Whilst doing his teacher’s diploma at London University, the lecturer Bill Newland encouraged in Tim an interest in ceramics and advised him to enrol at the Central School of Art, London. Before doing so, he spent July 1963 teaching pottery at Catford School, London.

At the Central School of Art he studied pottery under many of Britain’s acknowledged masters; Ruth Duckworth (with whom he also worked for a short time as her “skivvy”)6, Ian Auld, Kenneth Clark, Dan Arbeid, Gordon Baldwin and John Colbeck. In those years he was “… very strongly influenced by people such as Dan Arbied, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, John Colbeck and Ruth Duckworth. That was in 1964 and I suppose that it was really the end of the traditional stoneware era in colleges, excepting for Harrow.” 7 About the Central School of Art he would write that: “Having come from the country and for that matter a country art school, I found that Charing Cross Road and Soho seeped into the building far too often with little in the way of benefit to offer.” By 1969 when he visited Britain “… the whole funk scene had started and it was then already passe, in the college context, to be following in the Leach-Cardew style.”

The training at the Central School of Art laid the foundation for Tim’s pottery “… with the skills and understanding to produce high temperature ceramics that followed the Anglo-Oriental aesthetic…”8 Fourteen members of staff attended to the 30 ceramic students and “…. I was able to absorb numerous approaches to this art form, from practising artists in clay who use the medium as an individualistic expression whether for utility or sculptured ware.”9 However, he found the staff “… far too over-intellectual, creating in most students the ability to think ‘big thoughts’ and due to technical shortcomings never reach a similar standard in work.”10 He graduated in 1964.

Some time later Tim wrote an unpublished essay on “Training of the artist” in which he advocated that “… opportunity must be provided for the development of a high standard of technological skill in some work where an individual taste may add to the result. It should not be necessary to provide a stimulus for work – what the training should supply together with the atmosphere and facilities for expression is ‘signposts and shortcuts…” and urged that there “… is the need to relate an activity to historical and sociological understanding; which means the student must have read and studied way outside the obvious limits of his craft.

Then came an opportunity to work as site artist under the renowned British archaeologist, Dame Kathleen Kenyon, at a dig in Jerusalem, Israel. Tim made drawings of pottery “fresh from the ground”11 and could see and study comprehensive collections of ancient Middle-East pottery and clay vessels, dating back to the pre-pottery Neolithic period of Jericho. The realisation that exceptional utilitarian pottery, unglazed but yet so elegant, was created millennia ago undoubtedly had a profound influence on him.

In 1965 Tim’s father offered him the use of the family summer seaside cottage at Hermanus and there for a while he continued with his portraiture while exploring the possibility of starting a pottery studio and workshop. He made contact with Hyme Rabinowitz at Rabinowitz’s Eagles Nest studio: “Already there was the drive to ‘get on with it’ in his chosen profession, and not just play around.”12 It was at Hyme’s studio where he met the potter Helen Martin (Dustan) and the two decided, somewhat spontaneously, to establish a studio together. The undercapitalised project got underway in the Orchards suburb of Johannesburg with the backing of a group of hopeful students and some inventive improvisation. The partnership lasted two years. Tim then secured an appointment as lecturer at the Johannesburg College of Art for 1966 and 1967.

He was drawn, writes Susan Sellschop, to the contemporary British art styles which were influenced by the Pop movement initiated in the U.S.A. in the 1960s “but realised that he could build a stable career from working in high-fired stoneware and porcelain, making utilitarian wares that were still in style in South Africa at that time.”13

Tim moved to the farm of the furniture designer John Tabrahams in 1967. At Larsens Farm, just outside of Johannesburg, he installed himself in the servants’ quarters and built a studio with an oil kiln in the cowshed. By now his work was beginning to attract attention and he was building up what he terms his “audience”.

