I came across Alistair Whyte's pottery some time ago (I saw the image to follow, actually), and was immediately in love. His pottery feels so peaceful to me.
Alistair's father was a missionary in Vanuatu (South West Bay) over 50 years ago, and after a request from the village, Alistair decided to go back and teach the lost art of pottery - or Nonboi - to people in the villages. He is definitely passionate about his work, and looking for potters interested in travelling to Vanuatu to mentor as well. What an inspiring man...
What does Creativity mean to you?
It means making use of my hands and letting the feelings from my heart come out as opposed to the thoughts from my head.
How do you expand yourself creatively?
By constantly looking for new goals and tasks. I don’t limit myself to a narrow range of work but constantly try to stretch myself into new areas of exploration.
Were you creative as a child? If so, how have you evolved through the years? Did anyone encourage you, especially?
Yes I have always had an imagination, and had a very artistic mother and grandmother who encouraged me. My grandmother spent 20 years in China and had a house full of inspiration, and also painted, as did my mother who is also a very good artist in her own right.
What inspires you most?
Many things inspire me, though I get a great deal by looking back in history at Song porcelains and old Korean pots. There is not a lot of new mostly learning or rediscovering what has been done before.
Nature is also a big inspiration and I am surrounded by it.
What turns you on creatively?
Seeing what other potters are doing and realising that there is still so much to learn.
Do you have any gratefulness practices?
I enjoy a lot of the repartition that is to be found in making pottery, I find it a form of zen meditation.
Do you daydream often? If so, does it inform your work?
I don’t think that I daydream that much, though I know that my wife thinks that I often want to take on things beyond the usual scope of things. There are many things I would like to do but am restrained by lack of funds. I wish I was in a position to be able to travel more and hold workshops to show off and teach more of my acquired skills.
How does a relationship and/or children affect your creativity?
My relationship with my wife is an inspiration and also a trial as it turned out she has a mental illness resulting from extreme abuse in childhood, and is a survivor. Her strength inspires me, though at times she can be very troubled requiring hospital. My four children (all girls) are all very artistic and give me much satisfaction and pride when I see what they are beginning to achieve.
Is there a Creative, past or present, that you would give just about anything to work with? Who, and why?
I would love to have been able to sit and watch some of the Song dynasty potters working and learn from them. Though today, spending some time in Korea and learning technique from potters there would also be amazing.
Beyond this there are also the more primitive potters of Papua New Guinea or Africa that I would love to see.
How do you care for yourself to ensure you’re available when ideas present themselves?
I read books, I try to look after my health, and most importantly, I try to keep and open mind and be ready to think as broadly as I can when a difficult task is presented.
I have just embarked on making an urn for a good friend who passed away suddenly. So I am making up a human ash glaze to coat the urn and the remaining ash will go inside.
How do you balance life and art effectively? Or, do you?
Living on 2 acres and caring for a wife who at times is far from well means that one must juggle many things so be able to create and work. My studio becomes and escape at times and a place of solitude and peace, though at other times I am invaded by students and the need to get their work fired as well.
How do you deal with creative dry spells? Do you make space for them, or push through?
When inspiration leaves me I try and get onto other tasks that have been left or require doing like house repair or grass cutting. I find that if I give it a little time I get inspired again. Sometimes I just feel the need to visit other potters or go see an exhibition to help find a new spark.
How do you deal with change, especially when it comes to creative mediums and passion?
Change is something I have had to deal with all my life, and I find that my work has changed a lot over the years, though occasionally I enjoy revisiting aspects of what I have done in the past.
How does criticism affect you?
It can hurt, however I tend not to work to a fashion and have not experienced much criticism to date. One must listen to criticism and see if there is something to be learnt from it. If anything, my wife can be my biggest critic!
Has your work ever been copied? If so, how did you deal with it?
If it has I haven’t seen it. I have had the pleasure recently of seeing the vast improvement of one of my students, and can see the influence of learned technique over many years. Copying can be just another form of flattery, but doing it really well is a real technical challenge. I still aspire to get somewhere close to the skill level of my Japanese teacher who’s work was amazing!
How important is self compassion to your creative process?
Self belief is vital, if you don’t believe in your own abilities then you are heading for a big fall. Self doubt is always something to battle at times.
Do you have any other mediums you use to express yourself creatively?
I enjoy taking photos, I used to do watercolour painting though these days it is mainly painting on porcelain. I have begun to make wooden spoons and get a real kick out of that. I have always had a love of wood and make all my own tools
Do you enjoy collaborating, or prefer to work alone?
