Whether it’s glass, wood, textiles, or the many other materials out there, most have had a moment in the public sphere. Some days handwoven fabric is of greater interest, and other days the time has come for a specific metal. However, in the case of clay, the pendulum usually swings back around more often than others. Indeed it seems every few years brings headlines with phrases such as a “booming” interest in clay, “the smashing rise of pottery,” or a “surprising new renaissance in ceramics.” One thing is for sure, though — there’s always phenomenal work going on regardless of these fluctuations, and we feel it’s a sure bet that’s not hyperbole. Just take these examples of experimental ceramics.
All around the world, it’s possible to find work in clay that will blow your mind, and we hope the following ceramic artists will do just that for you today. Some are questioning the boundaries of ceramic-making. Others are experimenting with glazes. More still are venturing into techniques or material combinations that are less mainstream and more radical.
So without further ado, Kinship + Craft presents to you the work of six ceramic artists doing fascinating work!
Material Spotlight: Experimental Ceramics
Bente Skjøttgaard is a ceramicist from Denmark who has been working with clay for nearly 40 years. When she began, it was not specifically to be an artist but rather came from following her desires and skills. The result is a creative practice that has explored the natural world in clay and experimental glaze work.
Bente’s formal language stems from what she refers to as “semi-scientific references,” which take on new life in clay. Her references vary from cloud formations and polyps to the natural habitats of particular species and creatures of the sea. Using stoneware as her primary material, Bente fires her works at approximately 1280 degrees Celcius. This temperature causes her to surrender control of what comes next and “lets gravity and the fluidity of the glazes” become her creative allies in the process. She describes: “In a way, everything I do is an experiment. If I am too much in control, I immediately start to get bored. It is a bit of a cliché, but it must be exciting to open the kiln every time…The loss of control at the high temperatures, where everything becomes soft again…gives the works natural movement and independent life.”
Bente Skjøttgaard’s most recent work (seen above), from the series titled Glowing in the Dark, is currently on show for The Biennale for Craft and Design at Koldinghus, in Kolding, Denmark. Bente made this work in homage to the mid-19th century German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel. While creating it, she found inspiration in jellyfish and other species from the depths of the sea.
“The time is for contemplation, slow motion and thinking about whether it’s responsible to produce anything at all. If we survive the pandemic, I will bring with me all the experimentation and years of acquiring ceramic knowledge and craftsmanship, but also the new slower pace, humility and focus on species other than ourselves.”
Blurring the lines between craft, design, and art are the works of ceramic artist Ahryun Lee. Through joyful color and imaginative texture, she playfully experiments with the expressiveness of clay.
Ahryun began her ceramic studies with a more traditional approach through Seoul National University (South Korea) in 2011. Following her undergraduate studies, she went on to the Royal College of Art (United Kingdom), where she graduated in Ceramics and Glass in 2016.
As demonstrated in Ahryun’s Imaginary Drink series (2021, featured above), her range of expression can take the form of vessels that wander away from traditional shapes and amuse viewers with noodle-like, spiked, or blobby surfaces. Ahryun describes: “I’d like to invite the viewers into my fictional world while gazing upon my curious sculptural beings; to throw a question about the aesthetic and the meaning of beauty. By extension to consider the contemporary way of interpreting ceramics.”
However, the fun, outward appearance of her work holds a more profound fascination for Ahryun. To her: “Clay is an intriguing and impressive medium…[with] fertile territory for experimentation and potential creative speculation within contemporary art. Its versatility of expression [and] unique materiality allows the ceramic artist to increasingly utilize the material to create and produce outstanding aesthetic results.”
Ahryun Lee has exhibited her work internationally between Korea, Europe, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and the United States of America. She now lives and works near Munich, Germany.
Donté K. Hayes
Donté K. Hayes’ work takes inspiration from humanity’s interconnectedness, Afrofuturism, hip-hop, and the history and social implications of the Atlantic Slave Trade. He conceptually connects “disparate objects or images” to encourage new understandings through his work in ceramics, printmaking, installations, and performance. In Donté’s words: “All of my artwork is based on research and not a specific medium. I first allow the research and content to dictate what will best support the conceptual themes I [would] like to illuminate in the artwork. I never want to force a concept…in a medium just because I’m more comfortable with [it]. Through this thought process, I am never pigeonholed [by] the limitations of the material I’m using.”
