Hessa Al Ajmani (previously) carefully imprints single flowers, leaves, and fronds into her ceramic dinnerware. After hand-building a piece, the artist assembles bunches of small plants native to the United Arab Emirates and presses them into layered bouquets on mugs, plates, and serving dishes. Al Ajmani then paints the impressions to mimic the original florals that she sources from the nearby desert and occasionally from her mother’s garden, a practice dictated by the climate and time of year. “My work naturally takes a whole season to prepare and/or relies on the occasional winter rainfall,” she says. “I allow it to grow organically and see it as a collaboration with nature. After all, clay itself is a material of the earth.”
In addition to creating an array of functional pieces, Al Ajmani teaches virtual and in-person workshops at Clay Corner Studio, which she founded in Ajman in 2019. Follow her on Instagram to keep an eye on new releases in her shop.
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Prior to sculpting the prickly lifeforms that comprise her Marine Abstracts series, Marguerita Hagan plunged into the waters surrounding the Cayman Islands to get a glimpse of the coral and sponges inhabiting the region. “My research is important to my work, whether from seeing firsthand like diving, which manifested the sponge and coral-inspired Marine Abstracts, or visiting labs and working with my scientist friends,” the Philadelphia-based artist says. “I am passionate about learning, and I immerse myself into the life of each piece/species.”
Mimicking the porous bodies of the aquatic creatures, the resulting works are amorphous in shape and hand-built in sweeping gestures from low-fire clay. Hagan subjects the ceramic forms to anywhere between three and eight rounds of firing in the kiln before they’re airbrushed with pastel glazes. Pocked with holes and covered in tiny bristles arranged with meticulous precision, each piece can take months to complete.
When presented in a gallery space, Hagan contextualizes many of her works by pairing them with animated projections, creating holistic installations that situate individual sculptures within a larger ecosystem. It’s a way to generate conversation about interdependence and the need to protect these fragile forms, the artist says, explaining the concept further:
Microscopic marine organisms form the basis of all life on our planet and connect in exquisite systems or colonies. These one-cell plankton gems, our primary producers provide over 50% of the oxygen for the planet with light from the sun. Rich diversity and reciprocal sharing power thriving communities and environments. This light-giving flow has enabled all life to thrive for eons…We are in a time of epic shifts and are responsible for the changes needed now. The work intends to uplift spirits, awareness, renewable action and timely sustainable investments for all life.
You can see many of the abstracted pieces shown here, alongside dozens of Hagan’s sculptures, as part of Biospheres, which is on view both in-person and virtually at HOT•BED in Philadelphia through May 8. For a larger collection of the artist’s works, check out her site and Instagram.
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From her studio in Amsterdam, Gésine Hackenberg (previously) punches perfectly round discs from Delftware and antique ceramic dishes. The ornate, pearl-like forms are then strung together into necklaces or secured into metal bands for rings and earrings. Juxtaposing the old and new, the completed wearables are positioned alongside the original dinnerware to draw connections between the domestic objects and personal adornments that are ubiquitous in everyday life.
The ongoing collection—which Hackenberg says was inspired by her grandmother’s pearl necklaces and massive cabinet of porcelain dishes—evidences what the designer sees as “a certain kinship” between what’s worn on the body and the pieces that decorate and sustain a living space. She says:
What one keeps and owns, often contains an emotional meaning next to its practical function or worth. Possessions, especially personal treasures, define and represent their owner. Jewelry is in particular an outward sign of values that are deeply rooted in the wearer, of what people cherish, in what they believe, and what they desire.
Because the ceramic material is incredibly fragile, Hackenberg works manually with custom tools. She’s developed a precise understanding of the drilling speeds and pressure necessary to remove each disc without creating too many chips or cracks. If the material is damaged throughout the temperamental extraction process, the entire piece is unusable.
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Disembodied faces and fingers encircle the surreal vessels created by Canopic Studio, a Los Angeles-based practice helmed by Claire and Curran Wedner. Known for their ceramics that display human anatomy in a repetitious pattern, the husband and wife recently diverged from the black-and-white works previously mentioned on Colossal to create a series entirely in celadon, a jade color with a rich history.
