Discovering contemporary Australian ceramics

Australia has always had its far share of great potters and ceramicists from the likes of Col Levy, Peter Rushforth and Les Blakebrough to Prue Venables and Gwynn Hanssen Pigott but we are still producing highly talented artists working in clay. Commenting on these potters and their work is beyond the scope of a blog like Design daily and much better done by publications such as Ceramic Arts and Perception. Due to my  limited understanding of the inner workings of ceramic making, firing and glazing ceramics this post is dedicated to simply showing relatively new work that Design daily admires. Pictured below is the work of Tania Rollond an artist whose work I have followed and admired since the early 2000's. Her work in porcelain features unusual shapes and intricately drawn decoration. Rollond is currently a teacher at the National Art School in Sydney. A short film looking at her interesting process can be seen here.

 Work by Tania Rollond from the exhibition T he course of objects: the fine lines of inquiry,  curated by Susan Ousting and exhibited at the Manly Art Gallery 2014. Porcelain with ceramic pencil and stains, stoneware with vitrifying slip.

Work by Tania Rollond from the exhibition The course of objects: the fine lines of inquiry, curated by Susan Ousting and exhibited at the Manly Art Gallery 2014. Porcelain with ceramic pencil and stains, stoneware with vitrifying slip.

While I have no ability as a potter, I have been lucky enough to have lived through an amazing period of creativity in Australian ceramics and been exposed to a large amount of it as I watched my mother sell the work of a huge number of potters from Seasons Gallery which existed in North Sydney for more than twenty years. Because of all the exposure to so many different potters I can recognise that there is still an incredible amount of talent floating around, albeit of a very different sort. Despite the current shift away from teaching traditional pottery skills toward a reliance on designing ceramics for others to make, Australia continues to benefit from a community of diligent potters who feel compelled to create objects by working with their hands and clay. 

The soft 'speckled eggshell' look of Avi Amesbury's vessels (shown below) is made possible by the combination of porcelain with volcanic ash and a particular river sand from Barraga Bay, near Bermagui on the New South Wales far south coast. Amesbury holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Ceramics) from the Australian National University, School of Art in Canberra and was able to extend her understanding of the mediumthrough an international exchange programme at the Hongik University in Seoul, Korea. The former CEO and Artistic Director of Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre, Amesbury understands and enjoys the academic side of ceramic art but has a deep connection to the wonders of nature. In a January 2016 article in the Sydney Morning Herald Amesbury summarised her practice as an artistic expression of her interaction with landscape. "My work is influenced by place … and landscape but it's also about where we are in that landscape as a people and as human beings". Amesbury is about to participate in an artist in residence programme with the Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center in Tel Aviv. 

 'Rare Earth Capturing Land and Light, Series No.4 by Avi Amesbury. The work uses a combination of volcanic ash, southern ice porcelain and river sand. 

'Rare Earth Capturing Land and Light, Series No.4 by Avi Amesbury. The work uses a combination of volcanic ash, southern ice porcelain and river sand. 

Despite the move from Sweden to Australia, with a lot of travelling in between, Ulrica Trulsson's ceramics still have a strong Nordic feel with precise, refined forms and complex variegated glazes. She began her fascination with ceramics at Holmesglen Tafe in Melbourne and later moved to Adelaide to become part of the Jam Factory’s Associate Training Program. She has benefited from mentors like Prue Venables and Kirsten Coelho and it shows in the highly consistent and restrained nature of her work. Certain elements remind me of the work of well known Anglo Australian potter Derek Smith who worked through the 60's to the early 2000's.

 Work by Ulrica Trulsson from 2017.

Work by Ulrica Trulsson from 2017.

Potter Kelly Austin originally hails from Vancouver, Canada where she studied ceramics at Emily Carr University. After moving to Australia she completed her Master of Philosophy in Ceramics at the Australian National University, Canberra and recently moved to Sandford in Tasmania. Austin produces work in a gas fired kiln using a salt glaze technique that produces velvety soft surfaces to complement her subtle colours. In a recent artist's statement to coincide with an exhibition of new work at the Bett Gallery in 2016, Austin talked about her particular attraction to the still-life in this way:  "My work investigates the combination of practical and abstract forms in ceramic, still-life groupings. I am curious about the way we interpret objects and how oral and written language informs our understanding". You can watch an evocative short film by Jordie Lepage on her work here.

