In a cobbled courtyard, tucked between a cluster of quiet Victorian roads just beyond Barnet’s high street, sits Florian Gadsby’s pottery studio. Before his hand-crafted ceramics lined the shelves of the space, it was an old industrial laundry, and, before that, a mill that powered a dental manufacturing company, the market town’s most significant early 20th century employer. Now, the space is light-filled and serene, an antithesis to the city centre from which he takes the Northern line each day. That is until the vibrato of next door’s opera singer punctuates the stillness.
“Oh yes,” Florian explains, “one of my neighbours is an opera singer. Lots of people live and work in these buildings, including someone that produces music for video games and a neighbour whose many cats infiltrate my space.” That explains the large ginger tom standing guard across the courtyard. “It can be loud, with entertaining repetitive musical moments throughout the day,” says Florian, “but I do feel peaceful here in a way that I don’t in other parts of London.”
The sense of tranquillity that the Norfolk-born ceramicist cultivates will be familiar to the three million-strong following he has gathered across his social platforms. Florian and his functional tableware and decorative vessels, wheel-thrown using iron-rich stoneware clay, are celebrated for many reasons, but he is particularly unique in his success in sharing his love of the craft with a global audience. His instructional videos cover everything from turning foot rings to reducing glaze waste, but most noticeably they are hyper-sensorial. Every hum of the wheel, scrape of a surface, every mash, crackle and drip is captured in detail, giving viewers an ASMR experience that educates, inspires and provides a digital resting point in an otherwise chaotic internet landscape.
Though far from offering up ideals of perfection - he chooses to share with transparency the missteps that come with his craft, be it cracked vessels or crawling glaze - Florian’s videos, much like his studio, are satisfyingly clean and ordered. “You know, I think a potter’s studio is a reflection of their mind,” he says. This, Florian explains, is what he loved most about writing his debut book, By My Hands. Ostensibly a memoir-meets-guide, it is a tribute to the makers that have shaped him. “I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process, because I was able to talk about people and places in a lot more depth,” he says. “Yes, the pottery is great, but the potters are arguably more fascinating.”
Despite collections that sell out in less than five minutes and exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth Somerset and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to his name, at 31, Florian’s career is just beginning. Instead, it is the story of his education that he wants to tell. Florian attended a Rudolf Steiner School, where, from growing vegetables and learning to crochet to eurythmy, an expressive movement often performed with spoken word, he was encouraged to engage with nature and the arts from an early age. “I think every one of my classmates has an appreciation of the world around us,” he says. “Everyone wears clothes, eats food and uses tableware, yet how many of us know how the things we use every day are made or grown? I’m very grateful for my time there.”
It was here, under the pupillage of Caroline Hughes, that Florian first discovered clay. “She was very strict,” he says. “If you handed in work late, you got a detention straight away. Thanks to Caroline’s formidable nature, I didn’t get a single detention in those 13 years.” If the punctuality of his first teacher remains with him, then it is a fastidiousness that Florian took away from his time at the prestigious Thomastown training course in Kilkenny. A cornerstone of Irish craft, and the country’s first Ceramics’ Centre of Excellence, Florian spent an intensive two years with influential founder Gus Mabelson, who kept his workstation clean and orderly, his paint brushes arranged by size and countless drawings of cross sections pinned to the walls. “He was always adamant that you should draw to hash an idea out before you throw,” Florian says. “There was an attention to detail and an approach to precision that I connected with.”
After the exactitude of Thomastown, an apprenticeship at Maze Hill Pottery in Greenwich with eminent ceramicist Lisa Hammond taught Florian to let go. “Lisa is known for her expressive and colourful pottery and she works in a chaotic studio, surrounded by beautiful objects she loves,” Florian says. “She helped me pivot from perfectionism to embracing the kiln’s voice in my work, viewing a singe on the bottom of a pot as a blossom of iron, rather than a mistake.” Lisa introduced Florian to renowned maker Ken Matsuzaki, an apprentice of Tatsuzō Shimaoka, who himself had studied under Shōji Hamada, both key figures in the mingei folk craft movement.
“From Ken, I learned industriousness,” Florian says of his six month apprenticeship in Mashiko, Japan. “He makes styles of pottery from different regions, and everything from his research to the materials sourced, he does with expertise and care.” A far cry from the jaunt of typical a year abroad, it was another intense period of learning, each morning started with an hour of sweeping leaves, sludge and snow from outside of the pottery. “I think I was expected to return changed by my time in Japan, but, if anything, it made me want to double-down on the aesthetic styles I had been developing already,” Florian explains, “because that is what Ken does so wonderfully. No matter which style of pottery he makes, it’s still very obviously a Ken Matsuzaki pot. His voice is so recognisable.”
The cult-like status of Florian’s pieces may be attributed to this steadfast and distinguished aesthetic. Angular and architectural, in a limited palette of jade celadon and feldspar grey, the crackle glazes give a sense of motion and depth to their otherwise simple forms. They blur the boundaries between everyday objects and sculptural works of art. Collectors and critics have tried to define his core influences: towering city skylines; a symmetry reflective of the orderliness Florian brings to his studio; a rejection of the Steiner school’s curved edges. Fans have made connections to the science fiction audiobooks that soundtrack Florian’s throwing sessions, his space odyssey stoneware evocative of daleks and droids.
The studio is quiet now. Nights are getting darker earlier and, without the fire of the kiln, the cold creeps up on us. “The building is old and does not hold the heat well,” Florian says, “so I tend to rely on a uniform that is hard-wearing and utilitarian but also warm and comforting for this time of year.” People have said the way Florian dresses is an extension of his craft. “I suppose it’s true. I’m drawn to greens, greys and blues, calming colours that mirror my space and way of working. But it’s my colour palette, isn’t it? It’s my world.”
To celebrate the opening of our Menswear Pop-Up on Lambs Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, London, we have collaborated with Florian on an exhibition of his recent work, available to view until 3 December.
We are also offering you the chance to win one of Florian’s hand-thrown ceramic pieces and USD 600 to spend at TOAST. Please enter here before 5pm (EST) on Sun 3 December.
Florian wears our Padded Cord Cotton Jacket and Organic Cord Drawstring Trousers in Storm Blue, Monty Japanese Denim Jacket, Arlo Organic Cord Jacket in Woodland Green, Crinkle Organic Cotton Stripe Shirt, Rory Carpenter Japanese Denim Jeans, Heimat Signal Bobble Hat in Trail Blue and Flower Mountain Yamano Kaiso Panelled Trainers.
Interview by Georgia Murray.
Photography by Marco Kessler.