Elizabeth Fritsch’s Optical vase was produced in the mid 1970s at an early stage in the artist’s career when she was establishing her distinctive decorative and formal style. The surface design is integrally connected with the form of the pot, and the geometric arrangement of diagonals of white, black and blue-grey on the surface is counterposed in the flattened, angled three-dimensional form of the vase. Fritsch’s pots – their shape and decoration – explore spatial concerns. Although their role is aesthetic rather than functional, their vestiges of function – evoked by her choice of the vessel form throughout her career – remain important to the artist.
Fritsch’s visual sources come from outside the world of pottery. Painting and the rhythmic abstraction of music remain potent influences. In her essay accompanying her 1978 solo exhibition, Pots about Music, Fritsch explained the development her work had taken a few years previously: ‘Geometric rhythms became more rigorous and spatial games took over both in the painting and in the forms themselves, which started to become foreshortened, inhabiting the shadowy space halfway between two and three dimensions’ (Quoted in P. Dormer, Elizabeth Fritsch in the Studio, London, 1985, p. 13).
Her pots explore space and the play with their three-dimensionality and the two-dimensionality of the painted surface. In her optical pots – usually flattened forms painted with optical designs – it is as if the three-dimensional form of the pot is metamorphosing into two dimensions and the two-dimensional planes of the painting into three dimensions. Many of her most interesting surfaces have optical designs and this style has become her trademark. Like many of her pots in this style, the design appears solely on the front surface. The back is without any design and coloured a muted, graded grey-green. To achieve the subtle forms and beguiling surfaces of her pots, Fritsch hand-builds them and fires them to stoneware before decorating with coloured slips and further firings.
Elizabeth Fritsch was born in Wales in 1940 and, after embarking on a musical career, studied ceramics at the Royal College of Art, London, from 1968 to 1971, where she was influenced by the refined elegance of the work of Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. (At the time this was quite a departure from the then prevalent Anglo-Japanese style of Bernard Leach and his followers.) Coper was also one of her teachers and encouraged her use of painted surfaces. From 1972 to 1973 Fritsch worked as an artist at the Bing & Grondahl factory in Copenhagen. After returning to Britain in 1973 and establishing a studio, she had her first solo show in London in 1974. Following her British touring exhibition, Pots about Music, 1978–79, she stated she would abandon ceramics. However, in 1984 a solo exhibition, Pots from Nowhere, reaffirmed her commitment to the medium. Since 1985 Fritsch has maintained a studio in East London and has developed a reputation as one of Britain’s leading artist-potters.
Christopher Menz, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2004).