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Crafting A Difference At SoShiro – Spotlight On Ceramics

Inspiration From The Natural World

In this week’s post we take a look at some of the ceramics featured in the current Crafting a Difference exhibition at SoShiro.

When curator Brian Kennedy first saw the front room on the second floor of the gallery space at SoShiro he was immediately drawn to two cacti proudly standing guard on the balcony outside. He took inspiration from their beauty and organic forms for the curatorial feel of this room and on hearing this we immediately knew that Ikuko Iwamoto’s ceramic sculptures would sit perfectly within this space.

Ikuko Iwamoto – Outline Sculpture 2, Porcelain, 67cm x 38cm x 29cm, 2018 

See this work in the Crafting a Difference exhibition on floor 2 of the 3D Virtual Tour
Ikuko Iwamoto – Outline Sculpture 1, Porcelain, 43h x 48w x 28d cm , 2018

See this work in the Crafting a Difference exhibition on floor 2 of the 3D Virtual Tour

Ikuko’s work is inspired largely by her own curiosity of the natural world, in this case, the microscopic natural world – the cells, genes and organic forms that are invisible to the naked eye. Her meticulous attention to detail and adept technical skills enable her to uniquely interpret this world, creating ceramic sculptures which take their reference from the tiniest of sea creatures to the minutest of micro-organisms.  Unlike many artists working in clay, Ikuko’s typical work involves using a slip-casting technique, using plaster models and mould making to create a fine porcelain hollow body, which she then often obsessively covers with spikes or piled-up dots to create tension, fragility and flow.

In recent year’s we’ve really enjoyed the development of Ikuko’s sculptural work and these two pieces Outline Sculpture 1 and 2 are great examples of her creativity and skill.  The introduction of a larger kiln enabled Ikuko to return to creating the freestanding sculptures she was concerned with when she was a student at Tezukayama College in Japan. In her Golden Pearl series (shown in the second image) you can see how she has developed translated her freestanding sculptural forms into boxed frames, making them more two-dimensional and thrusting them firmly into the realms of fine art, a progression that won her the Young Masters Maylis Grand Ceramic Prize in late 2019.

Speaking of Ikuko’s work at the Young Masters Art Prize exhibition, curator and art historian Stephen Feeke said:

“It’s just totally original, with a reference to art history in a very interesting way, it’s surrealism, [referencing] people like Cornell, and yet it feels utterly, utterly, original in its use of ceramic and its use of mixed media.”

A range of smaller tabletop sculptures by Ikuko are also featured in the current Crafting a Difference exhibition on floor 5 of the virtual tour.

Also, inspired by the natural world and featured alongside Ikuko’s ceramic sculptures in Crafting A Difference at SoShiro are works by Hannah Tounsend. 

Talking about her work on show Hannah said: “My ceramic vessels are inspired by the British shoreline and are heavy with the banding of this tiered landscape. The static, cast portions of my pieces are representative of solid land; the flowing, thrown section a liquid tide. In this way, the horizontal boundaries within my vessels echo and resonate with the elemental strata of the coast.” 

Purposeful brush strokes, stamps, pencil marks and sometimes carvings feature in Hannah’s painterly designs.

Hannah Tounsend, Large Elliptoid Vessel, White Earthenware with Slip and Underglaze Decoration, Partially Glazed 63cm x 45cm, 2020

Like Ikuko, Hannah also works with moulds and uses slip-cast techniques.  Uniquely, Hannah has developed a hybrid technique of slip-casting, printing and throwing to make her work.  Within an open plaster mould, Hannah builds layers of printed, poured and painted casting slips, overlaying colours on the porous surface.  Then, using the potter’s wheel and, in the case of her largest works, the help of her trusty technician, a partially thrown cylinder of clay is joined to the cut rim of the still-moulded cast and fully thrown out to form the softly textured upper portion of the piece. As these forms are created from two clay bodies and two making processes, there is a real visual and literal tension in the work. This hybrid approach has been highly praised within the ceramic world and in 2019, Hannah was selected as one of ten finalists for the British Ceramic Biennial AWARD, an award which showcases ground-breaking and progressive practice, capturing the breadth and dynamism of artists engaging with clay today. 