In February 1968 he participated in a group exhibition at the Cape Town gallery of the South African Arts Association and in the same city was represented in the “Index 68” craft exhibition. His first major exposure in a commercial gallery in South Africa came in 1969 when Helen de Leeuw offered him a one-man exhibition at her gallery in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. Her craft gallery and shop, frequented by craftspeople and people interested in handmade objects, showed the work among interesting furniture, fabrics and other objects giving it context within the field of contemporary interior design. This was followed in the same year by a one-man exhibition at Linda Goodman’s Gallery in Hyde Park which “finally affirmed his decision to remain in this medium for which he had developed so much affection.”14 The pots for this exhibition were taken still hot from the kiln to the gallery and left indelible rings on the back seat of Tim’s car.15

He briefly returned to Britain for his wedding to his English bride, Vicky, in 1968 but the marriage was short-lived and Tim returned to South Africa in 1969. He found his soul mate in Marlene, one of his pottery students, and married her in 1970 and set out to build a home and studio on property in the Muldersdrift region. Lynne Wagner described it as a “rambling, white, steep-pitched studio-home which was built with the aid of two assistants and a patient wife… [Ngwenya Studio, as it was named] was simple, spacious and effective. It consisted of five sunny rooms housing the clay processing, showroom, kiln room, throwing room and working areas. The 5m³ kiln was separate, set unobtrusively into the main building. Morris fired once every three weeks as a rule, but this could peak up to weekly firings. Two assistants helped with the clay processing and slabbing, kiln packing and other manual activities. Most of his output was produced on a custom-built electric wheel which was set very low to allow him to pull large pots. Apart from slabbing, he did virtually no hand building except when working on sculptures. He fired twice, keeping glazes down to basics. Decoration with three high-clay ‘house’ glazes and a few oxides (iron, cobalt-rutile) was used with a sense of economy.”

Gail de Klerk’s assessment of studio pottery in the early 1970s was that “… many studio potters were establishing themselves and their work was dominated by the Anglo-Oriental genre of functional pieces with minimal decorative elements.”16 Tim thought the era and the country “… an exciting place to work in as the horizons for expression in pottery, whether domestic or experimental, are various. In the U.K. a great deal of pottery is made, a large percentage being domestic work of a very fine quality. However, the opportunity to make a living from the production of decorative non-functional pottery is limited. It is, for example, interesting that you [Linda Goodman] are prepared to hold a ceramic show in your gallery which provides clay as an artistic medium to be seen in a fine art context: not that I am adverse to domestic pottery being sold in craft orientated shops as well.”17

Tim’s own work in that era was described by John Dewar as: “His shapes are decided, direct and complete in themselves, and further embellishment of a minimal design in glazes, some illustrative, have just enough meaning.” Dewar considered Tim’s free-standing sculptural works as: “… symbolic and in some instances interlocking, are technically extensions of slab-pot making.”18 Few of the sculptural pieces found buyers and most, says Marlene “… ended up as doorstoppers.” Tim had to revert to his functional work. In 1972, Tim was quoted as saying of his work “…that he has not arrived, that if he produces one work of value in his life it is not enough.19

A string of solo, partnered and group exhibitions followed, amongst others in April 1972 at the Ou Johannesburg Gallery; in September of the same year at the Kunskabinet in Windhoek (Namibia); in 1973 at the Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg along with Marietjie van der Merwe, Rabinowitz and Andrew Walford and at the end of the year at the Goodman Gallery. (In all, Tim had 18 exhibitions in successive years at the Goodman Gallery.)

Of his life, lifestyle and work, Tim said in 1973: “I am sitting here because I want to sit here… You don’t have to take stock answers when you are working on your own. I am basically the sort of person who feels that life is short enough as it is and I have never wanted to be employed by anyone else. I know I am very limited, and I know if I got a normal job I would be restricted by people as limited as I am. So I prefer to be my own master. If I have to be mediocre I can do it without fitting into patterns of travelling to work and being obliged to work to a timetable…”20 In another interview published in the same year, he added: “I’m afraid I’m not brave enough to go out on a limb and produce something I believe in. The point is that I really don’t believe in anything. At 32, I don’t have any strong conviction. But I do enjoy what I am doing. Basically I don’t believe in humanity at all. A few people do the right thing, which only another few recognise. Everyone else follows like sheep. In a way I admire people with great convictions.”21

The Ngwenya Studio as described by Chris Patton, was seldom without a constant flow of friends, followers and buyers “…. dropping in and out, being greeted by Baska (Baskaville), the great Dane and shouted at by Cyril the parrot. Some came to buy, some to watch and listen as he worked, it was a place of life activity and industry.” As Patton recalls: “He loved music, which was always in evidence in his studio when cricket wasn’t being broadcast! He had a system where he could throw pots and watch cricket on television through a hatch between his studio and the living room, and that’s not easy.” Marlene was the anchor in Tim’s life and held the reigns in the studio: “… a tower of strength and reason, doing all the organizing and paperwork and basically running the show releasing Tim to concentrate on what he did best, his ceramics. Creativity and order do not always go together. He could not have achieved what he did without her.”22