More recently, Donté has been focusing on the pineapple “as a symbol which represents welcoming and hospitality” in the United States but has darker ties to slavery and colonialism. Starting with intuitive freely made forms, Donté then slows down his process and deliberately manipulates the surfaces of each one through scratches and other types of mark-making. In the end, each work is covered in a uniform texture, evoking a pineapple’s rough exterior and symbolically alluding to Black bodies.
Donté K. Hayes’ work “suggest[s] the past, discuss[es] the present, and explore[s] possible futures interconnected to the African diaspora, while also examining deeper social issues which broaden the conversation between all of humanity.”
Steven Edwards is a British ceramic artist who “investigates the language of making through the materiality and physicality of clay.” Through numerous adapted traditional techniques and bespoke tools, Steven “purposely places clay under stress to reveal the natural tension and movement in its surface and form.” He aims to show the viewer the relationship between the maker and the material by creating pieces that demonstrate their construction. This results in works that exhibit a wide range of qualities caused by the pushing, pulling, compressing, or slicing actions the material endured while Steven sculpted them in their raw state.
In Steven’s words: “The final forms are a combination of these making scenarios, translating a theme of duality in their appearance — the contrast of visual distortion and precision, the stillness and movement in form and the surface deception between synthetic and natural.”
Steven Edwards began his professional career in graphic design, although he had studied ceramics at both undergraduate and graduate levels. His experience in graphic design has had a significant impact on the way he understands aesthetics in clay, making processes, shapes, and language. Steven lives in England and has international gallery representation. He has exhibited his work at premiere contemporary ceramic shows, including the British Ceramics Biennial, London Craft Week, and London Design Festival.
Looking at the work of emerging ceramic artist Viktória Maróti may cause a double-take reaction. Between the interwoven forms and fibrous textures, the boundaries between ceramics and textiles become blurry. Yet, the act of obscuring the material, which happens to be porcelain, is precisely the objective. For Viktória, she wants her work to question and push our perceived understanding of materials. She explains: “The project is interdisciplinary, which means it reaches both…textile[s] and ceramics.” The result is a “symbiosis of the materials.”
However, through her experiments with porcelain, whether she is creating woven structures with it or firing it, she has come to think of porcelain as her primary creative partner.
By dipping yarn into porcelain slip (liquefied porcelain), Viktória then weaves the yarn around sticks stabilized on a clay base. “Using several mediums at the same time [creates] hybrid objects as a result, which visually trick people’s sense[s]. The viewer discover[s] a material that does not seem [to be] what he/she expected…Is porcelain capable of a transformation, which could imitate another medium? My object has been made through and experimental rethought of [a] weaving technique. This technique allows [me] to create structures” even if they are at odds with the character of porcelain.
Viktória Maróti received both her degrees in Ceramics (Bachelors and Masters) from the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest in 2013 and 2018, respectively, and has since participated in several international artist residencies. Viktória currently lives and works in Budapest, Hungary.
Renata Cassiano Alvarez
Layered, painterly, and reminiscent of geological core samples — albeit somewhat wilder — the work of Mexican-Italian artist and interpreter Renata Cassiano Alvarez is deeply informed by her family, Latin American heritage, language, and the study of archeology.
Educated in Mexico, Italy, Denmark, and the United States, Renata has had the opportunity to work in different cultural and artistic environments. These experiences have led to questions of how language impacts the human body’s physicality and, likewise, clay. Renata further combines her material studies with memories of her parents working as archeologists, and the religious and life rituals present in Mexican culture — altogether, culminating in an exploration of permanence and timelessness.
Now a Visiting Assistant Professor in Ceramics at the University of Arkansas School of Art, Renata Cassiano Alvarez splits her time between Springdale, Arkansas, and Veracruz, Mexico. She continues to push her understanding of clay, ceramic glazes, and the perception of her work.
As described in Renata’s artist statement: ”The engagement with craft is vital within my practice. I believe craft is the pursuit of an intimate relationship with material that is dynamic, and which allows for the grounding of self to our own existence through our actions with material. Time unmakes us constantly, but with every gesture imprinted we save the now and make it tangible against the imitable march of time. This belief has been present since I first started working with clay, and has persisted and guided me until now. I became both the maker and the archaeologist of my own practice. My sculptures are the artifacts from the constant ritual of transformation, visceral witnesses of what happens within. I excavate and interpret them, looking to give meaning to it all.”
Interested in more experimental ceramics?
Click here for an interview with ceramicist Renata Cassiano Alvarez.