Makers - Jake Boex Ceramics
Interview + Photos - Esker
Jake Boex is a fascinating character, best known to surfers as one of the UK's top pros.
Fifteen years ago he struck out on a path which is somewhat less than mundane.
He studied Geology and Climate science resulting in a PhD before striking out
into the world of eastern medicine and philosophy, he has taught in the UK and Katmandu,
but has brought it all back to his home town of Porthleven. It is here that he has combined all
of these disciplines, & channeled them through clay, to make ceramics with depth and soul -
Where did your connection to the ocean begin?
My first memory connecting with the ocean in a significant way was my first stand-up wave which was on the West coast of France, just south of Lacanau, in the summer of 1988. The wave was about chest high and super glassy, the speed was amazing and the feeling of flow was in an instant captivating. Leading up to this, there was a family bodyboard that dad had bought. Both my brothers, followed by me learnt to stand up in the whitewater on this. I then invested in my first surfboard for £17 which came with a leash which was worth £18, which I was quite pleased with, the only minor problem was it required a brother at one end to get the board to the beach. It worked though and pretty soon I found myself connecting with the sea in a way in which I hadn’t expected.
You seem to have had many distinct phases in your life...professional surfer, lecturer, yoga teacher, research student and now ceramicist. Was this a conscious evolution or was it an organic process?
Surfing dominated my younger years, but learning was always important to me. I left college with the option to compete but decided to study for a degree before committing to surfing professionally. I got a good result from the studies and so returning to research was always an option, which was nice, as this took the pressure off in someways, although O’Neill Europe was a brilliant sponsor throughout supporting me on my journey. After seven years of competing at surfing I settled for a year in London studying for a masters in environmental science. Learning how the Earth works has been fascinating for me and helpful to see how as humans we are dependent on the Earth, and how the Earth system includes us as a species, this insight helped me in developing an understanding of the concept of interdependence, a key part of eastern philosophy. I took the opportunity to study for a PhD in Climate Science at Exeter University, where I was fortunate to explore and map changes in the Patagonian Ice-sheet and how this relates to past changes in the global climate. During this time I lectured in Climate Change on some of the postgraduate courses. During the research I had an emerging question that science could not seem to answer, and that was how the mind itself worked; it occurred to me that the thing we use to understand the world around us is the thing we know least about. I had had a positive experience with meditation during my surfing days where we used this for performance enhancement, I had glimpsed the potential of using the mind to investigate the mind. This led to a trip to India and a ten day silent retreat in the Himalayas. Suddenly, a little like riding my first wave, I tasted something that I knew would shape the next phase of my life, looking at the mind reveals the mind and so from an outward journey we can journey inwards. Following this experience, I completed the PhD and worked briefly as a research fellow in energy policy, but I knew that what I had glimpsed in India was the more important focus for me. I connected with a Zen teacher and learnt to meditate leaving the worldly matters behind and learning to sit with the mind in all its colours and flavours. Last year I travelled to Nepal and to the main centre of the organisation I had visited 10 years before. I taught science to the young monks and I learnt about Tibetan Buddhism both the meditation practices and also the philosophy, including classic teachings on the principles of interdependence and emptiness. Returning from Nepal at the start of this year with rich experiences and instructions I was keen to combine a lifestyle that would be complementary, so returning to ceramics was the perfect way forward.
What drew you towards ceramics?
I first found something special in ceramics back in school. My design teacher was a potter and he kindly showed me the techniques of hand building and also how to use the potter's wheel. I still have one of my first attempts which is something like the cups I make today. I went on to study ceramics at college and spent most of my free periods throwing and making pieces inspired by the Cornish landscape and artists including Barbara Hepworth and Waistel Cooper.
How do you work. What is your process?
I use clay and porcelain in a way that connects to flow, in this space form emerges. The form is predetermined but also fluid, too fixed and the piece feels rigid, too loose and the piece feels sloppy. Flow form and function seem to meet in a place where beauty can be attributed. This place is much the same as the space found on a wave when the body board and wave merge finding fluidity flow and form. It’s something that I have always loved about surfing and so naturally I find that this translates to ceramics, in fact I feel less of a need to go surfing after a day throwing on the potter's wheel.
Tell us about rock and how you use it in your ceramics...
Rock is the earth; weathered and chemically altered minerals make clay; ground-up specific minerals make glazes; so, put these together and you have ceramics. But for me there is another aspect, rock can be crushed and used in the pieces allowing a window into particular provenance. For example, I like to use a tiny amount of crushed rock from the reef at Porthleven in my special Porthleven cups... then, in your hand you’re holding a piece of the reef. Joking apart, I find using rocks in my work a powerful way to influence perception. My view is that perception is key to communicating environmental issues, commonly communication is driven through a fear-based approach, an image of smoke from a factory or plastics in the belly of a fish. There is no doubt that this is powerful and does influence people, however, I feel that there is also a way to influence people's perception that results in a more positive long-lasting effect. For example, did you know that the materials used in the device you’re using to read this are made from minerals that come from the Earth, and that these are finite? Just by holding this is mind we can see through everyday tools and items how we are our connection to the planet, and through this our dependence and hence our interdependence.
Where do you draw influence from?
Research into Earth Science has been hugely influential in terms of the materials and stories of province and process. The form and functionality are influenced by surfing and yoga together with eastern philosophies. I have also no doubt been influenced by my dad, a sculptor and artist, and also by my brothers as designers.
Is sustainability important to you?
Sustainability is key, we are here for a few years and we leave our imprint through the steps we take and the choices we make. There is the material effect, for example if I drop litter there will be an affect on the ecosystem and planet in some way, and then there is also the mind influence, my intentions and motivations, the inner activity of the mind. So sustainability includes the material dimension and also the mind, sustainability is how we positively adapt, grow and evolve to inhabit a planet that is fragile and finite in a way that supports future generations.
Walk us through your typical day...
I wake up, jog to the sea to check the waves and do a little yogic breathing, a sort of inner massage. I then meditate for half an hour to an hour following the instructions of Mingyur Rinpoche, a meditation teacher I met in Nepal, and author of The Joy Of Living an excellent guide to meditation that builds on western science. Then breakfast: muesli and coffee. Afterwards, a short walk up the garden path to the studio. I tend to throw on the potter's wheel in the morning and then do other less intensive tasks in the afternoon such as glazing, and packing, and thinking.
It’s early days for your ceramics. How do you see it evolving?
To begin with, I focused mainly on cups that can be sent anywhere in the world using Flexi-Hex, a brilliant plastic free packing system. I’m focusing more on larger sculptural bowls now; these sometimes carry a message or statement that aims to draw awareness to particular topics that perhaps aid others in seeing and sharing a sense of our precious planet.