A huge thank you to everyone for coming along to join us at the opening of our first exhibition focused on objects and design pieces, Relics Today. With a curatorial focus of connecting the practices of eight Australian ceramists, we explore the current Australian home life and contemporary culture through the lens of archaeology. In our interview series below we take a closer look at the individual practices of exhibiting artists Peta Armstrong, Hearth Collective’s Alichia van Rhijn, and Claudia Lau, following our artists’ panel last Saturday; exploring the dexterity of medium, functionality, technique and the sculptural characteristics within form.
MT: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today! I’d love to start at the beginning, could you tell us about what brought you to your ceramic practice?
Alichia van Rhijn:
As far back as I can remember I’ve been making in some way or another. I studied art and woodworking all through school and went on to study architecture and design at university. After a number of years working in a corporate role I found myself itching to make something with my hands again! My lovely fiancé got me a wheel-throwing course at Northcote Pottery, and even though I’m much more of a hand-builder, I’ve been hooked ever since. Since then I’ve studied a Diploma of Ceramics and am now in my second year of a Fine Arts degree majoring in ceramics at the National Art School in Sydney.
For me, I started ceramics as a shift away from my design studies for something more.. tangible. What initially started as a purely utilitarian objective to create for myself, has evolved into a creative practice that sets to challenge my own expectations on how utilitarian can be standalone art objects. During my second year at University, I took pottery classes at Cone11 with my dad. This led me to enrol into electives at the ceramics department at RMIT, giving me a ceramics focussed conceptual learning environment. Having Leah Jackson as a mentor has inspired me the most to feel confident about starting my practice. Of course a huge part of feeling confident in doing so is all the support and encouragement I’ve received from friends, family and stockists. It’s funny because growing up I always wanted to be a pastry chef or baker, but I guess ceramics isn’t too different!
I studied a Bachelor of Communication Design and a Diploma of Interior Design and Decoration at RMIT. After this I made my way as a stylist assistant and this experience exposed me to the many talented makers, and inspired me to make pottery myself. In late 2015 I enrolled in some classes at Guild of Objects and Northcote Pottery Supplies, where I was able to develop basic skills and the confidence to find my own personal style.
MT: It sounds like after study, ceramic classes and the guidance and peer encouragement you all found your own way to ceramics, and the confidence to define your own personal aesthetics. I’m intrigued to know, how would you describe your work?
Perfectly imperfect! My work is a representation of myself in the form of practice in making and concept in my interpretation of contemporary ceramics. They’re a culmination of the techniques and skills I have learnt as a ceramicist, and my exploration of ceramics that balance modern culture and the natural world. I create art objects that challenge and explore the concept of function as the primary purpose of the vessel.
I would describe my work as decisive, terrestrial and stark.
MT: I know you have all at one stage mixed techniques, and mediums with a multidisciplinary approach to creating. Alichia, do you find your practice crosses over into use of other mediums? If so, what are these and what have you learned from them?
Alichia van Rhijn:
I don’t like to restrict myself to just one medium, although my favourites are clay, metal and timber. I find these three blend so beautifully when together, and display details and textures in very unique and interesting ways. Clay is often where I go after working with metal or timber for a few days, as it’s much nicer and softer on the hands compared to carving timber or cutting out metal sheets.
MT: With the concepts of Relics Today engaging the idea of exploring the current Australian home life and contemporary culture, where do you find your major ideas and where do your inspirations come from?
Alichia van Rhijn:
A few years ago I was living in the beautiful Macedon Ranges, which ended up having quite a definitive affect on the work I was producing at the time. I found myself spending a lot of time in the natural spaces around me, wandering and foraging through the pine forests and country roads. My work developed a quiet and organic aesthetic, with lots of soft curves and painstaking details inspired by the textures of the bush flora.
Moving back to the city (Melbourne) last year, I quite quickly noticed a shift in the work I was making, with more angular, geometric and structural forms emerging from being surrounded by a more urban environment.
I’m currently based in Sydney, and am finding myself wandering through old spaces that I used to frequent whilst growing up, creating quite visceral memories and feelings which I’m sure will start affecting my work in some form.
