Jim Robison 2013

We were delighted that local sculptor and ceramicist Jim Robison was our Featured Artist in 2013.

Jim Robison has lived in the Holme Valley since 1975. He established the well known Booth House Gallery that year as both studio space and a venue to promote other artists’ work. And his work has been part of the Art Week exhibition every year since then.

His journey here started in the flat prairie landscapes of his native Missouri, via the vast horizons of Iowa where he qualified and practiced as an art teacher, before landing in Yorkshire, the home of his English born wife Liz and going on to teach art at Bretton Hall College for 25 years. Jim’s first career at 17 was as an engineer in the United States Air Force working with jet engines, an unlikely start for an artist. It was an art teacher at his local college who had a profound influence on him. Jim says of this inspirational teacher:

“…he encouraged us to ask ‘why’ questions… and from then on I started to see the world differently….I noticed one day the cornfields in Iowa were like a tapestry, I could see a warp and a weft”.

This engagement with the landscape is still evident in his work today. The relatively flat, vast landscapes of Missouri and Kansas of his childhood may well be why the rugged Yorkshire countryside is so interesting to him. He says:

“…Yorkshire is primarily a vertical landscape…you are confronted with hills and walls, whereas in Kansas you can have 700 miles of flat.”

The elements are key themes in the work and many of the pieces carry motifs that signify the ever-present and ever-changing Yorkshire weather. Simple geometric shapes are also fundamental to the work and often a piece will emerge from Jim experimenting with compositions of simple squares, triangles and circles. Signature colours such as the reds from copper oxide and the texture of fabric all give Jim’s work its distinctive look. Important too are impressions of interesting shapes taken from nature and from buildings which are then incorporated back into the work itself.

As a ceramicist, he is a skilful technician who clearly enjoys the technical challenges of working with clay. This is evident in the large scale pieces, particularly his public art, which is at once visually interesting, monumental, structurally sound and able to withstand the elements. (One large mural, featuring Holmfirth scenes, may be seen on entering the Civic Hall, this Art Week venue.)

The often unpredictable nature of the clay itself is also explored in recent work. Working with slabs of clay, the clay is stretched, using rollers, to its limits. The work is then about making a virtue of the fissures and breaks and tears that occur. The precarious and often unpredictable nature of the glazing and firing process is also where his technical skill and artistry meet. Describing this process and the reduction atmosphere in the kiln he says:

“…you open the kiln and it is quite random…you sometimes get a real racer…I like the spontaneous nature of it…”

Jim’s contribution to his art is not just in the making of his own work but in his commitment to teaching others. His career as an artist has always included teaching ceramics to both children and to adults and this continues today. His writing includes the books: ‘Large Scale Ceramics’ and ‘Slab Techniques’.

He offers occasional courses at his studio where people from all over the world come to learn new techniques and to simply enjoy the process of working with the clay. He says:

“The essential nature of creativity is to pass the parcel: it’s making it possible for other people to carry on”.

Interview by Emma Kirkby-Geddes

You can visit Jim’s website in the meantime.