After 20 years away from ceramics I’ve relapsed to mud play – a passion missed desperately. From wheel throwing through the 1990s to hand building since joining the Darling Downs Potter’s Club in June 2021, my work has evolved from barely functional to purely sculptural.
An early lesson from my lone teacher challenged me to push boundaries in technique and expression; so I’ve always strived to create new forms on the edge of physical possibility. My many, many failures have keenly accelerated my success. New techniques have always tested my imagination, with a complementary pinch of whimsy. I love to explore the infinite shape and texture in clay, enhanced by the interplay of enveloping colour. I prefer gritty, groggy clays, which excel at engineering gravity-defying structure and lending texture to surfaces. When I begin a piece, I have an overall sense of the direction I wish to take. But the clay, my fingers and vision quickly surrender to serendipity. Seldom does a piece not mutate through its growth. I finish with dry stains and minimal use of gloss because they tend to reflect the natural world I relish.
My work is about many things. It is about exploring the ties between life and earth. After all, clay evolves through the fluidity and erosion of our planet. A long trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon once taught me the true meaning of immortal reverence. We are part of the biota responding to geologic time. Is clay the master of us who dare to control it, as some would say; or can it be nature’s gift for expressing our visceral selves? To me, clay is about the gut, about the senses. Viewing forms that are possibly new to one’s experience, feeling textures that seem foreign to the fingers’ expectations about pottery. Whatever symbolism is apparent in my titles is a window for your perception.
The process of making a piece is first and foremost a gift to myself. The finished work is fulfilment for me, but is shared with those who may appreciate its humble qualities. ”That’s interesting” is the perfect response, even if the viewer is puzzled or repelled. It sort of looks like something you recognise, but where does it take your mind as you move around it? Do you see colours moving with you? Are there cultural, historical or physical associations? Or questions of what defines perfection and symmetry in pottery? Hopefully, you will come back to my pieces to discover something rewarding with every exploration.
2021 Ceramic Arts Queensland Siliceous Award for Ceramic Excellence Finalist
Name: Paul Sternberg