Interview with Simon Levin by Jude Muduioa

Internationally renowned potter, teacher, writer, and mentor Simon Levin will be visiting Australia later this year. Ahead of his much anticipated workshop with Ceramic Arts Queensland in September, I chatted with Simon to gain insight into his ceramics practice and approach to teaching.

More information about Simon and his work is available on his website and on Instagram @woodfire

How would you describe your Practice?

I would describe my practice as a conversation that is happening in the studio with questions being asked and answered and raising new questions. It allows me to be caught in something that is bigger than me.

The questions that are asked are sometimes by me and also are asked by process. Something will happen with the clay body or a wood firing and then I wonder what can I do with that? What does that make me think of?

Sometimes it’s the form that has emerged from looking at previous forms. This is a natural conclusion or evolution from what’s been said and done previously.

The hypothetical, the what if, the exploration – extending the idea of functional, extending the idea of making functional bowls, plates, cups, pitchers. Or what happens if I start making a table? Could I make a clay table to put them on? This is still in the realm of functional, and what happens if I fire that plate on the table, the silhouette of the plate so that this plate always belongs on this table top. Okay that’s interesting, what if the shadow of the plate isn’t there, so you make a table for four people with place settings for four people and you’re eating alone on the plate that belongs on the other plate and the ghost of the images of the plates that weren’t there.

“Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions” (Elizabeth Kingsley). That’s where I identify with that idea, it is by paying attention to what is happening by listening to a conversation, you find out more.

“I write to know what I think and by making I will find out my values” (Flannery O’Conner). My practice is getting in there and doing stuff and paying attention, to be aware and figure things out. The practice is to make a studio environment that is not limiting.

Describe the journey to your current practice?

I had really great teachers early on, in the sense that they would teach with questions, and really fairly simple questions or observations. The teacher would ask questions, I was making a pot and one of my teachers really liked the outside of the pot and then would question what about the inside. They would proceed to become more attentive to what I was doing. They would begin to ask about thickness and weight. This would add to my vocabulary and awareness. Then I was blessed to fall in love with wood firing, there was also a sense of making the work mine. How might I design the clay to respond to the wood firing? Or making a kiln that would make the surfaces that I am interested in.

Your involvement from start to finish becomes more and more engaging along the process of making if you’re building the kiln and designing the

clay body. I think that there is a quality to the wild clay movement that is similar and somehow empowering and pleasurable to know where your clay comes from. But if you’re engineering your clay from multiple clay sources you are picking and choosing what your like and what works.

I am drawing a parallel between connection to the work and the making of the work and the process and my earlier comment about engagement. The two overlap – connection and engagement.

Join Simon Levin for his workshop Not Down With Round on 4 September 2024 at the Brisbane Institute of Art.

Book via our website:

This article was first published in CAQ’s Quarterly Bulletin June 2024.