No empty vessels at annual EC exhibition

ANNUAL REGIONAL EXHIBITION OF CERAMICS SOUTHERN AFRICA – EASTERN CAPE (ART Gallery, 51b Cuyler Street, Central, until November 9) Reviewed by Jeanne Wright.

THIS is a curated exhibition of 65 works selected by Emma Taggard, Delphine Niez and veteran Sedgefield potter Lesley-Anne Hoets, who also had her own Raku-fired work on display.

Ranging from free-form ceramic sculpture to traditional decorated earthenware, the one thing which struck me about this year’s annual exhibition of ceramics by Eastern Cape ceramists, was the dichotomy between those who control every facet of their medium and those who allow “creative accidents” to inform their vessels’ shapes and textures.

In the hands of experienced potters like Delphine Niez and Donvé Branch, the “accident” factor becomes a tool for experimentation and the expansion of their oeuvre.

Both artists capitalise on the alchemy of what happens when surface accidents occur during firing.

Modern ceramics have moved a long way from their originally utilitarian function and the Bauhaus dictum that “form follows function”.

Most of the pieces on show are designed not to be used, and therefore exist in the realm of studio art. This means the aesthetics of good design apply and especially the aesthetics of the three-dimensional “space envelope” which each piece occupies.

In ceramics, if the dialogue between shape, texture and decorative surface is off balance – and it’s a subtle but damning flaw – you get mediocrity.

Here, with some of the less experienced potters, the way “accident” is handled, manifests as vessels which hover on the cusp of being traditional shapes, but flirt with what their makers regard as “contemporary” shapes.

These end up by teetering on the fine line between being a “failed” pot and being a pot which makes it to another level.

Works which stood out for their innovation and imaginative flair, were Lee Hensberg’s white vessel decorated with baroque detail reminiscent of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, and Nicci Stewart’s reprise of her signature large bowl shape which is decorated with her whimsical and charming motifs. Lydia Holmes won this year’s Award for Excellence with her two blue porcelain vessels which bears out my hypothesis about those who do and those who don’t grasp the marriage between form, texture and the space envelope.

Donvé Branch and Delphine Niez were jointly awarded the People’s Choice Award. Niez, last year’s award- winner, showed technically sophisticated and fragile white porcelain vessels in which foliage and organic material is burnt out of the clay body leaving evocative traces.

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