On his 40th birthday Norman Yap received a book that changed the direction of his life forever, moving him away from the major corporations and into the world of ceramics. The book, “Susan Peterson’s Art and Craft of Clay” inspired him to become a professional potter and his drive and ambition allowed that dream to become a reality.
Norman used to work in major corporations as a management consultant for many years, but a merger and acquisition at his last workplace gave him the opportunity to step away from that career altogether. He had always appreciated art, especially ceramics and encouraged by his partner he enrolled in pottery classes. It was clear from an early stage that he had made the right choice but knew he couldn’t get everything he needed from the classes alone. So he quickly moved into a studio share, surrounding himself with many skilled potters, learning through observation and absorption.
He met us at the door of his workshop with a big smile on his face. His clothes were flecked with clay and he gave us the grand tour. His studio was long and thin with high ceilings. Vases and pots were lined up on shelves, different glazes stacked next to each other and a number of potters wheels poised, ready to be put to work. We caught Norman in the middle of a production run so we wiped down some chairs and sat down to find out more about his work.
He recalled the first time he created a piece with his unique style. “I was two years in and I had made a porcelain bowl that I altered by squeezing the top. My partner took one look and said, “That’s it! That’s your style, your never selling this piece.” It’s still in the house to this day. The ‘altered’ top is one of many subtle details that is evident throughout Norman‘s work. These details have caught the eye of many collectors and have helped his work appear for sale in galleries such as The Tate Britain and The National Galleries of Scotland.
He specialises in thrown stoneware and porcelain and we were lucky enough to see some pieces in his showroom. The blue/green glaze on his stone wear pieces first caught my eye and the copper red bursts on the porcelain worked beautifully. These colour combinations have been used for over 3000 years and are perfected using a reduction gas fired kiln which in London is quite rare, mainly due to ventilation regulations. This technique is very hands on but allows Norman to produce the various finishes that other techniques wouldn’t allow. He said “The feel of a piece is very important to me, some forms have a gritty texture to go with the mottled glazes but I like to keep porcelain forms clean, smooth and minimally glazed.”
Outside of his studio he is very passionate about the craft world helping create opportunities for people to sell, exhibit and make themselves known. All helping to bring attention to the craft industry. He sits on the London Potters Council and is part of the Society for Designer Craftsmen. He said “In the current climate it’s very hard for a maker to survive. It’s also very hard for colleges who teach these skills to survive. If we don’t take care of what we know and act as custodians for the knowledge that is being passed down, then these skills die very easily.”
Norman is softly spoken but passionate and confident in his delivery. We sat relaxed, surrounded by his work in different stages of completion, he said. “The onus of the maker is to make things to the best of their ability, making sure the craft remains alive and very up to date. What started me off at the beginning, is what still keeps me going. I get ideas in my head, I get forms and they kind of taunt me saying; come on make me make me” It’s these forms, the clean lines, the fabulous colours, the unique pieces that keep people interested, keep people collecting and keep people exhibiting his work. This in turn gives Norman the freedom to keep producing unique pieces for everyone to experience and enjoy.