Poh Chap Yeap – England’s Chinese Potter

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Poh Chap Yeap was commercially active as a potter for little over ten years in the 1970s/1980s when he was regarded as a major force in the studio pottery world.

Poh Chap Yeap in his studio.
Poh Chap Yeap in his studio.

Yeap was born the son of a Chinese family in what is now Malaysia in 1927. He came to England in 1948 to study law and it was not until the early 1960’s that he discovered pottery when he went to visit his girlfriend’s parents in Denmark. There he was introduced by his future father-in-law to a commercial pottery near Aarhus and for a short time carried out various menial jobs around the factory, shaping his future path.

Yeap, upon returning in England, attended classes at Putney Evening Institute to learn to pot and from there went to the Hammersmith College of Art. While at Hammersmith he was approached by David Queensbury, asking him to become one of the first research students taken on by the Royal College of Art. This offer was accepted and, along with fellow ceramicist, Ian Godfrey, he spent a productive year there in 1967/8. Following this he established his own workshop at his home in Surrey and began to pot full-time.

Yeap never visited China or had any specific training in traditional Chinese ceramic methods or techniques. However, his wheel thrown porcelain and stoneware recreated some of the glazes and effects developed in China from the Sung dynasty onwards. These included tenmoku, celadon, peach bloom (red), crackle glazes and occasionally brush painting. I remember visiting the Riesco collection of Chinese ceramics in Croydon many years ago and, seeing Chinese polychrome glazed bowls dating from the 10th century, saying to myself, rather innocently perhaps, that “They looks just like Yeap’s”.

Poh Chap Yeap matt glazed porcelain bowl
Poh Chap Yeap matt glazed porcelain bowl

In 1973 Yeap had his first solo exhibition at the Brian Koetser Fine Art Gallery in St. James, London and he was to have a further two solo shows there. He became the first living potter to exhibit at the Ashmoleum Museum in Oxford and his work was included in many other exhibitions during the 1970’s, encompassing ones at the V&A Museum, London as well as in Tokyo, New York, Heidelberg and Faenza. During his career Yeap was undoubtedly one of the most important potters in this country, if not the world, and was regarded on an equal footing with Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. In fact, some of his work, although it was never on a large scale, was retailing for around £1000 at the height of his fame.

Poh Chap Yeap cut-sided stoneware vase
Poh Chap Yeap cut-sided stoneware vase
After the death of his wife in the early 1980’s, Yeap began to lose interest in potting and finally stopped in 1985. At that point Yeap asked collector, Trevor Coldrey, if he would like to buy the contents of his studio and Trevor, who subsequently founded the Harlequin Gallery, accepted, setting up the Harlequin connection that continues to this day. After closing his studio, Yeap did talk of returning to Malaysia but instead moved to a smaller property in Surrey where he remained happily retired until his death in August 2007.

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