We explore the South London home of Jim Green, founder of JG Pottery, and talk lairy West German ceramics, '70s product design, and what it's like having your studio at the bottom of your garden...
Jim's living room, featuring a modular shelving system to display books and ceramics.
You’ve been here for a good number of years. How do you find living in Brixton?
What’s interesting is that we don't actually go into the centre a huge amount. We go into Brixton Village and we do a bit of shopping there, but we're mostly homebirds. But even in the time that I've been here, I've noticed quite a lot of changes, especially around the arches with different shops coming in. Previously, when I was living in Crystal Palace, I remember a few people were saying how you should go to Brixton Village and how there are some quite cool places to eat. I think at the time it was only open on Fridays and Saturdays; originally it was a fruit and veg market. But now it's just proper heaving. It's busy all the time. Oh, and when I first moved to London I used to come clubbing here, and the vibe was kinda similar, but quite different as well…
How else have you seen parts of South London change over the years?
I used to be in a group ceramics studio in Peckham called The Kiln Rooms. I first joined there about four years ago, but even in those four years, the area’s changed loads. I imagine at some point before there was probably a lot of cheap space before it had been corporatised to some degree. I imagine the art scene and club scene was pretty happening. But then it just shifts to the next place, doesn't it?
What was your route into ceramics?
I did graphic design at art school, which is what I've been doing in London more or less since I moved here. So, from the mid-90s I've been doing print design in various guises. I used to do stuff for the music industry, media, that sort of thing. Then, around the early-2000s I started doing stuff for publishing; children's books and that sort of thing, which is what I was doing up until I started doing the ceramics. The ceramics were born of me doing evening classes and it's kinda just snowballed from there, without me even really consciously thinking I'm going to go in this direction. Even now, I'm still doing book design part-time alongside the ceramics, so I jump between the two.
I was a member of the Kiln Rooms for about three years, and a couple of years back we briefly lived in Scotland for about six months and I was a member of a studio there, which is what inspired me to build the garden studio. I was experiencing a bit more autonomy in my own space. When I came back to London I thought I want a bit more space because I was getting some orders from some shops, so I built the shed.
Jim showing a piece from old Scandinavian brand Soholm.
A 1923 Bauhaus exhibition poster.
Where’s your aesthetic or style come from? The way you've decorated your home follows through from what you’re producing…
Well, I've always collected and bought second-hand ceramics. I think it's probably tied up in the aesthetic of 1960s and 1970s product design generally and I like the strong colours and the shapes. I like a bit of 1950s stuff as well but the design's a little bit more subdued in some ways. It's still got a modern feel though.
How come that period appeals to you?
I don’t know if it has any impact but I was born in the early 1970s. As a kid, I was surrounded by a lot of this. It was probably more full-on '70s. This is a slightly more pared-back, 'selected' version, but my childhood home was quite loud. There were big floral sofas, there was lairy wallpaper, that sort of thing. I think it must have just... your brain's a sponge when you're a kid, I think it must have informed me in some way. I've always liked kinda vintagey stuff; even when I was at art college I liked going to second-hand shops and finding interesting things, so I think it's always been there.
I would say the way it probably informs my ceramics is that I like those kinds of shapes. My ceramics generally have a rounded, almost friendly feel to it, and I like mucking around with colours and textures. I like a lot of modernist architecture and I think that probably feeds into the sort of shapes I like making as well. Being a designer, I like things that are quite geometric so the idea of creating things from a wheel that are quite even and geometric-looking, I enjoy it.
Who would you say is your favourite designer from that era? Or is there someone lesser-known we should know about…
There were lots of ceramic companies that were around in Scandinavia that I like which aren’t around now. There’s one called Soholm, and I like a lot of their ceramics and their aesthetic. They had various designers on their roster. Some of these aren’t Soholm but are the same kinda thing. I’ve used one of the Soholm pots as the basis for loads of pots I’ve made. I bought this in Denmark about 8 years ago before I started doing ceramics and when I started out this was the inspiration. This was what I wanted to achieve. I like the shape, I like this kind of weaving on the handle and I like the carving. I feel it’s definitely something I’ve always had in my mind as an object, amongst other objects, that’s where I want to get to with my ceramics.
I suppose it falls into the post-war aesthetic which is a mixture; there’s a modern feel and a lot of modern shapes, but I suppose there’s a nod back to a more traditional, crafty aesthetic. A bit like what the Arts and Crafts movement was doing in the 1800s, I suppose...
A collection of East German ceramics on Jim's windowsill.
'Fat Lava' glazing on an old East German piece.
A selection of more modern ceramic peices on a side table.
Some of the pieces you have upstairs are really different from the others, can you tell us about a few of those?
I’ve got a fair few West German ceramic pieces. Some are by a company called Topiko Keramik. There's the whole ‘fat lava’ thing and some of these West German ceramics in the 1960s, it's all really lairy colours, crazy stuff. It was all mass produced, although I think they were largely sold outside of Germany, mostly eastern bloc countries.
Where do you source all these original items?
Etsy and eBay, mostly. Actually, most of my cooking pots, my girlfriend got those probably in the '90s out of charity shops when nobody wanted them. The Catherine Holm ones, on eBay, are worth tonnes now, they're quite sought after.
There's also a seller in Holland or Germany who sells this kinda stuff, and it's a bit like all that Braun stuff from the sixties. A lot of them are all basically bastardisations of Dieter Rams, but for more mainstream consumption.
The garden studio shed where Jim makes pieces for his brand, JG Pottery.
Tools and finished pieces in Jim's garden studio
Do you have a daily routine you try and follow? Your workplace is at the bottom of your garden, after all…
I think that because I've worked self-employed for a while, I've managed to bring across that self-discipline and I have quite a strict portion of time where I'm heads-down working. It's been interesting trying to find the balance between doing this and the print design; I've actually got a computer in there as well, hidden in a cupboard. So, when I do the print design I open the cupboard and get the computer out. Then I shut it up and do the potting, all in the same space.
But if there are potting jobs on the go, I like to get in and get them done first. Especially if there’s throwing to do because it's quite messy and I've got to wear overalls and I've got buckets of water and stuff everywhere. I’ll do that for a solid day, I wouldn't necessarily do a bunch of throwing and then clean up to do design work. My headspace is a bit different when I'm doing the print stuff anyway. It's hard to describe, but when I'm potting I'm planning ahead. There are different stages in my mind because you have to be mindful of the fact you're working with something that's changing its condition all the time. I have to be quite mindful of that through the entire process, whereas with the design I can come and go from it.
How do you find the dynamic instead of having to commute across London?
I used to work in Central London and I used to cycle there, so one thing I do miss is the bike ride. I've always worked in places with other people, so not working around other people is a challenge. I've only been in the shed full time for about 7 or 8 months, but before that, I was working part-time in an office doing design and then doing potting at home, so I enjoyed that balance. And I do love the balance, but I have to try and meet up with people to keep sane!
Aprons and equipment in Jim's garden studio.
Jim showing a piece that is yet to be glazed.
Finished and partially finished ceramics in Jim's studio.