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Low Tide, Sheerness. 1939-40
Sculpture Studies. 1977
James Tower studied painting at the Royal Academy from 1938 to 1940. He won the Gold Medal for painting in 1939. War service forced him to put aside his studies until 1946, when he entered the Slade. It was here that he became interested in ceramics, having been fascinated by early English slipware, such as the work of Thomas Toft.
On graduating in 1948, he sensed that he might earn a living through teaching, and he joined the ceramic classes of Wiliiam Newland at the London Institute and also followed the lectures of Dora Billingdon at the Central School. It was together with the potter William Newland that James Tower became interested in tin-glazed earthenware, primarily in black & white.
In 1949 he was invited to set up a ceramics course at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, This was a very artistic community and he found himself surrounded by painters, including William Scott, Peter Lanyon, Kenneth Armitage and Terry Frost. But it was here that he worked seriously, developing his skill at ceramics. His work was in complete contrast to Leach’s teaching and quite different from that of the traditional potter. His flattened large bottles and disc-like vases were sometimes ribbed and always fluid in design. The painting might resemble foliage, water, landscape or clouds.
In his own words, ‘In general the quality for which I aim could be defined as a sense of completion and serenity. To make forms convey a sense of wholeness, releasing inner tensions, serene and harmonious, a world where abounding energy is held in calm restraint. The objects which I strive to make are attempts at hymns to the beauty of the world.’ (Introduction to ‘James Tower Retrospective’, Hove Museum and Art Gallery, 1989).
In 1951 the London gallery Gimpel Fils gave him his first exhibition, and the gallery continued to support him throughout his life. His ceramics thus began in the world of fine art. He also developed some sculptures in red clay and in 1966 became Head of Fine Art at Brighton College of Art, where he set up a sculpture course.
James Tower was a perfectionist and smashed many works that did not entirely satisfy him. As a result his oeuvre is relatively small, and his work is becoming rare.
‘Modern Pots – Hans Coper, Lucie Rie & their Contemporaries’ The Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Cyril Frankel. Pub. Thames & Hudson, 2000. pp. 178