Ashraf Hanna, Storm Beach, installation of 34 ceramic vessels, ceramic, installation spans 120cm x 45cm, 2020
Ashraf Hanna, Storm Beach, installation of 34 ceramic vessels, ceramic, installation spans 120cm x 45cm, 2020

Image: Brian Kennedy.  Shown here with work by Lucas Ferreira represented by jaggedart gallery
To see this work in the exhibition visit floor 4 of the virtual tour

The inspiration for Ashraf Hanna’s work is deeply rooted in nature both in colour and form.  In a recent conversation about his work, Storm Beach, an installation of 34 pinched and hand-built cylinders which features in the Crafting A Difference show, he said:

“I was struck by the power, energy and beauty of the storm beaches of Pembrokeshire in West Wales when we moved here from London 20 years ago.  From a distance, the beach is a mass of grey but on closer inspection, a delicate, rich and varied palette of greys, pinks and blues is revealed.  The beach landscape is forever changing, strong tides and powerful storms shape and reshape the intricately woven dense structure of thousands of pebbles almost on a daily basis.  In this installation I try to capture elements of that, the choice of the circular or oval simple cylinders both responds to the pebbles and allows me to concentrate on the subtle colour palette.”

Ashraf’s ability to achieve the right density of colour in his forms is astounding.  He does this not with glazes but through a process of building up layers of Terra sigillata, firing in the kiln and reapplying and firing again until he has achieved the desired depth of colour.

Terra Sigillata is an ultrarefined clay slip that can give a soft sheen when applied to the ceramic work. The ancient Greeks and Romans used this technique in lieu of glaze. 

From the delicate colouration of Ashraf’s Storm Beach installation we turn to this powerful pairing. 

Ashraf Hanna, Black and Grey Undulating Vessel, ceramic, 37cm H, 2020
Ashraf Hanna, Black and Yellow Undulating Vessel, ceramic, 39cm H, 2020

To see these works in the exhibition visit floor 1 of the virtual tour
Shown here alongside work by Lucas Ferreira represented by jaggedart

The vibrant punch of yellow hints at what lies within, as it appears to almost burst through the dense black exterior of this undulating vessel on the ground floor of the exhibition. This impact is made stronger still by its pairing with a calm, black and grey undulating vessel which draws your attention to the form alone.  In recent years, Ashraf has introduced more vibrant colour to his work and he is making a larger collection of vessels for the Collect Edition of Crafting A Difference which launches with Collect later this month.

Nicholas Lees, Framed Triptych 20.08, H26 x W30 x D15cm, Parian, Painted Fibreboard, 2020

To see these works in the exhibition visit floor 4 of the virtual tour

For all of his life, artist Nicholas Lees has made frequent visits to the Scottish Coastline with his family. Visiting the same place, year after year, has brought about the realisation that the constant shift of tide, weather and light mean the experience of perception is forever transient and he explores these themes in his rhythmic, sculptural forms.  Talking about his work he said: “Light and space are equivalent material elements in my making. I have always been interested in boundaries in the landscape and interfaces between different forms and states and have come to think about these more and more. Whether it’s seen in the cutting lines in the hedges, trees growing around hard forms and the intertidal zone at the coast, my work explores perception over time – looking and looking again reveals the ephemerality of perception. The use of fins on hard-edged forms means that as light conditions change and viewpoint alters, the boundary between presence and absence of the object shifts.”

Nicholas’ rhythmic, sculptural forms originate on the wheel, where they are made as deliberately thick-walled vessels with tapering width to the walls. He works mainly with Parian – a porcelaneous clay body first developed in the 19th century to imitate creamy white Greek marble. Once thrown on the wheel, the work is dried slowly over the course of a few weeks and then hand lathed using specially made tools. The pieces are then fired once, Nicholas does not glaze his work leaving a vitrified surface finish.  As you might imagine, this is a very time-consuming process which requires not only a steady hand but lots of patience.  It can take up to 6 hours to make an individual piece but the resulting sculptures which change as you move around them and as the light changes are worth every breath-held moment during the making process.

