Artist in Focus: Kirsten Perry

Our Artist in Focus series gives us an opportunity to celebrate a body of work by one of our talented artists or designers. This month, we’re excited to shine the light on ceramicist Kirsten Perry and her sculptural pieces; some have spherical forms and curve in unexpected directions, while others are blocky or geometric and slightly off-centre. Here, we chat to Kirsten about how she takes pieces of paper and discarded bits of foam, and transforms them into these unusually beautiful ceramic forms finished with charcoal engobe, platinum and gold lustre.

Ceramicist Kirsten Perry, our current Artist in Focus, takes pieces of paper and discarded bits of foam and transforms them into unusually beautiful ceramic forms.

Can you tell us a bit about what led you to being an artist?

I was always creative as a kid, often making craft. In high school I was good at maths and science so a teacher suggested I study industrial design, which was great because I leant about different materials and mold making. From there I studied fine art jewellery, lived in Japan where got sick with cancer and stopped making anything for a few years, then eventually studied multimedia. I found myself seeking a non toxic material that would allow me to go bigger than jewellery scale, so I taught myself ceramics.

A self-taught ceramicist, Kirsten is interested in highlighting faults and imperfections through her pieces.
Each vessel is made up of several smaller pieces and the final form evolves at different stages of her process.

There are so many different steps and stages involved in your process – could you talk us through from start to finish?

1) It starts with an idea of a form; either finished or a smaller form that can be added to other forms;

2) Sculpt in foam or cardboard;

3) Cast in plaster, then let it dry completely;

4) Cast in slip liquid clay;

5) Remove form at the right moment;

6) Attach to other elements and forms;

7) Dry then bisque fire;

8) Glaze and possibly add more elements;

9) If required, multiple glaze firings will follow.

Some of Kirsten's pieces draw influence from traditional ceramic vessels and others from the plant world.
Building harmonious relationships between the forms is crucial. Kirsten says some work alone but most need an "unexpected partner that can carry them to a new level".
"Sometimes a form comes to me as I’m falling asleep or daydreaming at work and it starts as a simple sketch," Kirsten says.

With different elements making up each sculpture, at what point do you see the final pieces form in your mind?

The final pieces evolve at different stages in my process. Sometimes a form comes to me as I’m falling asleep or daydreaming at work and it starts as a simple sketch. Some draw influence from traditional ceramic vessels and others from the plant world. These forms are used as building blocks to make up a bigger form. Building harmonious relationships between the forms is crucial. Some work alone but most need an unexpected partner that can carry them to a new level.

Creating and making is Kirsten's form of therapy and she finds a lot of joy in spending hours in her studio.
I like to create pleasing objects that challenge the norm and highlight vulnerability.”
— Kirsten Perry
She has a very open approach to her practice; if a piece doesn't work out the way she planned, she sees it as a learning curve.

There is so much depth to your practice and a lot of love imbued in your process. How did you reach this point as an artist?

I make because I love making, and in some ways, making is my therapy. I like to create pleasing objects that challenge the norm and highlight vulnerability. I seek pleasant, unexpected solutions to problems.

In what ways does your work challenge you or change the way you think?

To create a solution to a problem, I come at it from a different angle. Sometimes I look at a piece and feel it needs something to make it special. It’s a balance of not too much or too little difference so it’s relatable but still me. Making the same type of work over and over again doesn’t challenge me or help me evolve. I have to let go of the fear of making a mistake and step happily into the unknown. Even if I’m not happy with the piece I’ve learnt something and can usually salvage some part of it to take it in another direction.

With this series, 'Cut and Fold', Kirsten has experimented with gold lustre and platinum finishes.
Her interest in materials with different structural properties to clay led to her experimenting with casting using paper and foam.

You work with materials that others wouldn’t usually consider to be useful or beautiful, such as polystyrene foam. How does this restrict or broaden your work and what do you enjoy about this material?

For a few years now I’ve been experimenting with casting different materials such as cardboard and foam. I’m interested in materials not usually associated with clay that have different structural properties. Paper is thin and can be easily folded. Foam can be easily carved and has a very interesting texture. Casting these throw away materials in clay brings two different worlds together to make a unique object. The soft, light foam is translated into heavy, brittle ceramic.

"Casting throw away materials in clay brings two different worlds together to make a unique object," explains Kirsten.

You’ve travelled a lot and completed residencies around the world. How does travel and experiencing new places influence your work?

It’s nice to get away from my everyday mundane existence and see life from another perspective. I spent 6 months in Germany in 2017 and a few months in Peru in 2018. Not working a day job for those times is enough to bring me happiness so making ceramics is an added bonus.

'Cut and Fold' explores Kirsten's innate ability to push the boundaries of scale and proportion.

Quick-fire questions! 

Where to next on your travel wish list?

I’m really keen to visit the desert in the US. Somehow it’s calling me. My friend has a massive photo of Monument Valley during the winter on her wall. It captivates me every time I visit.

What are you listening to at the moment (music and/or podcast)?

I’m listening to the Ron Burgundy and Desert Island Discs podcasts, and NTS radio hosts Cry Later and Patrick Forge in the studio.

If you could purchase one thing for your home, and money was no object, what would it be?

One thing for my home would be a custom built wall shelf for my living room. I’m constantly running out of space for stuff. I have ceramics everywhere and I usually like to study a piece I’m not so happy with so I can determine how I can improve it. A Togo couch to go with it would be nice.

The 23 pieces in this series are available exclusively through Modern Times.

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