Devon Today
September Issue

Article by Alison Sumner

From Precision to Passion

 Internationally acclaimed ceramic artist of 30 years Jonathan Middlemiss has an exhibition of his new paintings at the Monks Withecombe gallery near Chagford. Following major life changes two years ago Jonathan left the world of studio ceramics and with the support of the Arts Council began land art projects around the theme of “Wilderness - the Dance” – these were based on the shelter belt of trees around Trelissick Gardens, Cornwall and on the remote coastal woodland near Lamorna.

“I wanted to work with the land, to reflect and extend its inherent qualities, to make a journey through spaces and doorways as an unfolding contemplation of its mythic qualities.” Jonathan explained.

Jonathan grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and without any formal education until he was thirteen he found he could best communicate his love of landscape through painting. In his late teens he went to art school in Exeter but somewhat disillusioned with the conceptual art movement at that time he changed his medium and began a small pottery in Exeter.  His reputation for precise, carefully constructed vessels with refined geometric and illusory surfaces gained him international acclaim and his work was exhibited across the world including USA, Germany and the Far East, finding its way into museums and major collections. It was a time Jonathan describes “of dedication, hard work and inspiration.”

However, despite the success, the commitment to a way of life, the opportunities and the apparent security Jonathan felt that something was missing “I always felt something was on hold even though I enjoyed the life so much - it arose as a longing, an unworldly sadness and a grief of the soul. It took some time to realise that it was also a doorway, an opportunity to open to life in a new way”

In the mid nineties the change began, new work, using the raw elements of clay with its fragility, spontaneous expression and smoke firing led to an exhibition in Bath in 1998 that signalled an end and a new beginning. Passion had entered where precision had prevailed and wildness took over from the need for control.

 Most recently Jonathan has returned to painting using mixed media on watercolour paper and early this year saw him studying water formations in woodland near Penzance.

 “…the water's translucency interplayed between forms and illusions. Each shift in the light and angle of the sun brought new imagery and sensations, and it became an endless journey through continuous change - restless and inconclusive, but completely compelling. The paintings arose from the power of insubstantiality and the relative nature of phenomena, but I hope to have also caught something more”

 Whilst in May he was inspired by a spectacular display of bluebells

 “…  The sharp light of very early morning changed shadows with moments of brilliant intensity, and the midday light brought a sultry hollowness to the cathedral of tall beech trees…”

 This summer Jonathan has been on Dartmoor rediscovering the ancient land that he has always loved

“Being immersed in the landscape for a period of time, watching her ways, allowing the directions to appear without control but then rising to the glory of her display with equal passion. It’s a magnificently daunting challenge!”

 The finished works form a large part of the exhibition. The exhibition runs from September 3 – 30. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11am – 6pm.

Monks Withecombe is one mile from Chagford and signposted from the A382. From the A30 at Whiddon Down take the Mortonhampstead road for 2 miles, and turn right at the brown Art Gallery sign.

 Tel: 01647 432 854 Email:


Mid Devon Advertiser   

17th September 2004

Article by Catherine Barker