David Walters who worked in Tim’s studio during 1969 said of his work and lifestyle: “Tim needed to produce a lot of pots, and he needed to make money. He was impatient too, at one stage, decorating his pots on the wheel as he was throwing them. He had loads of energy - up early, doing the physical work of packing kilns - and we often went out to dinner while the oil kiln was firing - and then back to the pottery to check on progress. He was exhausting… He needed people, he enjoyed their adulation, he loved selling people pots, and the studio was a high energy, popular place… and of course he attracted oddballs who basked in his giving nature.”23

It was the initiative of Joyce Keyser (Horvath) in 1973 to invite Gordon Wales, Charlotte Katzen, Sammy Liebermann and Peggy Simpson to her house to discuss starting a club or place where potters could get together, over a cup of coffee, to chat and exchange ideas.24 Tim was also approached and along with Marlene became founder members of the Association of Potters of Southern Africa (APSA), now known as Ceramics Southern Africa. APSA set itself the task to “foster the art of craft pottery and ceramics and to encourage the development, appreciation and recognition of craft pottery”. It also established regular and national exhibitions and competitions.

He attracted young potters to his studio and would teach them willingly and often for free. Chris Green and David Walters were some of the novices who benefitted. David Schlapobersky and Felicity Potter found in him a mentor and guide: ”We do what we do because he did what he did”.25

An unglazed sculpture by Tim titled “He was a fisher of men” was exhibited at the 1974 International Arts and Crafts Fair in Florence. The only other South African entry was a tapestry by Beteinah Bgema of Rorkesdrift. In 1975 he exhibited at the William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley and in December that year he joined Esias Bosch, Thelma Marcuson, Rabinowitz and Walford for a group exhibition at Gallery S, Nelspruit.

Tim admired and lavished praise on his contemporaries. He rated Green as the “best thrower in the country”, lauded Walford and Digby Hoets for the quality and sincerity of their work, referred to Bosch as “God” and bemoaned the loss of a potential master potter when Neville Burde first returned to his family’s business and then emigrated to the U.S.A.

Tim started to shift his attention to unglazed stoneware and also experimented with fine forms in porcelain. More exhibitions followed such as at the Waterkant Gallery, Cape Town in 1977; in 1980 at The Look-out Art Gallery, Plettenberg Bay and two more in August 1981. The second of those was at the Sandown Gallery, Sandton where he exhibited his watercolours and where he invited Wendy Goldblatt to join a ceramics tour to Japan, organized by Maarten Zaalberg: Goldblatt recalls: “A group of about twenty travelled from Fukuoka in the South of Japan right up to Tokyo visiting Living National Treasures and seeing wonderful pots wherever we went. We had many discussions on all aspects of ceramics as we visited various studios, Tim was always there to share his knowledge with everyone and he was a great fund of information. Travelling with Tim was a wonderful experience; he was so enthusiastic and excited by the whole trip and always fun to be with. Every day, he was up earlier than any of us, often out alone, sketching and painting watercolours. It seemed he just couldn’t get enough of the landscape and atmosphere of Japan.”26

At last Tim was able to see Hamada’s pots in real life: “When we were in Japan, I saw some of Hamada’s pots. Now I had seen hundreds of photographs of his work but none of them told me how vibrant and powerful they are. The plates look big, in fact they are enormous and vibrant! You don’t realise this until you see them. Travelling helps me to grow and keeps me visually stimulated.”27

In 1982 he exhibited at the Potchefstroom University, at the Beuster-Skolimowski Gallery, Pretoria and joined Susan Annandale, Bosch, Hoets, Lesley-Ann Hoets, Barry Dibb, Dina Prinsloo, Rabinowitz and Marietjie van der Merwe for a group exhibition at the Yellow Door, Cape Town. The exhibitions in 1983 included shows at the Ivan Solomon Gallery, Pretoria and De Leeuw’s exhibition space in an old carriagehouse in Parktown,. There was a time when Tim had exhibitions lined up two years in advance.

