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Introducing ceramic artist Leah Jensen

When we first spotted Leah Jensen’s work back in 2015 following her participation in the Crafts Council’s Hot House Programme, we found ourselves completely spell-bound. As we approach our forthcoming show, Alter at Fitzrovia Chapel in which Leah exhibits with Cavaliero Finn for the first time, our fascination with her work continues.  Here we share a short interview with the maker about her work.  If you like what you see, do sign up to attend the special talk we are organising with Leah at the chapel on Saturday 30th November during the exbitition Simply click the link at the bottom of this post.

At first glance of Leah Jensen’s work, you can not help but delight in the sheer beauty of each form, your appreciation heightened by the illustrious exactitude of the artist’s craftsmanship.  When you then discover that the origin of the carvings on each of Leah’s ceramic vessels comes from her love of Renaissance paintings you realise that the work goes beyond elaborate technique.  It is rich and laden with meaning and despite being clean-cut and contemporary in its form, its tendrils stretch back in time, thousands of years into the past. As curators of both 2D and 3D work, we are thrilled to be working with an artist who is so incredibly skilled and whose creative output fuels both of our passions.

The starting point of Leah Jensen’s latest work for Alter,
The Healing of Justinian by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, by Fra Angelico, 1438-40, Tempera on wood, 37 x 45 cm, Museo di San Marco, Florence

Fitzrovia Chapel was built as the secular chapel for the Middlesex Hospital, a place for those whose minds sought out a higher healing. It was this role of the chapel that has inspired Leah’s latest creation and her work for our show Alter.  Leah has used an early Renaissance painting by Fra Angelico which features two saints of healing called, The Healing of Justinian by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian (shown above).

We talk to Leah to get some insight into the painstakingly intricate designs and the ideas behind her work

Can you tell us about your making process, Leah?

“I had been developing the ability to carve into clay in a distinct geometric style, I was enjoying the increasing complexity and precision, but I still felt like something was missing: I needed a deeper narrative to my work.

Around this time I happened to read an article about the relationship between mathematics and art during the Renaissance period. The article revealed artists’ preliminary drawings and calculations, and I was fascinated. I can’t say how the idea for the pattern-mapping developed from there; It just seemed like the most obvious step forward for me.

Work in progress – The developing pattern on Leah Jensen’s latest work for Alter at Fitzrovia Chapel is meticulously planned.

Today, the sequence I follow flows like this: Once I have my hand-built vessel at hand, I apply images of a painting onto the unfired clay surface. I then use pins to pick out points within that painting which I feel are key to the layout–they might be facial features, negative space created by limbs or the corners of buildings. Once the paper and pins are removed, I am left with a network of pinholes, which I then join to create my carvings. The irregular intervals in each piece pose a complex challenge and test my carving ability. At the same time, these points are dictated to me in a very sporadic way, which I don’t feel I would have been able to achieve as effectively by any other means. 

“Carving each vessel by hand is a very slow and mediative process that allows space for reflection.  Once the vessel  is complete the narrative is hidden, just as the structure of the painting before it.

Leah, you challenge digital fabrication in some way, by creating complex forms that would appear to be 3-D printed, but are handmade instead. When did this contradictory relationship with digital forms of making begin?

This is not something I had put any thought into until I showed my work in public for the very first time; people asked me about 3D printing, about the software and machinery I was using. Initially, I was shocked, and a little bit disheartened. I even considered altering the appearance of my work to show that it was handmade. 

“Ultimately, I decided to embrace the fact that the vessels looked machine-made, as well as play around with this idea. That is when I began using the phrase ‘anti-digital,’ as a way to immediately draw people’s attention, and make them question what they are looking at. 

“The endurance of making each piece is critical to me; each piece usually takes between 120-180 hours to carve–the same action repeated over and over again. So, despite being fascinated with 3D printing, as of now, I find little enjoyment in using digital techniques in my work. 

“There is something too important and therapeutic for me about making things with my hands that I couldn’t imagine giving up.

A time lapse of the making of a previous creation by Leah Jensen inspired by the painting The Death of Lucretia Vessel 1 by Sandro Botticelli

To see Leah Jensen’s finished Renaissance vessel, “The Healing of Justinian by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian – Fra Angelico 2019”, visit Cavaliero Finn’s next show, “Alter” at Fitzrovia Chapel open from Wednesday November 27th – Sunday December 1st 2019, from 11-00 am – 4.00 pm each day. 

“Alter” will also feature new work by ceramic sculptors Akiko Hirai and Annie Turner (Loewe Craft Prize Finalists 2019), Matthew Chambers, Ashraf Hanna, Nicholas Lees, Frances Priest and Hannah Tounsend.   

Leah Jensen will be giving a short talk about her work for visitors to Cavaliero Finn’s exhibition Alter at Fitzrovia Chapel on Saturday 30th November from 2-3pm. 

This will be a free but ticketed event due to limited space in the Chapel. 

Click here to register your interest in attending Leah Jensen’s talk

Parts of this feature have been taken from the interview Leah Jensen carried out with design agency Material Driven with the artist’s permission.


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