There’s something inviting about the bubbled crusty surfaces of Caroline Blackburn’s pottery. Rustic and minimal, it could very easily have been unearthed on a dig, an archeologist’s brush revealing its’ beautiful glazed secrets. A native of Los Angeles Blackburn studied Art History and Studio Arts at Boston College, earning a MFA at the Art Centre College of Design, Pasadena. It’s interesting to note that she initially trained as a painter; that skill translated from canvas to clay surface…
I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have a soft spot for clothing, especially when it’s hand made from natural fibres…linen, cotton and wool. It has a lovely rawness to it compared to all those fast fashion ‘made-in-china’ clothes stuffed onto racks at any big box retailer. And yes, I know natural textiles are hard on the ol’ wallet but a $10 t-shirt also comes at a cost that’s often less visible; in human and environmental terms.
Now, as someone who spends 98% of the week in jeans, t-shirts and sweaters I can only dream of owning pieces by Gilda Midani. From her website…
‘I strongly believe that comfort makes the body peaceful. And that elegance and beauty are the natural outgrowth of that feeling. Our pieces are made entirely by hand, many loving hands, for a single purpose: to make you feel as free as possible’
‘I’ve always sought inspiration in folk and primitive cultures, in utilitarian garments of modern times. Much more than in the world of fashion, which I respect and admire, but it’s not where I belong. Materials are cottons, linens, silks, woven, in all their different forms, textures and threads; sometimes even synthetics, just for fun. I focus on varying the scale, the proportions, and the finishing of those basic forms which I consider insuperable, and above all working the textile with the most exquisite manual techniques, from the primitive beeswax batik to the ancient shibori of Japan, with pigments ranging from the traditional plant-based to silicone, plaster and even iron oxide. The only rules are to maintain quality, guarantee comfort and create beauty. To achieve this, anything goes!’
This ain’t rocket science I know but I’d rather support a maker like Midani if it means limiting the thousands of pounds of t-shirts and jeans churned out every year by invisible owners of poorly ventilated factories and the hundreds of kilometres of shipping required to fill those overstuffed racks at Joe Fresh (see the silent costs of the shipping industry here). As challenging as it is I’d rather support hand-made when possible. And oh my, those hands are what make her clothing worth it…
Landscape as Muse
We’re well into the first week of March and it’s snowing outside. Such a pain, but that may explain why I’m drawn to the work of Pippin Drysdale today. It seems to be reaching through my computer screen here; I can almost feel the warmth of those rounded forms on my fingers.
Australian-born Drysdale has been making her beautiful ceramic pieces for decades but if it weren’t for several events early on in her life she might not have stumbled across clay at all. Born into a wealthy family in the oh-so-leafy suburb of Toorak in Melbourne she’s said to have developed a rebellious streak in childhood due to an undiagnosed vision problem that was later corrected at age 12. Later, moving with her family to Western Australia and following high school she would go on to being expelled from business college and failing all subjects at technical college. The business world’s loss and humanity’s gain I’d say. A series of short term jobs in Australia and the UK and a year of travel in Europe ended with her returning to Australia in the early 1960s and a 5 year marriage that ended in 1972. So, where do the ceramics come in I hear you ask. I’m getting to that.
In the early 1970s Drysdale started ‘Pip’s Flowers’ in Melbourne selling her own handmade paper flowers. I suppose it didn’t last because she soon returned to Western Australia, starting a business selling fresh herbs that would eventually be sold across Western Australia (take that business college) and where she commissioned a potter to produce clay vessels to hold the herbs. And that ladies and gentlemen is where she was introduced to the intriguing world of clay. The potter became a friend and built a kiln for her in her back yard where she started making her very own small pots and goblets (I wonder if she still has any of those first pieces). Talk about a circuitous path to finding one’s raison d’etre, and proving that you don’t necessarily need to succeed in grade school or business college to succeed in life.
Driven by her growing passion she obtained an Advanced Diploma in Ceramics from Perth Technical College in Western Australia in 1981 and later completed a study/work tour of Italy and the US in 1982. Three years later she obtained her Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) from Curtin University in Western Australia and in 1997 was selected to be a Research Fellow at the School of Art, Curtin University of Technology. I’m thinking her grade school teachers would’ve been surprised that she would go on to be awarded with both a Master of Australian Craft in 2007 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 from Artsource.