 The work of Kelly Austin relies as much on the soft colour palette produced by her salt firing technique as much as the subtle interplay of the geometric shapes.

The work of Kelly Austin relies as much on the soft colour palette produced by her salt firing technique as much as the subtle interplay of the geometric shapes.

Fellow Tasmania based artist Belinda Winkler produces vessels predominantly in southern ice porcelain but also in bronze. Her interests lie in the of complexity of balance, the relationship of tension and compression in clay and the perfection of shape through the use of slip casting techniques. Her fine, gentle shapes, like those shown below in 'Gathering Shadows', are individually beautiful but are created as very carefully thought out groups.

Winkler has recently completed a PhD through RMIT University’s School of Architecture and Design, having previously received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours at the University of Tasmania. Her most recent exhibition was a group show with Michèle Heibel, Bettina Hill and Louise Morgan at the Brenda May Gallery in Danks st Waterloo, Sydney in 2016. 'Gathering Shadows' formed part of a 2015 exhibition at Bett Gallery in Hobart.

 'Gathering Shadows' by Belinda Winkler 2015. A group of southern ice porcelain vase forms. Photograph Peter Whyte.

'Gathering Shadows' by Belinda Winkler 2015. A group of southern ice porcelain vase forms. Photograph Peter Whyte.

It's hard not to admire the precision of the ceramic planters made by Melbourne based potter Bruce Rowe under the name Anchor Ceramics. These perfectly proportioned vessels are a far cry from the rustic planters generally made on the wheel by a variety of Australian potters. Despite the huge success of Anchor Ceramics and the demand for his throwing skills, Rowe has recently found time to indulge in some private work and Structures 2015 -2016 (shown below) was the exciting result. Made up of a multitude of abstracted Romanesque facades in glazed stoneware and terracotta, the pieces cleverly combined 2-D and 3-D elements, as voids introduced by arches dropped shadows and extended the physical depth of the works.

 The private work of Anchor ceramics founder Bruce Rowe is removed from his day to day throwing of highly precise garden pots and planters.

The private work of Anchor ceramics founder Bruce Rowe is removed from his day to day throwing of highly precise garden pots and planters.

 Flat building facades with classic architectural motifs of the arch and stairs were the basis of an exhibition  Structures 2015 - 2016  by Bruce Rowe at Hub Furniture showrooms in Melbourne and Sydney in 2016.

Flat building facades with classic architectural motifs of the arch and stairs were the basis of an exhibition Structures 2015 - 2016 by Bruce Rowe at Hub Furniture showrooms in Melbourne and Sydney in 2016.

The work of Jane McKenzie has that rawness that comes from an artist who is released to explore a new medium. McKenzie is an heritage architect by trade but has embraced the making of ceramic forms in a very exciting way. Her forms are as much small buildings as they are glazed terracotta sculptures but which ever way you look at them they are fascinating examinations on the play of light and shadow on form. McKenzie completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Ceramics), at the National Art School in Sydney in 2016 and is currently concentrating on her ceramics work.

Adelaide is a hot bed of creativity and a fair amount of the credit for this is due to the ongoing role the Jam Factory plays in supporting ceramic and glass artists, metal smiths and furniture makers. Kerryn Levy is an associate at the JamFactory Morphett st studios and creates a range of functional wheel-thrown and hand-built vessels. While the groups of objects shown below portray a particularly loose and rustic side of her work, Levy also produces tableware collections to commission for restaurants and cafes that are more uniform with a concentration on simple, elegant shapes and soft glazes.

 Kerryn Levy bottle forms.

Kerryn Levy bottle forms.

 The misaligned bodies of Kerryn Levy's vessels create a strangely beguiling group dynamic.

The misaligned bodies of Kerryn Levy's vessels create a strangely beguiling group dynamic.

Keiko Matsui worked out of a tiny studio in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Chippendale for many years but recently moved her operation to the leafier environs of the central Coast, an hours drive north. While her surroundings may now be very Australian her work is heavily informed by her Japanese heritage. You can read more about her work on a previous Design daily post here. More recently she has studied the traditional Japanese mending technique called Kintsugi and has introduced some of the concepts into her work with visible seams filled with gold. This has led to a greater use of gold glazing generally which has added a new element to her predominantly monochromatic colour palette. 

 'Lunar Eclipse Vessels' by Keiko Matsui 2016. Photograph by Greg Piper.

