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New Book and Exhibition Explore the Hidden Side of Ceramics

With "New Wave Clay" and its accompanying exhibition, London journalist Tom Morris investigates artists getting their hands dirty around the globe.


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In the hyper-digital 21st- century, it’s only natural that people have felt the urge to reconnect to the physical world around them. First came local, farm-to-table food, then the maker movement and the revival of craft. And now, all around the world, a new set of creatives are expressing themselves through one of the world’s oldest mediums: clay. But, as London design journalist (and Departures contributor) Tom Morris explains it in his book New Wave Clay: Ceramic Design, Art and Architecture (Frame), this isn’t your grandmother’s porcelain (or the mugs you made in grade school). And it’s not just crunchy craftspeople or fine artists who are getting in on the action.

“There's a shortage of clay in the UK at the moment,” Morris explained over the phone one April morning, his way of demonstrating the medium’s surging popularity. This wave is bolstered both by rising auction prices and the support of design galleries as it is by the hobbyists that have flocked to the open studios popping up in urban centers around the world. “We live in an age of touchscreens, and I think people just have this real yearning to make something with their hands—and own thing that have been made by people’s hands,” explains Morris, who himself makes small architecturally inspired ceramics. (“I’m not very good, but I really enjoy it,” he says.)

As an introduction to the wide-open world of ceramics, Morris’ book spotlights 55 artists and designers reimagining the ancient material for a new century. This oeuvre ranges from the oversized vessels of Los Angeles ceramicist Bari Ziperstein to the 3D-printed work of Olivier Van Herpt, and from 16th-generation Kyoto master potter Matsubayashi Hosai XVI to Grayson Perry, the British artist who recently won the prestigious Turner Prize for his vases. In fact, the book reveals, it’s not a single new style that’s emerging; today’s ceramicists are more concerned with expression than they are about tradition.

Today, medium-agnostic designers might “go from making a light out of ceramic to a sofa made out of marble,” Morris explains. With that in mind, he took a cue from the medium’s shift from the “ghetto” of craft technique to part of a wider approach to art, and divided the book into four themes—Joy, Simplicity, Structure, and Nostalgia—each defined by the feelings the work evokes.

In addition to the book, Morris will host a showing of London ceramicists at London’s ONEROOM gallery this spring. “The pieces will live around the space,” Morris says of his unprecious-approach to curating. “I want to show that ceramics come alive when they're on a mantlepiece, or on a bookshelf, or your mug collection.”

And that, he says, is what makes this living medium so enticing to so many. “We've lost that element of accident and chance and alchemy. When you put your thing in the kiln, you kiss it, and you pray to the kiln gods that it comes out the other end. When it doesn’t it heartbreaking; when it does, it's really exhilarating—because it's something much more ephemeral that you can't control,” he says. “I think that turns a lot of people on. You should try it!”


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