Hampshire ceramicist Steve Matthews' work combines the tradition of reduction lustre with slipware pottery techniques. Open dishes, bottle forms, lidded jars and vases, thrown on the potters wheel in a red earthenware clay, are decorated by brushwork and wet-slip sgraffito, (liquid clay 'slip' applied to the piece while wet on the wheel and wiped through to create the decorative design). After an initial bisque firing, a reactive glaze usually containing silver is applied and the piece re-fired in a gas kiln. The alchemy of the reduction firing creates the luminosity of the lustrous surface individual to each piece. He has a science background which has been useful in the development of the lustre technique.
REDUCTION LUSTRE is a specialized technique whereby the fuel burned in the kiln is starved of oxygen at a critical point during the firing. This in turn strips the metal compounds in the glaze/pigment of their chemically bound oxygen, 'reducing' it to the metal. This creates the lustrous surface on the glaze.
For some years now Stephen has been exploring ways to combine this traditional 'alchemical' process with the lively, spontaneous feel of slipware. The work is unusual in that the individual lustres/colours are not applied separately as pigments or glazes (as is the usual practice) but arise solely from the interaction between the reactive glaze with the underlying clay body or slip. This represents a small, but significant innovation in the production of lustre-ware studio pottery.
His work is not aimed at creating bold areas of metallic sheen but a more subtle hint of lustre on the piece. This can be achieved by careful control of the kiln atmosphere. The firing itself is encouraged to make the final contribution. Unfortunately, reduction lustre firing is known to be unpredictable with quite a few discards arising ; but Stephen has learned to accept that as part of the process.