In the mid-1980s, Tim was still hosting workshops. Jeni Rabinowitz recalls her first “and most profound, as well as lasting, impression of meeting of Tim at a Saturday afternoon gathering of Johannesburg potters late in 1975, outside the old Potter’ Shop in Hyde Park Corner. There, sitting cross-legged on the floor was a handsomely bearded man, his eyes dancing and hands sweeping the air. He sang the sad lament of a dedicated pottery teacher. Very articulate, direct, but with a certain gentleness, he outlined the life cycle of the average pottery student. After six lessons, the acquisition of a wheel, another three, a dinner service proudly displayed, then begged-for lessons by the bored housewife next door who in turn started her own teaching after five lessons and whose students started their own classes after three. All a bit exaggerated of course, but necessary to emphasise the diminishing of well-crafted pots until their reputation was completely lost. Such was his concern and love of ceramics, fed by a deep need to highlight standards and quality.”28

When, in 1985, Rabinowitz was recovering from multiple bypass surgery and subsequent colitis during which time he was unable to fire his big kiln, Tim came to the rescue and canvassed for donations with which a gas kiln was purchased so that Rabinowitz could continue his work.29 Of this, Rabinowitz wrote that: “Tim… was a good example of “’the good that men do’”.30 An earlier example of the “good” of Tim was his involvement with Schlapobersky and Potter to establish a pottery studio at Cresset House, a Camphill school and training centre for children in need of special care, in Halfway House: “Not only was he willing to share his time and expertise with us… but in a flash he was instrumental in facilitating a fund-raising exhibition at the school in aid of the new pottery workshop… A number of prominent personalities and emerging artists and craftspeople responded with enthusiasm to Tim’s invitation to take part in the exhibition; among them were people such as Eduardo Villa, Cecil Skotness, Tessa Fleisher and Digby Hoets.”31

Tim and Marlene were the leading forces in establishing the Crocodile River Arts and Crafts Ramble in July 1987 to attract visitors and buyers to the craftsmen and artists living and working in the Muldersdrift area. The ramble was inspired by the success of Walter’s and Ian Glenny’s Midlands Meander in kwaZuluNatal which showcased the work of local craftspeople and artists in that region. Within a year the ramble offered access to 30 artists and 18 galleries, amongst them the sculptors Johan van Heerden, Michael Fleischer and Mickey Korzennik, Mona Smit who did appliqué, Ben Smit working in wrought iron, the weaver Jenny Lotter, the silver and goldsmith Tessa Fleischer, knifemaker Owen Wood, Patton with his reduction stoneware and Sarie Saunders who specialised in raku and unglazed ceramics.32 The craftsmen and artists of the ramble were honoured with a group exhibition at the RAU Gencor-Gallery, Johannesburg in 1988.

Unbeknown to so many, Tim’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder was reaching a critical point. Hoets and his wife Penny would later write: “As anyone who ever met Tim knows, he was a brilliant showman and raconteur who could keep friends and audience thoroughly entertained. His demonstrations drew large audiences to his studio. He had the sense of humour and breadth of knowledge that sometimes and fortuitously results when a good brain encounters a good British education and is compounded by a wide circle of highly diverse and interesting friends. But in Tim’s case the downside came when the audience left and Tim increasingly withdrew into a dark and distant place, which ultimately claimed his life.”33

Behind the scenes, wrote Jenny Hobbs “… he was an intensely serious, hardworking and dedicated artist whose innate modesty made him adept at deflecting praise.”34 Ashton recalled how Tim was dismissive of himself at his exhibition of watercolours at the Pieter Wenning Gallery in 1975 when he said: “You can explain that I’m a lying, hypocritical socialite. All of which is partly true.”

What Tim said to Ashton about his painting would most probably also apply to his pottery: “It’s not significant to me whether I sell my pictures or not, because I’m going to go on painting, anyway. One’s ego is terribly important, of course, but the pictures are simply adorations of what I see around me. An intelligent art critic would probaby say ‘unresolved’ or ‘charming’. But who the hell cares? I don’t like to complicate painting. I’ve done some abstracts, but when I sit down and look at them I think: ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’”

Towards the end of his life, Tim had tried every conceivable form of medication and therapy to control the bipolar disorder and regularly threatened suicide. “He went through shrinks like hot cakes. He expected a miracle cure”, says Marlene. In late 1989 his condition was so poor that he cancelled what would have been his 19th annual one-man show at the Goodman Gallery. Not knowing about his state of mind, his mother urged him to spend the Christmas period with her in England. Tim was miserable throughout his stay but briefly rallied on his return. Once again the bipolar disorder took hold and this time tipped him over the edge. On 31 May 1990 Tim took his own life. The kiln had by then been packed and sealed for a firing. Green and Hoets stepped in and fired it for the very last time on behalf of their mentor and friend.

