Born in Nottingham in 1964, Edmund de Waal made his first pot when he was five years old: the pot was small round and white, He was later pottery taught by Geoffrey Whiting at King’s School, Canterbury. Whiting was a disciple of the ‘Anglo-Oriental’ potter Bernard Leach, and introduced de Waal to English domestic ceramics as well as to those of Japan, China and Korea.. De Waal continued to train with Whiting as he read English at Trinity Hall in Cambridge and then set up his own studio in Herefordshire . He moved to Sheffield in 1988 and completed a postgraduate diploma in Japanese language at the University of Sheffield in 1992 . De Waal spent the next year at the Mejiro Ceramics Studio in Tokyo.
Following his return from Japan, he set up a studio in London in 1993 and the focus of his work shifted from functional ware to ceramics installations in porcelain. The visit to Japan radically changed his opinion of the work of Bernard Leach. His controversial book Bernard Leach (Tate Publisihing 1998) re-evaluated Leach’s reputation but made De Waal’s.
His work is as steeped in the legacy of high Modernism as the Japanese ceramic tradition. His work is cool, pale and cerebral but retains a sense of the vessel form. He uses celadon glazes on simple thrown porcelain pieces, often building up hundreds of small related works into architectural installations, for example in The Ceramic Room he created at the London’s Geffrye Museum in 2002-3 . Subsequent installations at at MIMA ( Middlesborough Museum of Modern Art in 2007 and at Kettles’ Yard, Ticino (2009), have developed this vision. He is a prolific writer and considers his theoretical and critical writings as important as his ceramics practice.
De Waal was nominated for the Jerwood Applied Art Prize in Ceramics in 2001 and awarded the silver medal at the World Ceramics Exposition in Korea in 2003. He was appointed Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster in 2004 and as Chair of Trustees at the Crafts Study Centre, University of the Creative Arts, Farnham in the same year. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts since 1996.