Nicholas Lees, Framed Triptych 20.08, H26 x W30 x D15cm, Parian, Painted Fibreboard, 2020

To see this work in the exhibition visit floor 4 of the virtual tour
Akiko Hirai, Moon Jar, stoneware, porcelain, white glaze and wood ash, 45cmD x 55cmH, 2020

To see these works in the exhibition visit floor 5 of the virtual tour

No feature on ceramics inspired by the natural world would be complete without mentioning Akiko Hirai’s moon jar and we were lucky to secure three of these for the show at SoShiro, two of which are now sold.

Akiko’s work is a fusion of Japanese and British ceramic traditions. Based on the traditional Korean Moon Jar, a white porcelain jar made during the mid 17th to mid 18th century, in the late period of the Joseon Dynasty, Akiko brings her own unique modern-day take on these jars.  Rounded in form, they appear to have a volcanic glaze streaming down the sides and encrusted on the surface, like a ‘whitewater’ river bubbling over rocky river beds. Akiko’s first Moon Jar was shown in the Moon Jar exhibition at the Korean Cultural Centre, London in August. In 2019 Akiko was a finalist of Loewe Craft Prize, in the same year, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London added one of her moon jars to their permanent collection.

Akiko Hirai Moon Jar 45 x 55cm
Akiko Hirai, Moon Jar, stoneware, porcelain, white glaze and wood ash, 45cmD x 55cmH, 2020

To see this work in the exhibition visit floor 5 of the virtual tour

Talking about her Moon Jars with us Akiko said:  “For me a pot is like a human. I love the diversity of people in London and their life stories. Events in life are not always pleasant but they give people individuality and beauty.  So I give my moon jars a lot of trauma and hardship. The wet and/or unfired clay is an undetermined condition. It absorbs all the information from its surrounding environment such as heat, motions and even my emotions in the making process and when it goes in the kiln, nature gives it a lot of marks. How it survives, in there and releases tension is how it becomes what it is, in the most balanced way.  I say ‘imperfection” but it is a perfection in our constantly changing environment.”

Matthew Chambers, Twist Outside, Stoneware circular sculpture, 31cm diameter, 2020

To see this work in the exhibition visit floor 5 of the virtual tour

The circle is omnipresent in nature and Matthew Chambers’ mesmerizing circular sculptures echo the sets of concentric and eccentric circles found in so much of the natural world. Whether they’re the ripples in the water, the rings within a tree trunk or the movement of the planets in our solar system, these are the rhythms, forms and geometric patterns present in Matthew’s work and they are universally appealing. 

All of Matthew’s work is constructed on the potter’s wheel. Each sculpture being made up of many individually hand thrown, mathematically constructed pieces in clay. On completion, each form conveys different and individual properties of space, light, and colour, and sustains an expression of abstract and minimal beauty.

Twist inside sculpture by Matthew Chambers
Matthew Chambers, Stoneware circular sculpture, 35cm diameter, 2020

Actor James Nesbitt said of Matthew’s work: ” I look at this piece with real wonder and hope.  There is an endless, integral beauty to it that I find very moving.  It’s extraordinary.  Almost wondrous.”  FT How To Spend It May 2020

We loved the way that Brian curated this particular area of the Crafting a Difference show featuring one of Matthew’s sculptures.  There’s a real synergy of shape, form and colour and the different materials complement each other so harmoniously.

Matthew Chambers, Stoneware circular sculpture, 35cm diameter, 2020

Image: Robert Chadwick – Matthew Chambers sculpture is shown alongside works by Cavaliero Finn artists Daniel Reynolds (Black Grid Sculpture) and Jacy Wall (Dark Banner tapestry off to the right)

Also shown –  Deep Red Twilight Trio by Baldwin and Guggisberg and Forest Relic Collection by Claire Malet both represented by Vessel Gallery

To see these works in the exhibition visit floor 1 of the virtual tour

If you haven’t done so already, do click on the link below to see the 3D virtual tour of the current Crafting a Difference exhibition. There is so much to see with work by more than 70 different artists and over 200 pieces of work on show. If you’ve not seen it yet, you are in for a treat.

The Crafting a Difference is supported by the Michelangelo Foundation and features three Loewe Craft Prize finalists.


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