Growing up, my parents instilled a deep sense of appreciation of craft and skill in me. As a family we travelled across Asia every year, giving me the chance to observe locals practising traditional crafting techniques. It gave me a chance to observe how the processes of crafts varies in different cultural traditions informed by geographic context, techniques, purpose and practice. My work is informed by an appreciation of ceramics and it’s cultural significance, adapting observations of cultural variances in ceramic pieces into my work. Travelling in Japan annually has specifically been a big influence. The level of consideration in every aspect thought and integration of considered pieces of design challenges me as a designer. Ceramics is a practice where considerations translate into your work. You have to think about what surface you use, how you dry your work, all these considerations combine together to form the outcome of your piece. A practice informed by research, experimentation, experience and tactical ability. It’s a really amazing skill to have. I think we forget the importance and creative satisfaction of being able to make something for ourselves.
I seek inspiration in nature first and foremost. Observing the sculptural qualities of rocks, sand and the earth weathered by time and the elements is akin to looking at a large scale canvas. I visit galleries too, soaking up the use of colour, form and personal expression across all mediums. I also am very active on Instagram, though I use it more as a clay related social network than somewhere to gain direct inspiration.
MT: How do these inspirations take flight and what influences have you taken on in your own practice of making work?
Alichia van Rhijn:
I draw a lot of my inspiration from my environment, be it through my travels as well as the immediate spaces I encounter. I’m also very drawn to our connection with nature, with the notion of human experience and interaction with spaces being a fundamental aspect to my work.
A shift towards a quieter lifestyle initiated my ceramic practice in 2014 whilst I was studying communication design at RMIT University. Studying a non-ceramics specified degree gave me an environment that fostered design thinking and outcomes informed by concept. Coming from a less traditional path into ceramics pushed me into looking to industry experience as a way to learn. I worked for Wingnut & Co, who have been instrumental in the foundation of my practice. I learnt the required skills of small batch production, increasing scale, quantity, technique to replication, time management and quality control as well as the importance of managing a growing practice. Technical ability is a key to making so it gave me a chance to understand the value of that and learn, practice, improve and implement those skills to my own work.
MT: With such a considered approache to your own ceramic practices, what have been some of your biggest challenges and how have you overcome those?
Alichia van Rhijn:
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, don’t get invested in a piece until the final firing! Unfortunately this is much harder to put into practice!
Learning and committing at the same time. Time and experience are key to technical ability in ceramics. When I initially lacked in experience I had time to learn, experiment and make only to practice and learn. It’s been a challenge to accept my skill capacity and allow myself time to keep learning and experimenting when I have commitments or am working within a time frame. I’ve found it hard to turn down opportunities but I have come to realise I only have two hands and I’m only at the start of my career.
Being mostly self taught, there have been many technical challenges along the way, however, the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far is more personal. I have overcome the anxiety that my work wasn’t worth pursuing in a larger scale. This change has been creatively freeing and has shored up my conviction in myself and my pieces.
MT: What might a typical day making your work look like?
The last few years have come with great learning, to find a balance between work, University and my creative practice.
Ceramics is a very laborious and intense process. It’s a whole body movement working with large scale materials and equipment. I’ve learnt that what you do physically is really important, so I like to rotate between pilates in the morning or an afternoon swim everyday. During breakfast I go over a to-do list that everything I need to action. Timing is so important in the process. It normally takes 6-8 weeks to complete a piece from start to finish; of course taking into consideration, the scale, thickness, form and clay body used. It requires you to multi-task, and have discipline. I’m normally working on a few pieces at a time so you have to be quite organised to keep track of every component. Since I live at home and work independently, it has been an interesting learning curve of self-enforced work hours, including of course learning when to finish up in the studio.
I like to start the day with a walk along Darebin Creek, to get my brain and body warmed up and in sync. Admin comes next, if I can I like to have all screentime done before I get my hands dirty, as it interrupts the flow of work. When I’m in my backyard studio space I will start by checking on pieces I’ve made previously, monitoring drying and continuing to work on those that are ready for the next process. I generally begin new pieces later in the afternoon, working from notebook sketches or pure clay exploration and call it a day when I feel physically or creatively drained. I swing between listening to podcasts and classical music depending on the process I’m working on and how much brain power I need to devote to it.
Thank you all so much for taking the time to tell us all about your work today!
To see the works from Relics Today exhibition artists Peta Armstrong, Ella Bendrups, Dáša Ceramics (Hana Vasak), Hearth Collective (Alichia van Rhijn), Nicolette Johnson, Tessy King, Claudia Lau, and Zhu Ohmu, please visit us in-store at our Fitzroy showroom, till the 25th of July!