The translucent glaze originated in China and was prominent throughout the country for centuries before being replaced by blue-and-white porcelain. It’s traditionally made with a bit of iron oxide—too little creates a blue color, while too much produces a darker olive or black—and then fired in a reducing kiln at a high temperature.
Curran says he first experimented with the glaze in 2004 as part of a ceramics class and returned to it now after researching cone 10 gas firing and reduction, or the process of decreasing oxygen in the kiln. The resulting pieces shift in color with the light, a trait that dovetails with the studio’s interest in mutable identities and idiosyncrasies that shows up in the shape of their works.
Pieces are created using the same mold to produce similar, but not identical, body parts. When attached in rows on the mug or bowl, the single face or finger becomes one of many, each defined by its slight difference. “I’m interested in identity and how it shifts when we go from being alone to being a part of a crowd,” Curran says. He explains:
I like prodding that space in between, where identity feels almost pliable or molten, then hardens, then shifts again, and so on. When the face I’m using is pulled from a single mold, it has a surreal quality—so identical it’s almost eerie, and all the tiny flaws and differences come forward when they otherwise wouldn’t.
Right now, Canopic Studio is in the process of creating a line of face medallions finished with 22 karat gold. The duo list new pieces bi-monthly on Etsy, and you can keep an eye out for shop updates and see works-in-progress on Instagram.
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Adorable, mischievous, and undeniably spirited, the porcelain figures that Lisa Agnetun sculpts breathe new life into the simple, bedsheet silhouette we’ve long associated with ghosts. Brimming with personality and energy, the specters are similarly outfitted with asymmetric eye holes and fabric that bunches as their feet. “They’re dead souls, and I think it’s a challenge to make them come alive. It also gives me great pleasure and even hope to make this strong symbol of death into something playful and not scary at all,” Agnetun writes.
Made from a variety of clays, the pieces are wheel-thrown and then sculpted by hand to add final details. Each receives a thick coat of matte, glossy, or cracking glaze, with some getting a final wax treatment or an ink wash after firing.
Although the Gothenburg, Sweden-based ceramicist has been crafting the tiny apparitions to gift to friends and family for years, she only started selling them about six months ago. They’re a portion of her ceramics practice that spans teaware, LED-lamps, vases, and other sculptural objects. “Every time I open my kiln, I want to find new exciting things that I haven’t seen before,” she says. “The ghosts are the only pieces that really stick with me. They’re all unique and keep evolving along with my other work, so there’s no chance for me to get bored with them.”
Agnetun sells the playful creatures, which range from the size of a fingertip to a few inches tall, on Etsy. In the coming months, she plans to create a few jar sculptures, triple vases, and a new mug alongside more ghosts, all of which you can follow on Instagram.
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Through nine ceramic bowls, Yurim Gough untangles the complex narratives surrounding performance, appearance, and gender fluidity. Her identity-centric pieces—which are infused with layers of pencil renderings, thread, and other materials that can require nearly a dozen rounds of firing at multiple temperatures to complete—depict figures outfitted with ostentatious costumes and elaborately painted faces. Drawing on aspects of queer culture, Gough’s vessels are disruptive and revisionary, simultaneously exposing the dated and constructed nature of traditional gender categories while reveling in the history of those who’ve subverted norms.
Gough’s gold-trimmed collection will be on view as part of Salvage, a group exhibition curated by Colossal’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Christopher Jobson at Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia. Opening tonight, January 22, Salvage shares how artists are revitalizing fragments of tradition and culture that were destined to be lost, relegated to the periphery, or buried forever. The exhibition, which you can tour virtually, launches with a live talk with Jobson, Gough, André Schulze (previously), and Debra Broz (previously)—tickets are available on Eventbrite—and runs through February 20.
Now based in the U.K., the South Korean artist has a background in fashion. Explore more of her work, which includes a variety of self-portraiture and considerations of contemporary culture, on her site and Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.