The very un-public side of Tim was revealed by Fr. Roger Hickley when he told of joining a visit to Italy in 1986 by Tim and his family. The party stayed in a hired villa in Tuscany on a hilltop in the Chianti Classico region: “… and for a few weeks in the pale European spring we ate garlic-soaked spaghetti, drank Gallo Nero wine… and Tim painted and painted… he painted in fields and piazzas… painted the facades of Sienese and Florentine churches, and hilltop villages, and vines, and misty morning landscapes, and cypresses, and campaniles, and the towers of San Gimignano, and the reputed one-time country villa of Michelangelo that Tim dubbed ‘Mike’s Pad”. He painted a host of beautiful things, beautifully caught in watercolour with a lightness and sureness of touch that for me makes his painting often better than his pottery. Mont Alverna wasn’t far away, and with typical kindness Tim took us there one day for he knew I wanted to go there. Alverna is the place where St. Francis off Assisi received the stigmata: the marks in his hands, feet and side of the wounds of Christ. Every day at 3pm the Friars process from the 13th Century monastery down the long frescoed cloister to the tiny chapel, from the floor of which rises the naked rock where tradition has it the mystic experience of Francis took place. We got to the Friary just in time to witness this procession and ritual, and the five of us walked behind the Friars and stood in the little chapel as they sang. I looked across at Tim then in the tiny choirstall opposite, and there was a look of such reverence, such humility and awe on his face… he was in communion, he was deeply aware of what was going on around him. One day, please God, I will go back and light a candle for Tim there, for in some strange way he is a kindred spirit to Francis, not only in his celebration of life, but also in his wounds.”35

The potter and collector communities rallied to show their respect for the master potter at an exhibition of his work arranged by Goldblatt and De Leeuw at the latter’s gallery in August 1990. Many of South Africa’s leading potters, amongst them Rabinowitz, Bosch, Hoets, Eugene Hon, Patton, Schlapobersky and Potter as well as some international potters such as Ray Finch, Joe and Trudy Finch, Bill van Gilder, Toff Milway, Walters and Jim Webster contributed work to the exhibition and the proceeds of this exhibition were the start of the Tim Morris Bursary Fund.

Tim’s life and work was once more celebrated with a retrospective exhibition held in August 2008 of which Susan Sellschop wrote: “The exhibition shows the family collection of Tim’s pottery, both blue and white porcelain ware and larger, more robust earthenware (stoneware) pieces. His ability to decorate the surfaces of his pots with subtle brush marks and considered, masked areas shows his understanding of form, and Tim’s skill as a water colourist shines out in the brushwork used on the vessels. This collection of many pots exhibited together shows the strength of his work and his capacity for throwing as well as his understanding of form and surface.”36 At this event Tim was honoured with glowing tributes by colleagues and those he mentored, including Digby and Penny Hoets, Goldblatt, De Klerk, Patton, Schlapobersky and Potter.

Though widely celebrated as an artist and deeply loved and admired by many within the potter community and outside of that, the ultimate acknowledgement of APSA’s National Award, was never bestowed upon him. Digby and Penny Hoets pointed out that: “The irony is that while Tim did a huge amount for South African pottery, potters and especially APSA… his role was never fully recognised and appreciated in his lifetime… In the urge to recognise what was new and different, the tendency was to award ‘one pot wonders,’ who produced something different, trendy or exciting, rather than someone like Tim whose work had much greater merit and staying power.”37

The 1970s saw the emergence of art schools at academic institutions with a definite shift in the approach from “pottery” to “ceramics” and initiated an era in which “…more and more potters started to experiment with different firing techniques, to explore colour and more conceptual themes for their work…”381 in contrast with, as Malcolm P. MacIntyre- Read of the University of Natal Art Department labelled it, “hairy brown stoneware”.39