Drysdale is inspired by the astounding hues, forms and vastness of her homeland and other remote places across the globe…
‘She draws inspiration from the colours and textures of landscape, and her emotional interpretations of place and space are injected into each of her pieces. Pippin focuses in particular on the vast, diverse Australian landscape and has created series based around the patterns and colours of the Pilbara region, the eastern Goldfields, the Kimberley, and the Tanami Desert. She has also travelled overseas to draw inspiration from the dips and peaks of Pakistan, India, Russia and Italy’ (via: The Government of Western Australia).
Check out her website where she’s happy to share her wealth of experience about techniques and look for her on Instagram here. Lovely.
First off, let me apologize for the tiny jpegs in this post. I stumbled across the work of Elad Guterman today but it seems all the images I’ve found online from his website are in webpage format (which I don’t have the smarts to alter). So be aware that this is a small sampling of his portfolio and that I highly recommend checking out both his website and his instagram feed.
Born in Israeli and currently living on a kibbutz in the northern part of that country Guterman graduated from the Tel Hai Arts Institute, Jewellery. He collects his raw materials mostly from his work and home environments and describes some of his process here…
‘Everything around me, everything that is thrown, broken, spoiled, rusted, is raw material for me, I start with clay, the material is the first inspiration, now what does it remind me’
‘A shelf from tin turns into trees, scraps of iron become flowers, houses look like an old wooden surface turns into wings – the process by which ostensibly waste becomes an aesthetic concept and takes on a different meaning, personal and emotional’
I don’t know about you but I have only a vague idea about what life is like on a kibbutz (which means ‘gathering’) so I did a little research and found this via https://www.touristisrael.com…
‘A kibbutz is a type of settlement which is unique to Israel. A collective community, traditionally based on agriculture, the first kibbutz was called Deganya and was founded by pioneers in 1910. Today, there are over 270 kibbutzim in Israel and they have diversified greatly since their agricultural beginnings with many now privatized. Regardless of their status, the kibbutz offers a unique insight into Israeli society, and are fascinating places to visit’.
Of course it’d take more than a blog post to delve into the complexities of all that Israel is today but I’m guessing that the first zionists wanting to settle there encountered a lot of hardship in turning previously inhospitable land into agriculturally thriving communities (not that all kibbutzim are strickly agriculture-based these days). They had to start from scratch. I sense that same ethos in Guterman’s work. It’s raw and hand-produced from whatever materials he can source. Waste is given new purpose. I particularly love his casting setup which you can see on his website. Unlike moi who complains bitterly about having to drive 40 kms. to get my stuff cast by a company in Vancouver, this maker has built his own forge/form equipment; just way more basic and immediate and therefore cooler. Check him out.
Let’s be honest here…who likes laminate; the low budget, plastic and ugly imposter of natural materials like stone or wood that’s used for furniture and countertops? How about laminate as a material for jewellery? And how about jewellery that doesn’t rely solely on the intensive mining of gemstones and precious metals? Welcome to the world of maker Karen Vanmol.
Inspired by architecture and nature Vanmol designs using traditional techniques like hinging, threading and sawing to create her graphically bold pieces. And she’s fascinated with paradolia – the psychological phenomenon that describes how we humans try to make sense of random stimuli or patterns – if you’ve ever gazed at a cloud in the sky and decided it looks like a horse or a flower or whatever, or seen a face when you look at the moon, then you’ve experienced paradolia.
She describes some of her process here…
‘Protecting or imitating nature, the use of natural materials in architecture, the restoring of a road surface, accidental strong shapes on a construction site, these things I find very interesting.
On my way through town, I hunt and collect. I always encounter interesting images that I use as an inspiration. In addition, there is a certain choice of materials and colours, these are strongly influenced by memories. For example the necklaces, furniture in different colours, certain constructions. I have my story and the viewer projects its own story on top of mine.
I always start from my sources of inspiration, with these eyes I look around me. Next to that I make jewellery and I like to use my tools and try out how materials reacts to them. Eventually I work with materials, and that provides an additional factor. I find out the properties they possess and how I can edit them and this will count in the final result. Some techniques I use are common and you can find them in your house’. (via Klimt02)
I’m loving the intensity of her pieces, the colours, the shapes, the clean lines AND the fact that she’s able to use a material like laminate (so it stays off countertops). You can find out more about Karen on her website or Instagram.
