A New Book Explores the Practices of 38 Black Ceramicists Working Across Generations to Define the Medium
Ceramics is both versatile and enduring, allowing for myriad aesthetic sensibilities, degrees of functionality, and the ability to last lifetimes. A new book published by Schiffer Craft gathers the practices of 38 Black Americans who have harnessed the broad potential of clay as they explore various aspects of history, politics, craft, and culture.
Ranging from the colonial east coast and the Harlem Renaissance to the current century, Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists compiles interviews, photos, and short essays into an expansive, diverse survey. In addition to artists working today like Morel Doucet (previously), Chotsani Elaine Dean, and Danielle Carelock, the book also recounts earlier generations who used the medium as a catalyst for their creative practices. Augusta Savage (1892-1962), for example, is known for translating the humanity of her subjects into figurative clay forms. She also went on to found the Savage Studio for Arts and Crafts in 1930s New York and helped secure funding for her students as part of the Works Progress Administration.
The book also recognizes the contributions of nearly 200 ceramicists who were enslaved and working in commercial potteries in Edgefield, South Carolina. Among those is David Drake, who is thought to have produced more than 100,000 stoneware vessels throughout his lifetime.
Contemporary Black American Ceramic Artists, written by donald a clark and Chotsani Elaine Dean, is currently available for pre-order on Bookshop.
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Gadrooning, an ornamental motif consisting of a series of tapered convex or concave curves, is derived from the decorative exteriors of Roman sarcophagi and antiquities. Renaissance artisans revisited it in the 16th century, and it re-emerged in the neoclassical revival of the 18th and 19th centuries. Referencing ancient designs and what he describes in a statement as the “broad, reverential notions of the vessel,” Maxwell Mustardo playfully examines the function of containers and earthenware over time.
In his gourd-like Gadroons and pudgy Anthropophorae—a series of bulging amphorae—a range of stippled lava glazes complement shocking hues or shimmering PVC coatings. Vibrant colors and swollen forms resemble balloons or 3D renderings displayed on a bright screen, and the resulting perception-bending, flocked-like surfaces make the pieces appear to be floating, wobbling, and glowing.
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Constant motion and transformation underpin ceramic artist Cecil Kemperink’s philosophy, drawing inspiration from the rhythms of nature. Since 2019, she has lived on Texel, an island north of The Netherlands in the Wadden Sea that’s recognized by UNESCO as the largest continuous, undisturbed intertidal ecosystem in the world. The infinite crashing of waves on the shore, grasses or branches waving in the wind, and the way humans interact with these phenomena inspire the artist’s linked, organic pieces that combine sculpture with performance (previously). Her work centers on a sense of connectedness, both ecological and within our communities, that manifests symbolically in the form of links that expand and contract like ceramic chainmail.
Intended to be manipulated and reshaped, each ring is looped to others to create a robust yet delicate fabric that the artist can move around on the floor, suspend from the ceiling, or wear. “Motion is a key part of the expressiveness of my sculptures,” she explains. “The movements show the importance of each circle. Every ring is essential and influences the other; they are all connected. They are all one. Every link wears the symbolism of a circle: conjunction, connection, power, endlessness, an eternally ongoing movement.” In some works, the components vary in size and can be expanded or contracted, while in others, such as “White grey tones,” they are closely connected and emphasize the circular form.
Kemperink’s sculptures bear a significant literal and metaphoric weight: when a piece is worn or carried, there is a strong awareness of its presence, responsibility for its care, and occasionally, the burden of carrying it. Characteristically, there’s also duality in the works’ being both malleable and taut. “The interaction of sculpture and woman/man opens several layers of consciousness,” she explains, as “each relation reveals new sensations, change of feelings, and a different energy. New perceptions are being shaped, multiple points of view arise, and consciousness is in full motion.”
Kemperink’s work “Wishful thinking” is included in the International Academy of Ceramics’ 70th-anniversary member’s exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland, from September 12 to 16. She has also recently started a YouTube channel, and you can find more of her work on her website and Instagram.
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From her studio in Paris, artist Julie Bergeron hand-builds amorphous stoneware vessels that mimic a wide array of creatures and lifeforms found in nature. Hollow ducts and pointed spines cover the surfaces of the cavernous forms, ambiguously evoking seed pods, tropical fruits like rambutan or durian, and small marine organisms. “I have fun mixing types, blurring the tracks… Are we in the vegetal, animal, microscopic, or human world? The borders become undefined,” she tells Colossal.
Inspired by the biological illustrations of Ernst Haeckel, Bergeron uses a coiling technique to shape the initial bodies before engraving or covering the forms in repeating patterns. She leaves the works unglazed so that the minerality and organic textures of the clay remain intact, the final steps of a process she explains in further detail:
When I start my pieces, I don’t have a specific idea. Gradually the sculpture takes shape, and I let myself be guided by its curves and its irregularities. The name of the piece comes to me when it is finished depending on what it evokes to me or the emotion felt. Often the sculptures seem alive to me.
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In the hands of Helen Burgess, goofy grins, bloated bellies, and eyes wide with surprise turn endangered or overlooked animals into endearing creatures with playfully exaggerated emotions. The British ceramicist, who works as nosey mungo (previously), sculpts quirky renditions of wildlife and other critters—she prefers to focus on conservation issues and species struggling to survive— crafting kooky pufferfish covered in spikes and chicks with tiny beaks poking out from their downy, yellow bodies.
Currently, Burgess is working on a collection of marine wall hangings, and you can follow her progress, along with shop updates and glimpses into her process, on Instagram.
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Dating back to the Vikings, ryijy is a distinctly Finnish textile tradition that produces thick, high-pile tapestries and rugs. The heavily patterned works, which have shifted from functional to decorative, are made by hand-knotting wool and layering the yarn into lush, textured motifs.
Drawing on her background in textile design, Finnish artist Marianne Huotari translates this technique into ceramics, creating densely delicate reliefs that evoke the depth and dimension of fiber. Huotari begins every work with a color palette and surface, whether in the form of a wall-based piece or a freestanding sculpture. She then rolls and pinches clay into oblongs and small discs imprinted by her fingertips for added texture, each pierced to create a small hole for a bit of metal thread. Once glazed and fired, the individual components are sewn into undulating topographies layered lush with color and rippling shapes. Huotari shares with Colossal:
The process is super slow but very meditative thanks to its repetitive nature. Throughout the process, I attempt to take control of the material by dismantling and reassembling the parts, which is not very common when talking about ceramic art. That provides me the freedom to make changes on the go. The technique provides countless possibilities… In the near future, I’ll be focusing on developing the sculptural expression and searching for the limits of dimensions.
The Helsinki-based artist was recently named a finalist for this year’s Loewe Foundation Craft Prize, which is hosting an exhibition at Seoul Museum of Art through July 31. She also has pieces on view through August 19 at HB381 Gallery in New York and through the end of August at Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center in Denmark, where she will be a resident this fall. Watch the video below and head to Instagram for a glimpse into Huotari’s process, and browse available pieces at Officine Saffi. (via Journal du Design)
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