Garth Clark, the U.S.A.-based “capo da capo” of dealers in ceramic art, writer, editor and contributor to over 25 books on ceramic art, used the metaphor of “Fortress Ceramica” to describe the “potter city” created prior to the emergence of the post-modernists in the 1980’s and which “…was changing and becoming more of a regressive academy that favoured the traditional over the avant-garde and the academic over the experimental.” If the mud brick walls of “Fortress Ceramica” were not dismantled, it would become a historical theme park, a monument to past glories, abandoned by the new generation.40

This sentiment, says Schlapobersky, was promoted by a particularly aggressive constituency from within the art/craft community and created a climate of issue-driven ceramics (style, expression, technique, tradition, gender and race) and a parallel quest for fame and fortune.41 The potter Steve Shapiro wrote of “… the juggernaut of post modernism that was entrenching itself in Western culture and sometimes displaying a disturbing lack of tolerance… this patter of ‘relevance’ came from ‘educated’ pundits of personal gratification… the riotous clamour that attended ‘vessels’ and ‘objects’ that began to dominate, to learned applause, group and association exhibitions while simple jewels of functional craft, which glowed amidst the expressionist parade, were given little more than historic recognition.”42

The post-modernist movement gained impetus from a series of countrywide workshops in 1982 by the avant garde American ceramist-sculptor David Middlebrook who was appointed as “visiting artist” at the University of Natal, and which “… brought the full force of this drama to the forefront and probably more than any other single factor shifted the orientation of studio pottery/ceramics in this country.”43

Tim was disturbed and troubled by this and spoke of it in growing sadness and frustration: “Some potters are now making triangular teapots with geometric designs on them in pink. What I wonder about when I see them is, where the idea was born. Was it a process of growth or did they simply see it in a magazine and think ‘Gee that’s fun, let’s have a try!’ I personally like to know and understand the change and growth in my work and this cannot happen if one just copies.”44 At the same time, he was encouraging that an artist must use his techniques for a purpose beyond technical brilliance.”45

One wonders how he would have received the news when in 2009, Cruise as one of the early promotors of the post-modernists, criticised that movement for having reached a stasis and that in retrospect the Anglo-Orientalist baby was thrown out with the bath water: “In disregarding the stringent formalist precepts of Anglo-Orientalism we came to neglect form itself…” and that “… [Anglo-Orientalism] belongs in its time and place, but it does hold object lessons for contemporary ceramists to revisit the formal properties of their work.”46

With about 70 one-man shows, numerous group shows in South Africa, Italy, Germany and the U.S.A.(at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Los Angeles, 1977) to his credit, more has been written about Tim’s work during his lifetime than in retrospective analysis and art critique. Tim himself scoffed at the “gobbledy-gook” of art critics and was critical of what he called “intellectualising”: “All I’m trying to do is simply make things with a bit of magic in them. There’s no message in my work. I’m not trying to challenge or educate anybody, just making what I think is beautiful. A lot of the soul-searching that goes on in the arts is really like people turning over rocks to find what’s underneath. The sort of remark that really pleases me is when someone says, ‘That’s a super pot, I like it.’”47 In 1987 he put it more bluntly: “I’m tired of being a prostitute to art… tired of working to produce so-called ‘definitive statements’ for exhibitions.”48 (Apart from the galleries already mentioned, Tim also exhibited at the Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg; the Drostdy in Tulbach; at Oude Libertas, Stellenbosch; the Neil Sacks Gallery in Durban; the Maud Street Gallery and the Potters Gallery in Sandton, at Hakeems in Arcadia, Pretoria, the South African Association of Arts in Pretoria, Everard Read Galley, Rosebank and several others.)

Wagner stated that: “He does not subscribe to the aggrandisement of pottery as an expensive elitist art form” and would, says Marlene, urge buyers to “use the bloody stuff, don’t put it on the wall!” He maintained that: “Provided a potter puts in a full day’s work, pottery is one art form that can be made available to all at reasonable cost.”49 but then took it one step further and priced everything extremely low. “As far as financial value goes, he underrated his own work”, says Marlene.

