Devi Prasad. Homage to a Great Potter and Teacher

28 Jun 2011

28 June 2011. Wali Howes has just let me know that the great Indian studio potter, Devi Prasad has died recently. It will be a great loss to India and to the world of studio pottery. I can do no better that to include below the note that Wali had received from his friend:

The note from my friend in Delhi, Priya Sen said it all......."Dear WaliJust to let you know that Devi bhai passed away peacefully the day before. He was cremated yesterday". It was to be expected but with those who have always been so valiant you expect them to soldier on forever which is what Devi-bhai (as we all fondly knew him as) did. My respect for him comes from a deep interaction based on multiple layers of meaning, sometimes unthinking, and an exchange not based solely on output, though that can be taken as a clear indication of intent. It was a great pleasure and honour to have met Devi Prasad at his home and studio in Delhi. When I asked him for a few words as an introduction to my work for a show at Cymroza in Bombay he called me a "clay man". He was spot on and embraced all forms of ceramic expression. It must have been in 1999 when I was in Delhi with a contingent of Japanese artists for "Japan in India" organized by Delhi Blue Pottery Trust and the Japan Foundation. He was in full flight and delighted us with anecdotes related to his vast experiences and he was gracious in allowing us to imbibe from him and to know he had served Babu-ji at Sevagram and our Mother India not just in the Freedom Struggle but in translating into action the philosophy of non-violence. His life was both coherent in meaning and content which showed itself in creative expression in pottery, painting, photography, education and activism. Devi-bhai as secretary and later president of the London based War Resisters' International meant he spent 10 years of his life in the UK. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that he had lived in Edmonton, North London...why the very place I spent my mis-spent teenage years after emigrating to the UK with my family from India. Gandhi-ji's philosophy that "Bread comes first, adornment afterwards" was beautifully applied in his approach to pottery where his utilitarian wares were just as valued by him as any piece that was "artistic", though true to form he wouldn't have made the distinction in the first place. His idea was that utilitarian activities could be artistic as a full expression of impermanence and that the beauty of things modest and humble could be found therein. I would later see this in work whereby "Art could be expressed in the Private Domain" and one didn't always find "art" in just museums, art galleries, defined by bureaucratic institutions or magazines. Devi-bhai once said "the village art of the kumbhars must not die. Let Rashtrapati Bhavan use "khullars" and "handis" made by traditional craftsmen. A huge step was made in the right direction when Indian Railways decided to go back to using eathenware pots on the rail services instead of plastic! A lesson for all of us especially at openings of Ceramic Exhibitions, ceramic events and Ceramic Festivals. In the context of contemporary aesthetics driven as it is by corporate ideals and materialistic values his work was a breath of fresh air allowing one to experience the horizon in any of his pieces. His volume "Potters! Make your own tools!" showed philosophical unity expressed through medium and practice. Means, tools, materials, their procurement and the social context was the artist`s spatial and spiritual reality. It was Devi-bhai who pointed out that Indian Studio Pottery had the longest history in Contemporary Practice having taken root in Shantiniketan after World War I...Leach was still in Japan at the time. It is a great loss to us to see him go but what he has left is a legacy for the future and do we need it more than ever. My condolences to his family.

Obituary can also be found here:-

http://vickihardin.com/wordpress/2011/07/02/devi-prasad/ : http://claygun.blogspot.com/2011/11/making-of-indian-artiscraftsman-devi.html

http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/devi-prasad-renowned-studio-potter-and-philosopher-passes-away-at-89/798790/ and here:-
http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/article2069338.ece