The Language of Clay is an ongoing project that celebrates the diversity of accomplished ceramic practice. It presents new bodies of work by selected contemporary ceramic artists with studio practices in Wales.
Each artist approaches the medium with varying perspectives, experiences and skills. Ceramic practice is wonderfully boundless in its creative possibilities. As an organic material, clay responds so dynamically to different approaches and treatments. It is this quality that makes it both beguiling and challenging to work with. Within a field that is wonderfully rich in Wales, the artists featured bring singular expertise.
The title of this exhibition series ‘the language of clay’ is especially apt for the work of Justine Allison who constructs pots by hand in porcelain. Working with sheets of clay to make a pot is seemingly straightforward, a long established process called slab building. In Justine’s hands soft slithers of clay are manipulated with a dexterity that belies the difficulty of the process. Justine chooses to work with porcelain, the clay known to some as ‘white gold ‘and to others as the devils invention. Porcelain is unquestionably the most difficult of clays to work with and to choose to hand build with it in thin sheets is the greatest challenge. So it begs the question why does she do this? The answer lies in the sublime work that emerges from her endeavours. The pots have an ethereal quality, so light and delicate when picked up and yet their form is strongly stated. Translucency is an integral part of their design not just a convenient by product of the process.
Her works often begin with creating three dimensional forms with paper and scissors, manipulating and modifying until she has the essence of an idea formed. From there the work must take place in clay using the thinnest of sheets and manipulating quickly before it dries too much to bend. There is a tension at this stage when working porcelain; one moment it is so soft and floppy that control seems impossible, then suddenly it’s losing moisture rapidly so cracking results if you try to bend or join it. A seemingly impossible task to control such a wayward material into a delicate precise form. Once the form is made it must be nurtured through the drying process and eventually given over to the heat of the kiln when it will take on a life of its own once more, twisting and moving as it becomes almost molten – the key to its ultimate translucency.
Justine composes not just with shape but with surface, frequently applying linear marks that cause visual interference in the way we perceive a form. In some cases the application of precise vertical lines onto a fairly regular shape is changed through the course of the firing as the porcelain bends and twists with the heat. It is precisely this working with the potential of the material that gives her work its unique creative quality and sets her apart from others who are simply technically adept.
Justine has been developing her ideas since the millennium. She was one of the last group of students to benefit from a rich and diverse ceramic education which has now almost disappeared. Her work shows the passion of a potter restlessly driven to push herself and her ideas. This exhibition; her first solo show; captures her at a moment when she is fully in tune with her current materials and process; enjoying the collaboration with the clay and the kiln, testing herself and her ideas and recognizing the unexpected beauty that can come from the interplay of artist, idea and process.
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