Art from the earth
Versatile, sensuous, malleable, as basic as mud and as old as art itself, clay is increasingly emerging as a material of choice for a wide range of contemporary artists.
Ceramic art has finally come out of the closet, disentangling itself from domestic servitude and minor-arts status - perhaps for good.
The recent exhibition of ceramics by potter Patrick Hall of Mustard Seed Communities, and paintings by guest artist Penelope Stewart, represented elements of form, technique, surface decoration, and colour that is admired in ceramic art.
Clay is a common material with an ancient history. Populist as well as elitist, its inclusive nature might be one reason for its current appeal. Ceramics are objects made from shaping clay and other raw materials through the process of pottery and allow the artist to create form in spontaneous and direct ways that other mediums do not.
The word 'ceramic' comes from the Greek 'keramos' meaning 'clay'. Ceramic objects have been made by human cultures throughout the world for almost 5,000 years. Traditionally, ceramic objects have been made for both artistic and utilitarian purposes. Today, ceramic as an artistic form of expression thrives alongside its importance in various technical industries.
Hall produces a diverse range of ceramic pieces with more than 20 years of experience working with clay. Methodical and highly creative, he pays keen attention to detail, with his greatest inspiration coming from nature and the movement of natural forms such as leaves and trees. His craftsmanship and dedication are evident in the elegance of his pieces, reflecting his feel for colour and tone.
Ceramics was not Hall's first career choice. He preferred mechanics and electronics, but during a three-week job placement at Things Jamaica, he fell in love with the entire process of turning dirt into objects to create value.
Hall, who is influenced by Jamaica's most famous potter, Cecil Baugh, says his work is not defined by one style, but he easily adjusts to new situations. "I see pottery as a therapy for the mind. When I am creating I am lost to the world - I am really in the piece. The work is me; 'me' is the work," he said.
Working with Mustard Seed Communities, his sought-after pieces, which are both practical and pleasing to the eye, bring much-needed income to the charitable organisation. He has had two solo exhibitions and has received awards in 12 Jamaica Cultural Development Commission competitions. Hall has also worked alongside other Jamaican potters including Norma Harrack and Margaret McGee.
Meanwhile, Penelope Stewart showcased 19 pieces of painting and drawings inspired mainly by her grandchildren. Her work is about her own personal values and experiences and her ongoing quest to find the means of expression - colour, language, exploration of technique and dimension.
"I tend to do much bigger and serious pieces, but when I need a break, the smaller pieces create a form of relaxation for me. I also use things around me and in nature for my pieces, and even mystical creations that delve into the spirit and the mind," Stewart said.
Also, a theatrical set designer, Stewart grew up in East Africa where her empathy for nature took root. Later she relocated to England where she studied and held lectureship in a leading London school of art. In Jamaica she has taught at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and after her recent move to Montego Bay, has created her own working studio, dubbed 'The Studio'. She invites other artists throughout the year to show their exhibits there.