Digby and Penny Hoets knew him as “…a prolific and talented potter – a superb thrower with an innate aesthetic consciousness and sensitivity to form and design.” To Wagner he summed up his own work ethic as follows: “I think that the traditional potter has tended to assume that there is a norm in pottery, an ‘absolute truth’ that must be reached. Today the potter must reflect the times in which he lives and, whether rightly or wrongly, ours is a period of rapid transition with very temporal values. The constant ebb and flow of mores and attitudes cannot be reflected in a stagnant form, albeit near-perfect.”

In South Africa, Tim encountered “…a situation that was an extension of what was then dying in England. There were Esias Bosch, Hyme Rabinowitz and Andrew Walford who were all following the Leach-Cardew tradition. Both Hyme and Esias had worked with Michael Cardew. A lot of reduction potters emerged at that time. As one is influenced by what is going on around one I eventually started to use more glazes and to decorate my pots a lot more.”50

What Tim aspired to, was “… making pots where the idea of a container is forgotten; much pleasure and discipline can be achieved from the making of utility ware; however, pieces of a decorative nature that live by the shape alone as visual statements are to me as important. I try to make the object, whatever its use, live as a strong aesthetic shape assisted by the simple use of glaze, little decoration and sharp contrast between unglazed textured surfaces and glazed surfaces.”51 In an interview in 1983 he elaborated on his approach to glazes: “You’ve got to keep experimenting with new glazes,” he said. “What I’m always trying to do is be vital – and a little bit cheeky too. Potters have to set their own challenges because nobody drives you but yourself – and of course, the necessity of making a living.”52 Nevertheless, Wagner’s review of his work over the years, states it “… shows a wide range of designs, not all following a natural evolutionary path. But then he is not in search of the ultimate form of expression.”53 Being innovative and receptive to stimuli was essential: “Your pots become predictable and banal after a while. You’ve got to give yourself periodic shocks, otherwise you become complacent… My worry is how to keep interested and vital over the next 30 years.”54 But he never considered pottery as the final statement in art: “One has to be really brilliant to make a mark in one’s field… The more proficient and stable you become the more you are able to express yourself creatively with abandon. The ultimate is to say a lot with a very little. People with little always say a lot.”55

Journalists visiting the studio afterwards wrote of their impressions of iron oxide, manganese, cobalt and rutile, boulder-blue trickling over stone-grey, red rock-brown, vlei-green, chocolate-brown, the gold of winter grass and deep velvety black with rich russet designs.

Wagner described his decorative motifs as “… drawn from nature: stylised butterflies, birds, flowers and plants, which are created with a few careful sweeps of the brush. Tim commented: “I don’t look directly at anything. My inspiration comes through looking at flowers, pods, seeds and grasses.”56 Most pots are only partially glazed, showing expanses of the clay body. He is at his best working out partnerships of body, form and oxides as can be seen in several of his sculptural works. His inspiration is rather multi-faceted; a prismic convergence that draws light from both traditional and contemporary pottery, from nature, from society and, to be fair, from the demands of his “audience”57 of which Tim said “Once an audience has been established it is easy. The difficulty is that you don’t know if you are good, if you have a monopoly or if the public has no taste.”58

“There will come a time when we, like all of Europe, will learn to revel in our culture. Here we can draw from an exciting primitive culture – real and direct – and add to it our second-hand European background.”, said Tim in an interview.59 Michael Lane’s perspective on Tim’s work was that “His pottery is pure art – it does not imitate. Its form depends on its intrinsic qualities and limitations, not on the images that realism takes from its environment. He is an artist who looks continually to the future, doing so from the baseline of the past and the present. He looks to international patterns for future trends in pottery, which he believes to be sculptural rather than utilitarian.”60

Two self-descriptions could serve as epitaph: “I’m an artist, not a factory…”61 and ”… striving but finding it difficult to be a humble, simple craftsman, in a very non-humble, materialistic world.”62