'Lunar Eclipse Vessels' by Keiko Matsui 2016. Photograph by Greg Piper.

Two recent vessels made by Keiko Matsui are shown below. 

Another potter who cites a strong affinity with Japanese ceramics is Andrei Davidoff, a Melbourne based potter who creates wheel-thrown functional ware. His most well known collection involves brush applied decoration in black slip that captures the spirit of calligraphy. His other collections involve either dark stoneware covered in a thick white glaze that creates a speckled rustic effect or very clean shapes in matt black and white porcelain. Like several of the artists shown in this post Davidoff's tableware is available through Planet in Surry Hills, Sydney.

With an interesting combination of slightly rustic stoneware clay and highly controlled shapes and glaze patterns, Penelope Duke manages to create still-life that play with abstraction. The linearity of the groupings created by Duke are quite unusual in a world where a cluster of three has become the norm. Based in the Dandenong ranges outside of Melbourne, Victoria, Duke is originally from New Zealand. With a particular interest in the relationship between light and shadow and positive and negative space, Duke likes to produce vessels as a group while ensuring they are visually strong enough to stand on their own.

 Penelope Duke stoneware vessels with charcoal glaze. The groups decoration creates a dynamic geometric tableau.

Penelope Duke stoneware vessels with charcoal glaze. The groups decoration creates a dynamic geometric tableau.

Where Duke is all about controlled application of glaze to create patterns, the work of Sydney artist Alana Wilson embraces the complete unknown. Her glazes sometimes appear other worldly - decaying, melted or rusted. Wilson messes with the glazing process, adding ingredients to encourage pitting, bubbling and other normally unwanted effects. In a recent artist's statement Wilson explains her practice: "My work explores the duality and essence of both the object and the experience. Predominantly the vessels reference historic utilitarian forms and retain some associations of use and function. This functionality is often contradicted by thefinely-pinched edges, experimental glaze technology and material treatment, resulting in a hyperpersonal and sometimes idealistic logic. Ancient vessels and archaeological artefacts act as primary reference and influence" 

Very keen on the interaction that occurs between vessels when placed together, Wilson is always experimenting with how to display and document her work. Often photographing her own ceramics in highly unusual ways, Wilson works in a contemporary art context despite the historic shapes found in many of her vessels. From her little studio in the Sydney beachside suburb of Bondi, Wilson has created a significant level of interest in other parts of the world exhibiting her work in London, Berlin and Los Angeles.

While most wheel thrown work relies on circular forms drawn up and out from a central point, slip-cast ceramics are free to move into other directions entirely. Vanessa Lucas works in slip cast porcelain and creates functional vessels that could be described as somewhat decadent in form. Her smooth matt glazes in black and white further accentuate the shapes. Lucas herself talks a lot about the serenity a lack of decoration and simplicity provides. You can watch a video on Lucas talking about her motivations here.

 Vanessa Lucas' voluptuous cast porcelain pieces in soft matt glazes in black and and white. Photograph by Helen Skuse.

Vanessa Lucas' voluptuous cast porcelain pieces in soft matt glazes in black and and white. Photograph by Helen Skuse.

New South Wales ceramics artist Liz Stops produces angular yet evocative forms in unglazed porcelain. Selling through Sydney based ceramics specialist Planet, her work has been a feature in Sydney interiors for nearly two decades. I always imagined her studio to be in a city environment and her leaning carved forms to express some sort of inner city angst but the artist actually works from rural Bentley, just north of Casino and an hour west of Byron Bay. While the majority of Stops' work is in ultra matt unglazed white porcelain, she does delve into subtle decorative treatments and even a little colour (usually grey) from time to time! You can get a further incite into the thought processes behind Stops work in a blog post she wrote for Craft Australia here.

 The slip cast porcelain vessels of Liz Stops. Photograph via HareKlein interior design. 

The slip cast porcelain vessels of Liz Stops. Photograph via HareKlein interior design. 

If you are interested in keeping up-to-date with the developments in Australian ceramics Design daily suggests you think about subscribing to Ceramics Art and Perception, a quarterly magazine that showcases the work of a wide range of contemporary ceramics practitioners. You can subscribe here.

Another magazine that might also be of interest is Australian Ceramics. Its published three times a year and is geared towards "professional and amateur ceramicists, students, galleries, arts administrators, curators, buyers and passionate collectors" - so pretty much anyone with an interest in ceramic art! You can purchase individual issues or subscribe here.