Partner Dennis Severs
Dennis Severs' House, 18 Folgate St, London E1 6BX, UK
Simon Pettet (January 24, 1965 - December 26, 1993) was a gifted ceramicist who mastered the technique of tile-making with such expertise that he could create new Delft tiles in the authentic manner which were almost indistinguishable from those manufactured in the seventeenth century.
He was born on 24 January 1965 in Farnborough. At times resistant to authority - after being forced to leave school he promptly set out to gain as many GCEs as possible - he was keen to establish his reputation on his own merits. After a foundation course at Ravensbourne School of Art, he studied ceramics at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in the mid-1980s. It was a time of experiment when students responded to the ceramic brief in as wide a way as possible. Fascinated by the formal qualities of Delft pottery and by the combination of the brilliant white glaze and blue decoration, Pettet took this as his starting-point for an impressive series of large-scale objects which included vases and a fireplace.
After college he set up a studio in the East End of London which he shared with other makers, enjoying the exchange of ideas and collaborative projects. Joint exhibitions were organised in recently abandoned storerooms in the old Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market, in which decor and objects were sensitively related. For a time he worked on a series of mugs based on late 18th-century semi-industrial ware. These were thrown on the wheel, turned to a crisp outline and given a neatly carved and moulded handle. A white glaze and a delightfully baroque-inspired transfer decoration printed in inky blue completed the design. Functional and decorative, the mugs successfully brought together Pettet's concern with craftsmanship and his awareness and understanding of traditional form.
Domestic interiors were commissioned which usually incorporated large-scale ceramic objects such as 5ft-tall tulip vases. Inventive and elegant, these were featured in magazines such as the World of Interiors and Elle Decoration. A commission to design a Swatch watch was unfortunately never carried through.
In 1983 Simon Pettet met his partner Dennis Severs and they lived in an 18th-century town house in Spitalfields restored as close to its original state as possible. Pettet's ceramics looked as much at home here as in a post-modern interior.
In his tiles for the fireplace at the Dennis Severs' House, Simon made a witty leap of the imagination, using them to create a satirical gallery of familiar Spitalfields personalities from the nineteen eighties: Gilbert & George, Raphael Samuel, foremost historian of the East End, Riccardo Cinelli , artist, Jim Howett, carpenter, Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell, two artists, who made money on the side as housepainters, Simon de Courcy Wheeler, photographer, Julian Humphreys, Paul Duncan, who worked for the Spitalfields Trust, Douglas Blain, director of the Spitalfields Trust, Keith and Jane Bowler of Wilkes Street, Marianna Kennedy and Ian Harper, who were both students at the Slade, Phyllis Archer and her son Rodney, Anna Skrine, secretary of the Spitalfields Trust, Dan Cruickshank. Today his splendid fireplace of tiles exists as a portrait of the neighbourhood at that time, though so discreetly done that unless someone pointed it out to you, it is unlikely you would ever notice amongst all the other beguiling details of Dennis Severs’ house.
Simon Pettet died of Aids in 1993, eight years after completing the fireplace and just before his twenty-eighth birthday, and today his ceramics, especially this fireplace in Dennis Severs’ house, comprise an intriguing and poignant memorial to remind us of a short but extremely productive life.
Mick Pedroli and David Milne, manager and curator at Dennis Severs’ house, were part of the social circle connected to the house that included Simon in the nineteen eighties. They revealed that Simon’s clothes remain there in his trunk in his room.
Pettet also made a fine fireplace in the Delft style for Martin Lane's Elder St dining room in 1988.
The dramatic onset of illness and a diagnosis of Aids in 1991 all but brought an end to Simon Pettet's design and ceramic work. Six months before dying he had recovered sufficiently to reopen his studio and start work, but this was foiled by yet more illness. Despite often feeling weak, Pettet remained lively and ebullient; his quick wit, his good humour and his honesty remained until the end. True to form, he always insisted on describing himself as a craftsman rather than an artist.
The last year of his life, Pettet moved with Hugo Glendinning and Anna Skrine to 27 Fournier St to be cared for there. Hugo described a candlelit party in the last months of Simon’s life, when hundreds of people came to fill the house and celebrate with Simon. Fifteen years on, everyone in Spitalfields who knew Simon remembers him fondly.
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