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Few potters have managed to achieve such a concentrated language as Hans Coper (1920-1981). Here was a clear re-thinking of ceramic form, but one still clearly indebted to to a tradition of vessel making going back several thousand years. The relatively simple bowls, cylinders and dishes of the 1950s eliminated glazes as Coper focussed on structure, the face of the clay and minimal abstract decoration. In his later work he refined and honed down still more, whilst developing inventive new shapes; spade forms, pedestal and thistle pots, so-called ‘Cycladic’ pieces. Shapes were thrown, cut and altered and nimbly joined, all part of Coper’s composite engineering and sensitive articulation. Some of his best pieces were small; as Ewen Henderson said, he was “a wonderful minaturist”.

Coper was one of many German and Austrian refugees who moved to Britain just before the last war, and helped to introduce a new intellectual climate in our visual culture. His art was particularly conscious of the broader abstractions of European modernism, a language which at its most distilled and heartfelt is unlikely to date. His work never lost its humanity, minimal without in any way being reductive, a lesson many contemporary ceramists might heed.

David Whiting

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