The classic source of reference for Tim Morris is Garth Clark and Lynne Wagner’s Potters of Southern Africa, 1974 but the author also found Susan Sellschop’s Tim Morris - A Unique and special man - For the Tim Morris Retrospective Exhibition, 2008 to be a significant commentary on this master potter. I extensively refer in the text to those sources but do not necessarily indicate so in the reference source notes. The Morris Family graciously made available scrapbooks with press cuttings about Tim amongst which the author found his handwritten notes on his own art and the training of artists.
1. Tim Morris, own notes in scrapbooks in the Tim Morris estate
2. They called him Dim Tim – but look at him now, Launa Hickling, The Star, 6 November 1973
3. ibid
4. Pot luck, Len Ashton, Sunday Times 14 September 1975
5. ibid
6 Interview with Marlene Morris, Ronnie Watt, November 2010
7. In conversation with Tim Morris, Gail de Klerk, Sgraffiti No 35, December 1983
8. Tim Morris - A Unique and special man - For the Tim Morris Retrospective Exhibition , Susan Sellschop, August 2008
9. Tim Morris interviewed by Linda Goodman, March 1970
10. Scrapbook, Tim Morris estate
11. Interview with Chris Green, Ronnie Watt, November 2010
12. Tim Morris Tributes, Hyme Rabinowitz, Ceramics & Craft, December 1990
13. Sellschop, August 2008
14. Potters of Southern Africa, Garth Clark & Lynne Wagner, Struik, 1974
15 Correspondence with David Walters, Ronnie Watt, 15 December 2010
16. Gail de Klerk writes about Tim Morris - For the Tim Morris Retrospective Exhibition, August 2008
17. Goodman, March 1970
18. Tim Morris likes to potter, John Dewar, The Star, 3 December 1971
19. Tim Morris – The Man and his Work, Michael Lane, Artlook, 1972
20. The Morrises – I prefer to be my own master, Darling, 7 March 1973
21. Hickling, 1973
22. Chris Patton writes about Tim Morris - For the Tim Morris Retrospective Exhibition, August 2008
23. Walters, December 2010
24. Tim Morris Tributes, Peggy Simpson, Ceramics & Craft, December 1990
25. In conversation with David Schlapobersky, Ronnie Watt, 18 December 2010
26. Wendy Goldblatt writes about Tim Morris - For the Tim Morris Retrospective Exhibition, August 2008
27. de Klerk, 1983
28. Tim Morris Tributes, Jeni Rabinowitz, Ceramics & Craft, December 1990
29. Correspondence with Jeni Rabinowitz, Ronnie Watt, 16 December 2010
30. Tim Morris Tributes, Hyme Rabinowitz, Ceramics & Craft, December 1990
31. Tim Morris Tributes, David Schlapobersky and Felicity Potter, Ceramics & Craft, December 1990
32. A ramble with a difference, South African Panorama. April 1988
33. Digby and Penny Hoets write about Tim Morris - For the Tim Morris Retrospective Exhibition, August 2008
34. Tim Morris: private battle behind the public face, Jenny Hobbs, The Star, 8 June 1990
35. Text of the Memorial Service at St. John The Evangelist Church, Fr. Roger Hickley of St. Raphael’s Catholic Church, Khayelitsha, 8 June 1990
36. Sellschop, August 2008
37. Hoets, August 2008
38. Ceramic Supplement in SA Art Times, September 2006 with acknowledgement to Gail de Klerk in National Ceramics, No. 41, September 1997
39. South African Ceramics in LifeWithArt.com, Gilfillan Scott-Berning
40. Answered Prayers - Garth Clark and Mark del Vecchio at Verge, K. Weiss in The Journal of Australian Ceramics, Issue 45 No 3
41. Correspondence with David Schlpobersky, Ronnie Watt, 19 December 2010
42. A tribute to Hyme Rabinowitz, Steve Shapiro, Iziko Summer School, Cape Town,
43. Correspondence with David Schlapobersky, Ronnie Watt, 19 December 2010
44. de Klerk, 1983
45. Exquisite pottery puts Tim in class of his own, Sally de Vasconcellos, The Star, 13 December 1979
46. The Gauteng Regional Exhibition, Wilma Cruise, National Ceramics, No. 90, Summer 2009
47. Clay People – Tim Morris, Jenny Hobbs, Style, April 1983
48. Style, July 1987
49. Clark & Wagner, 1974
50. de Klerk, August 2008
51. Goodman, March 1970
52. Hobbs, April 1983
53. Clark & Wagner, 1974
54. Hobbs, April 1983
55. His life is a pottery, The Star, 15 May 1972
56. Exquisite pottery puts Tim in class of his own, Sally de Vasconcellos, The Star, 13 December 1979
57. Clark & Wagner, 1974
58. Hickling, 973
59. The Star, 15 May 1972
60. Lane, 1972
61. The Star, 15 May 1972
62. De Vasconcellos, 1979