Ceramicist Leah Jackson on ‘Ghost’, Takuro Kuwata and her current practice…
with Sarah Weston
Your show at Craft involved pieces which seamed together some of your more familiar tableware forms in order to create a new body of work — what was behind your decision to work in this way?
I had been thinking about it for a great deal of time — to expand upon the similar, smaller pieces in the range, to create far more ambitiously scaled and complicated shapes. It was born from the mugs really, the idea of two clashing, yet complimentary, colours and bodies coming together, creating an object that is more exciting via their combination — so a desire to build upon this idea, and further challenge how a successful piece could come together. The process really upped the ante on so many levels — joining became far more complex when five separate pieces were being put together, as opposed to two, as did balancing colour combinations, proportion, and scale.
When we looked at the seamed works in your show, there was an underlying sense of the uncanny — while initially we perceived the larger forms, we then began to recognise individual and familiar domestic forms which made up the whole. You seemed to play with preconceptions around function — for example, handles which are so traditionally associated with a craft object’s functionality are placed oddly or appear as more visually connective elements… Was this way of working derived from a more intuitive consideration of overall aesthetic or did you set out to disturb?
This body of work, although it feels resolved, also feels to me like an intermediary. The roots of the work are highly visible. And for me it was a very comfortable way to begin, to build upon existing shapes and scale. I look forward to developing the pieces again, stretching my capabilities, and the capacity of the porcelain itself. The domestic functionality is always, and will always be important to me, so I don’t expect to lose that in the work, but some of those more familiar elements may be altered — or, probably a better way of putting it, further disrupted and subverted.
You originally trained in Canberra, completing a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Hons) at the ANU School of Art — how did your study impact your current practice and what are some of your favourite memories from your time there?
Anyone who attended art school at ANU can attest to the rigorous traditional and practical approach taught in the workshops. Although at the time it could feel constraining, I am very grateful for the solid technical grounding this afforded. When there is a strength in the materiality of a piece it allows for playfulness without slipping into the quaint and sentimental. Beneath the dazzle of colour and decoration, the pieces themselves are serious, and relatively austere.
Our teachers were excellent practitioners, and extremely patient with us — but some of my favourite memories are pushing against that tradition, trying to challenge it. We were a young group of students, and the younger you are in ceramics the more immediacy you expect. I still crave it!
Like many contemporary Craftspeople you have a duel practice between creating a principal retail series and your exhibition work — what about the relationship between the two interests you?
The two feed into each other in a continuous loop. There is no hierarchy in regards to enjoyment or importance to my practice, both have their challenges, and also moments of reward and enrichment. They each make the other possible. Preparing for an exhibition will push the work into a new direction, and pieces will potentially enter the lexicon of the daily retail range. Simultaneously, the process of repeated production of retail ware pushes a shape, or technique in a more ambitious and challenging direction, as was the case with Combinations.
Your choice of colour palette and detailed patterning is already fairly iconic when we think of your practice — could you speak more about your references? And why you’ve chosen to use colour in such a specific way?
I wanted to pursue the purity of porcelain to a different end. What does porcelain become when it is hot pink? Or mint green? It’s perverse. Traditionally, when working with porcelain, a maker is seeking whiteness, translucency. The properties of the porcelain change with additions, but the blankness of the porcelaneous canvas allows for an intensity of colour, and luminescence in the surface, that for me remain equally as beguiling when twisted to an alternate outcome. Perhaps this is the old student within me, thinking about challenging the neutrals of ceramics gone by — which, for the record, I also love. And by no means am I the first! The ceramics of the American West Coast Ceramics and Funk movement are definite influences, as is the work of the Memphis group, both ceramics and more broadly. There was a fabulous movement of colourful low fired ceramics in Australia in the 1980’s and early 90’s that serve as a guiding light also, and of course many current day ceramicists have moved away from the traditional ideologies and purism. I feel I should also note here that many of my teachers were aficionados in the world of colourful ceramics. Greg Daly’s enthusiasm for play and reinterpretation of more traditional glazes immediately springs to mind.
You received a Fleck Fellowship at the Banff Centre in Canada last year— how did you spend your time and how has it impacted your practice?
Stepping away from your regular daily practice is always beneficial, and it is rare that you receive an opportunity to do so. The centre is well equipped beyond any ceramicists wildest dreams, and this provided the perfect opportunity to develop glazes, something I hadn’t done since university days — having not had access to a safe space to do so. My time there impacted on my practice in a number of ways, as any period of undivided focus would, but it also reminded me of what was important for a fully functioning ceramic practice – a well equipped, safe, and dedicated space. You compromise for a long time with ceramics, because this is difficult to find, but Banff certainly underscored the need.
Rapid Fire Round
Dream exhibition space — anywhere in the world/any space in the world
Nothing would make me happier than a set designer using one of my pieces to decorate a villainous megalomaniac’s abode.
What are two of your most loved craft pieces to use at home?
An early 90’s Jiri Bures vase is always on display at home, and looks great holding flowers, or just as a stand alone piece. It is a constant source of joy and inspiration. The other piece I am always reaching for is my black Sharon Alpren mug — it is the perfect shape and size for a tea-bag tea.
Favourite Set Design in a film —
‘Ghost’, hands down, always! Audiences may recall the wheel throwing scene most, but the apartment is the other, OTHER star of the film. It was modeled on Michelle Oka Doner’s home, and houses an impressive ceramics collection from the era.
Favourite Exhibition/s you’ve seen in the last 3 years—
Visiting the Judd House in New York was pretty special. It shifted my understanding of minimalism, made it very warm – stripping down the space created room for family, conversation. It was very social.
Craft piece you wished you owned —
Any Takuro Kuwata piece. Definitely an artist who is challenging the materiality of ceramics, in a very informed and intelligent way.