Final Year Graduates Ceramic Skills Course, 2014-16.
Blue Egg Gallery, St. John’s Gate, Wexford Town
April 16- May 7, 2016
Reviewed by Susan Edwards
Every two years the Design and Craft Council of Ireland takes a small number of students to train on a highly recognized skills based pottery course. The small cluster of buildings and kilns located in Thomastown, Kilkenny has been in existence for over 21 years and it produces some of the most innovative and contemporary ceramics being designed in the country. The course is competitive and has deservedly earned its excellent reputation, both nationally and internationally. The pots and vessels these students produce are a delight to view. While they can be thought of as ceramic artists, the term “potters” is equally as fitting a tribute to their high level of expertise of the medium.
The ten artists in this exhibition have shown that using the four elements of earth, water, fire, air and a process as ancient as our own human evolution forms an object for both function and visible aesthetic pleasure. While bowls and pots of varied shapes were displayed, there was also teapots, platters, cups, saucers and jugs. Pottery is one of our oldest and most basic developed creative tasks and serves much the same purpose as thousands of years ago. It can represent a culture, an era or a region with history being defined by the type of pots produced.
Each artist in their own right has been deserving of a body of work being exhibited in this annual end of year event at the gallery, but rather then offer a full review of each individual object; on offer is a glimpse of a few pieces that made an impact and stood out for me. It is to the reader’s benefit to look further into the listed artists as many have websites and Facebook pages to give a greater insight and availability of their work. Each student was given a graduate brief of objects to design, make, and finish and each accomplished it with consummate ability. In alphabetical order are the artists who were invited to the Blue Door Gallery: Babs Belshaw, Eva Kaszas, Andrew Ilsley, Aisling McElwain, Kate McGuane, Claire Murdock, Martha Opher, Marta Ozog, Fiona Shannon, and Bridget Timoney.
Babs Belshaw had delicate pale glazed porcelain plates, cups, saucers and tea pots with a calm simplicity, but tucked into a window recess was her “piece de resistance”. A large shallow bowl, the outer edges of sea green, graduating to a turquoise and then in the centre, a deep indigo hue. It is this centre that offers an exciting glimpse of her bold path of experimentation. Small clear crystal formations hover around the deep blue as if stars are floating near an inky abyss waiting to be swallowed up. It was a mesmerising image and the only piece in her collection of this design, but more will appear as she moves forward in her practice. Belshaw is experimenting with glazes that incorporate minerals and pigments in a technical process which give these crystal formations. The crystals are a by-product of her firing and glaze process and give random patterns on the surface of the piece. The only control the potter has over this process is the knowledge of kiln temperatures and the chemical reactions of her chosen pigments and hues. It is due to her exquisite craftsmanship that she is able to take an uncontrolled element and harness it into such sublime completion.
Babs Belshaw, Crystal Porcelain Bowl
Fiona Shannon gives robust and organically inspired designs. Her pottery is worked in stoneware clay and fired in a gas reduction kiln. It wasa platter propped on a white plinth which displayed the pinnacle of her body of work as an example of functionality and aesthetics blending craft and art in a single piece. A round shaped platter was a fresh approach to the traditional oval shape, a matt type glaze in earthen tones of browns and greens. Two decorative handles offered design variance, but it was visible concentric ridges in the flat base of the vessel which gave both texture and tactile interest. The immediate response was to pick it up, rub one’s finger tips over the ridges and engage with it on an almost intimate level. Such a piece gives far more than a functional household use. It presents with the opportunity to impart rich and treasured complexities of memories, shared events and history built within those tactile ridges.
Another student who chose porcelain as a material was Claire Murdock. Porcelain is a material that is pernickety to work with, at any stage it can collapse, tear, flop over, crack during the drying and leaves the artist to begin the process from the start. It is the most difficult of clays to work with but when put in the hands of a master potter, it dries to a smooth finish that is slightly translucent. Murdock’s pieces gave an incredible contrast of porcelain clay. On one end, the sea foam greenish grey tones shimmered with the expected translucent finish, but the pieces belied their fragile appearance as they had weight, a feeling of study structure and to be used daily rather than to be stared at occasionally. These were objects created with an intent of living, not existing.
The last student is Bridget Timoney whose cream stoneware was designed in clean, contemporary and non-fussy lines that were most definitively not Scandinavian in mood as her pieces lacked a starkness often felt in Nordic designs, but instead provided warmth and cleanliness with the focus on the purpose of the vessel. Her wool bowl was a significant break from those commonly found on Pinterest and other such sources. The rounded bowl had an asymmetrical lip with a vertical cut to facilitate the winding or unwinding of a ball of yarn. The shape yielded homeliness while the natural cream finish contributed an uncomplicated style. Most wool bowls would have fallen into a kitsch category of style but Timoney avoided this to produce a piece of classic design.
Claire Murdoch, Porcelain teapot, cup & saucer (left)
Bridget Timoney, Stoneware wool bowl & teapot (right)
It was stated by Patricia Robinson who opened the exhibition that the artist Grayson Perry has elevated the medium of ceramics from craft pottery to contemporary fine art and while some may disagree, it is evident from this exhibition that ceramics is not just decorative or utilitarian but does express feeling and sentiment. Each student presented a body of work that was as individual and distinctive as themselves and “how” and “who” they are became infused while making their work.
The Blue Egg Gallery
Gallery open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 5:30pm.