I have not had much opportunity to work collaboratively, and am used to working on my own. I think it would be very interesting to work in with a very competent painter at some stage for a joint exhibition and have them paint my porcelain. I have seen and exhibition like this in Kyoto years ago and it was inspiring.
Do you work in a studio/space designed specifically for your creativity, or on the spur of the moment/anywhere inspiration strikes?
I work in a studio I have built and expanded on over the years to the point now that I need a major tidy up. I may even find many things I have not seen in years.
I have been helping a village in Vanuatu the last 6 years set up a pottery and visit once a year to help out and teach. This is fresh ground and getting me way out of my usual comfort zone, though now I want to inspire other potters to go there to visit, work and mentor the local villagers.
Is it important for you to have a creative, inspiring environment?
Yes I live in a peaceful bush setting outside Melbourne, though at times in the summer it is bush fire prone.
Do you plan thoroughly for projects, or go with the flow?
Depending on the project I either do it very thoroughly or go with the flow. When I sent out 1300 fire bricks, steel, fireclay, shelving and everything to build a wood firing kiln in Vanuatu on a remote Island. There was a great deal of prior planning and the execution. It took over 12 month preparation.
However when I am just making towards a wood firing at home, I just think of what will best fill the kiln or what inspires me at the time.
Do you utilize social media? If so, how?
I have a facebook site where I post images and something of what I have been doing. I also make a little use of instagram. I do have a website but have not done much with it as I find posting to facebook easier.
What is your typical day like?
Making breakfast for the wife in bed. Get up and take the dogs for a short walk in town and then after any other tasks that need doing, I usually go into the studio and get down to work. At times I forget lunch till late and am often in the studio till 6pm or later if the need arises.
Do you have any rituals that help to set your creative time and/or space?
Listening to the abc radio, preparing clay or sketching up a new idea. Before making a new piece of porcelain I sometimes can take half a day to make up a set of tools for the task. This can focus you well on the work to be made.
Does spirituality and/or culture play a role in your creativity?
I have from time to time made pieces for the church (I have a brother who is a minister and my father was also one). I have made chalice’s baptism bowls, bronze crosses, and even a bronze bell for a church. I always enjoy making such items and I know they will be well used and appreciated.
Do you believe art can change the world? If so, how?
I believe that art is most important for a balanced culture and can be designed to really make people think or remember past events. We would be a very poor world without it. Even the humble eating bowl can be a work of art and serve a great purpose. Much better to eat from a man made object that a mass produced one.
Do you believe that connecting with your creativity, or helping others to do so, can positively affect the world? If so, how?
I think that if most people looked towards their inner creative side, or are helped to do so, we would have a much more peaceful world. If you are inspired to create then is is less likely you would be inclined to destroy or let anger get the better of you. Most potters I know are very peaceful people!
Are you active in your local art community? If so, how do you help and support each other?
I concentrate on my carer role for my wife who does not mix well with outsiders, which has some tendency to isolate us a little. However I know many creative people in our local community and visit or talk to them when I can. I have been part of the local artist Open Studios event for the last 6 years which is also a bonding experience.
Do you surround yourself on a daily basis with creative, inspiring people?
Not on a daily basis, more a weekly basis.
What effect do you want your art to have on the world?
I want what I make to be appreciated and most of all used. Most of my work is functional pottery and designed to be used.
Does your creativity enable you to contribute to social work in some way?
I teach a few students, some of whom who have issues and find pottery an outlet for their creativity and also an escape for the rest of their activities.
What music, if any, plays while you work? What are you listening to at this very moment?
Mostly I listen to the radio while working, not music as much. I do enjoy a wide variety of music. I do like Bizet's “The Pearl Fishers”.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
My teacher in Japan used to tell me to work from the heart and not the head, that’s where the best work comes from.
Do you have any advice for aspiring creatives?
The first 10000 are the hardest, after that it gets a little easier!
Do you have any favourite books?
I like reading Science Fiction.
Any questions I did not ask, that you would like to answer?
I am on the lookout for a good venue to once more put on a one man show either in Melbourne or Sydney. I find the pressure of working towards and exhibition can help produce some special pieces.
I have been doing a series of large bowls in the last year or so with writing in them of inspirational writing or poems which would make a good exhibition.
Do you have any upcoming projects/collections to share?
I am on the lookout for potters who would be willing to visit Vanuatu, have a holiday, make some pots, fire the wood kiln and help mentor and inspire the local would be potters. They need ongoing encouragement and teaching for a while yet and it is a beautiful part of the world to visit and be inspired
Do you have a favourite quote?
Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it, boldness has genius power and magic to it!
Where can we find your art?
You can visit me in my studio or if I happen to have an exhibition, or you can look me up on Google and you find quite a lot about me - Alistair Whyte