I wonder how many parents (with the best intentions) redirect their children from a career in art. And how many children grow up and eventually find their way back to it anyway. As a teenager Jorge Manilla wanted to be an artist like his father and grandfather (both were traditionally trained goldsmiths and engravers). But when the 15 year old told his mother he wanted to become a sculptor she threatened to kick him out of the house if he didn’t focus on a real career…like boxing (a prestigious national sport in his native Mexico).
“That was the moment of one of the biggest decisions in my life, and with it I decided to go completely into boxing and work for a sculptor. And this saved my life in every way. Boxing gave me discipline and structure and a clear mind to decide the next step in my life.” (via: Oslo National Academy of Arts)
Several years later and in need of extra cash Manilla was thinking of leaving boxing and began doing modelling for drawing classes at the San Carlos Art Academy in Mexico City. It was there that he decided to study drawing and sculpture (1994-1997) and later jewellery and silversmithing at the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA), Mexico City, Mexico (1998-2002). He would go on to obtain a Bachelors degree in Sculpture (2002-2003) at the Royal Academy of Arts in Ghent, Belgium and a Masters in Jewellery and Silversmithing (2003-2006) from St Lucas University College of Art and Design in Antwerp. He moved to Belgium in 2003 lives and is currently working on his PhD at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
As a non-expert in the field of jewellery I experience an underlying uneasiness when I look at Manilla’s work, something that both disturbs and invites at the same time. Blackened, bulging and mammalian in a weird way, but oh sooo tactile. But he explains what that’s about…
“My central themes are human feelings, death and life. Each piece is like a small altar – physiological, emotional and religious. I like to translate this into materials. Mexicans are very bodily – we say hello, kiss, hug and touch hands. To me, touching is very important, and I am really into natural material, like leather, wood, stones and human bones, because they are related to my cultural past, and the materials have tactility, temperature and heaviness.” (via: Oslo National Academy of Arts)
I highly recommend checking out Manilla’s website here where you’ll see the full breadth of his work and get a peak into why he does what he does. Pretty amazing.
There’s something almost post-apocalyptic about Ariel Lavian’s work, a suggestion that nature, left to it’s own devices will eventually break down any memory left by humans. Very intriguing.
‘My design is influenced by the raw materials surrounding me. I create new worlds from the limited resources and finds tremendous wealth in the soil, the rotting logs, wasp’s nest, branches of the trees, broken objects, old plastic bags, it can be anything. I refer to the material and not to the object, study it, understand its properties and use it to create small but complete scenes of staged nature, ex-wild. I believe that through design – as a tool – I can make a change, make a difference, affect people.’
Lavian obtained a B.F.A. at the Academy of Art and Design in Fashion and Jewellery at Bezalel (2008-2012) and a Masters Degree in Industrial Design at the Academy of Art and Design there (2014-2016).
Being somewhat of a bender of silver I find things made of metal eye-catching. That might explain why I found this image from Paul Cocksedge Studio so captivating. It shows a gently curving thousand pounds of rolled steel balanced, like a sheet of paper captured the moment it touches a horizontal plane and just before it slides out of reach (if you still use paper you’ll know how it can sometimes get away from you…if you’ve ever dropped a sheet I mean) ). So how does unyielding steel bend like that? According to Cocksedge ‘Poised’ is the result of ‘intensive series of calculations regarding gravity, mass, and equilibrium’. I bet it took some heat too.
Frieda Dörfer studied gold smithing, watchmaking and jewellery design for 10 years before branching out on her own in 2014. I came across one of her unique pieces the other day and assumed she’d hand-engraved its surface and, being totally inept at using a graver in my own work, I was impressed with her accuracy. It turns out she’d engraved those precise lines using a 17th century contraption known as a guilloché machine.
So what exactly is a guilloché (pronounced gee-oh-shay) machine? Even if you don’t know what it is you’ve probably seen what it can do…
Yes, it engraves patterns of lines onto metal or in some cases currency paper, faberge eggs, fountain pens and antique cigarette cases. Also known as a rose engine, geometric lathe or engine turning machine it was invented when someone modified a wood lathe, replacing the standard blades that cut away wood material with 2 polished burs that removed a thin line of material from a metal surface. It became a popular look on metal long before the invention of plastic everything and it took great skill to execute, something Dörfer has learned with practice and patience. She operates the guilloché using both hands, one to turn the hand crank and the other to apply even, steady pressure onto the metal surface. To create evenly spaced lines that are equal in depth and without shadow she has to know when and how much pressure to apply, no easy task. If you’d like to see more of her captivating and unique pieces check out her website here.