A personal view of John Maltby's work Through a series of unlikely but fortuitous chances I discovered Leach's A Potters Book and shortly afterwards, I met the author in person. In a wonderful way, this inspiring encounter opened up a completely new world for me. I promptly became a collector of ceramics. What a strange parallel: John Maltby, having read the Potters Book himself, was introduced to the world of Bernard Leach and as a result, became a potter also.
Yet another strange occurrence: After a conversation with Bernard Leach in 1977, I acquired the very first pot of my collection in a gallery in St. Ives: a small square dish bearing the on its base, which had no significance for me at the time. Now it competes with outstanding pieces of ceramics from all over the world but has still managed to retain its special place in my living room. I often wondered what the magic of this little dish might be, and the other fifty in my collection. It was clear to me that there was a spiritual value in each piece in addition to its functional use.
I live with my collection, so John Maltby's pots and figures have become dear and familiar to me. When one looks at them closely, they show themselves to be exceedingly communicative, telling of the small and wider world of their maker, of the churches and ancient ruins, of the boats and lighthouses of his Cornish home, of landscape, clouds and birds and of the memories of Kenzan, Klee and Wallis, of Picasso, Dubuffet and the music of Benjamin Britten. It is a world full of life and serenity, a joyous and poetic world - and the carefree world of a child. John Maltby possesses great intellect, knowledge and experience. The cultural influences to which he was exposed have not succeeded in suppressing his innocent and childlike joy in his creative work. The playful interaction with objects and memories is of vital importance to him. Play enables him to understand the meaning of life, to embrace it and to love it.
Major heart surgery in 1996 made any strenuous work at the wheel impossible, but the potter's heart of John Maltby continued to beat as passionately as before. He did not allow these circumstances to spoil his fun, he made the kitchen table his workshop, and from then on began to create small figures. The reduction in size of his pieces gave them a wider and deeper spiritual dimension. The figures themselves, mostly queens, kings and angels, seem to represent a pure and ideal world and radiate great dignity. Some of them gaze into the distance apprehensively, as if aware of the sinister and ominously macabre side of life. They try to find support on solid pedestals or in front of protective walls. Their message is ambivalent: Life is beautiful but also under threat, vulnerable, even fragile. John Maltby's medium is clay. As with life itself, clay is a material which presents an infinity of creative possibilities. One can never be certain, however, whether the firing will be successful or whether all will be lost in flames.
Since the early days of human history, man has used symbols, often made in clay, to express fears, anxieties and tribulations but also his love of life and his hopes. Art has always been an aid in the mastery of life and survival. In this way, John Maltby's figures are highly functional. They are imbued with a cautious love of life, while knowing full well that happiness can only be fleeting. Warts and all, they are a singular reflection of Maltby's life and tell of his joys and anxieties, which have been those of mankind since time immemorial. This makes his art timeless, deeply human and at the same time comforting.