Florian Gadsby on his instagrammable ceramics
Words Vilma Paasivaara
For London Craft Week, ceramicist Florian Gadsby takes over the Rotunda Room at the Hole & Corner x dunhill’s Home of Craftsmanship at Bourdon House. Here he describes how he is one of the young potters pushing this traditional craft to new platforms…
If you have every looked up #ceramics on Instagram (which at the time of writing has been used over five million times) you have probably come across Gadsby’s work. For the past four years he has posted daily on the platform (as @floriangadsby) – and gathered a massive following in the process. ‘I started before there were any proper ceramics bloggers on the platform,’ he recalls, ‘so back in the day it was quite easy to gain a following – well not easy, but nowadays there is so much competition. It was lucky that at the time I was doing something different.’
But there is an equal measure of hard work behind Gadsby’s social media success. He is sure that making the effort of posting consistently and sharing the everyday world of a ceramicist is what has got people engaged. ‘I haven’t missed a day and I write a piece to go along with every post, every day, so it’s sort of little bit of an obsession,’ he says. Posting simply for the sake of likes is not Gadsby’s aim though. He feels it is important to be engaged himself with his followers and create actual connections – even if it just through brief comments. ‘I respond to all my comments,’ he says. ‘The way I look at it is that, if an artist I respect was replying to my messages, I would like that. Even if it takes me all bloody night to do it!’
Of course, Gadsby’s real speciality is not social media but producing exquisite ceramics – the skills for which he has acquired by training vigorously for the past five years. ‘In reality, I haven’t been in the scene very long and I’m relatively new to the ceramics world,’ he admits. ‘But I’ve done it very intensively and the way I’ve learned is quite unusual because I have done two quite strict and intensive apprenticeships.’ For his first apprenticeship he worked under renowned potter Lisa Hammond for three years – and most recently he spent six months as an apprentice for Ken Matsuzaki in Mashiko, Japan.
Gadsby seems very excited by this latest apprenticeship, from which he returned only a month ago, and the new ceramics culture he got to immerse himself in. ‘Everybody in Japan has pots that they use just for specific reasons – and admiring handmade ceramics is so much more of a thing.’ Whilst working for master Matsuzaki, Gadsby lived in a town with over 400 potters and dedicated all of his time to the craft. ‘It was amazing,’ he says. ‘It was the hardest work I’ve ever done by far. I was doing 80-hour weeks, six days a week, for four months or so.’ Being able to just purely make every day, instead of answering emails, felt simultaneously liberating and exhausting. ‘It was tough, but I learned a lot and I was able to do a lot.’
The difference in the apprenticeship culture was also striking. Matsuzaki’s apprentices spend up to a decade learning under the master, dedicating all of their time to work for him. Gadsby found this kind of dedication both impressive and entirely foreign. ‘It is more than just an apprenticeship,’ he explains. ‘You’re a butler, you’re a chauffeur, you clean your master’s house, you scrub his walls, you do his garden, everything. They talk about sacrifice: you sacrifice yourself for your master.’
Being a foreigner and an already experienced potter gained Gadsby the privilege of actually throwing pots – which many of the apprentices don’t get to do often. Yet, he says, he still got his fair share of the grunt work. ‘I also did things like chop rotten wood for two weeks in the rain or crush rocks for weeks on end for glaze material – stuff like that. I got to experience both sides of it, which was great… and unusual.’
Even during this intense apprenticeship, Gadsby’s commitment to his daily Instagram schedule didn’t waiver. He embraced the opportunity to unveil parts of the mysterious traditions – and it also helped him to maintain a connection to the outside world. ‘I quite like home, I quite like familiarity,’ he admits. ‘Replying to the comments actually might have been a beneficial thing to stop me going a bit insane…’
Being able to create those connections that otherwise would not happen is part of the appeal of Instagram to Gadsby. Through it, he has not only found most of his clients but also created and maintained friendships. Unsurprisingly, he is close with other Instagram-savvy makers such as Alex Devol (Wood + Woven) and Jono Smart. ‘We’ve got our own little agony aunt group chat where we talk about things – and that’s really nice.’
Gadsby also recognises the immense change and opportunity that Instagram has created for makers, and craft in general. For instance, he doesn’t have to try to find a gallery to take on his work, which he would have had to do before social media – now it is much easier to sell your work directly. ‘That makes me feel like I’ve cheated sometimes,’ he admits.’ I put my work on sale on Instagram, people go through to my website and it sells out in minutes.’ Over time he thinks that the platform will become less central to his work – and recognises that this unique situation won’t last forever. Yet Gadsby is glad he has got to experience and be a part of, craft’s takeover in social media. ‘It has certainly given a wider audience to us and more people appreciate handmade things now for sure,’ he says.