Local ceramicist and artist Kirsten Perry first used clay when she was in primary school. Every young pupil in the class was given the task of making one mud brick each, and the bricks were then used to build a new art room for the school! Kirsten’s been working with clay ever since, and is still in awe of how thus humble material can be shaped to make anything the imagination desires.
There’s both a pragmatic and recreational side to Kirsten’s practice, and she makes every effort to keep this balance in check. She studied a Bachelor of Industrial Design at RMIT, which gave her a solid technical understanding of how to build models, use materials and think laterally. Following this degree, she went on to undertake a Bachelor of Fine Art. ‘It was really self-indulgent but having that time of pure creative expression is great’ she says.
Working out of her Preston studio, Kirsten makes ceramic sculptures, functional vessels and jewellery injected with a distinct sense of humour and fun. A ceramic planter shaped as a basketball, or a pyramid sculpture with watchful eyes are some of the things Kirsten makes, but everything has a special meaning. Sometimes, her works transpire from unexpected observations in everyday life, such as a conversation overhead on a tram, and at other times she is inspired by simple practical necessity – like needing a planter in her own house.
Kirsten is currently developing a series of ceramic sculptures for an upcoming solo show opening at Mr Kitly in Brunswick this October.
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?
I’m a big fan of education, both formal and informal. First I did a BA in Industrial Design at RMIT, which gave me a solid base in model making, materials, mould making and technical requirements. It gave me the confidence to research and make with any type of material. After this, I really wanted to study fine art, so went straight into a BA of Fine Art (Gold & Silversmithing) at RMIT. It was really self-indulgent, but having that time of pure creative expression is great. It kind of sticks with you.
Following this, I went and lived in Japan for a year, but after discovering a cancerous lump in my neck, I came back to Australia for treatment. For 2-3 years I focused on my health and didn’t really do anything creative until I decided to go back to RMIT to study Multimedia, and fell in love with animation. After that, I started making again, using nontoxic materials such as cast jewellery and ceramics. From there, my ceramics got bigger and I had my first solo show in 2011. I was also teaching Multimedia at TAFE, and after a few years moved into educational design. I like the balance of the two types of work, but would still like more time for my art practice. It’s a constant struggle!
How would you describe your work, and what influences your subject matter?
I’m really into materials and the making processes. The end result can be exhibition work that explores themes like humour, chance or anthropomorphism with abstracted forms. I also like making functional pieces and honing multiples of an object until I am happy with it.
I spent several years working towards a masters degree, which unfortunately I was unable to complete, however I continue to be interested in the research topic, specifically Shintoism, animism, Japanese wabi sabi and Buddhism. It’s a bit of a cliche, that Japanese influence, but I’m equally interested in popular culture and including humour into my work.
I’m in love with different materials: clay’s plasticity, paper’s foldability or crumpled texture, and cardboard’s quick adaptability for mould making. Paper and clay are very different materials and the combination of paper’s quick working methods and mistakes often produces serendipitous outcomes in the clay.
How did you originally become involved with ceramics, and what drew you to this craft initially?
I used clay in primary school and we all chipped in to make mud bricks for our new art room. When I studied Industrial Design, I designed a pottery wheel for a project, which I used as an excuse to do a wheel throwing course. After getting sick, I was searching for non-toxic materials to work with, and just went from there. Technically I have so much yet to master with clay, so I haven’t grown bored of it yet!
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?
I usually think of ideas as I am falling asleep, at work or when overhearing funny things on the tram. I try to sketch ideas down quickly, in case I forget them. I carry a notebook everywhere and have a large collection to refer to later on. I really look forward to making new work when I have time in the studio.
Most of my ideas are not fully realized until I start making, because in the end the materials impose their restrictions. I like pushing a material or making process to its limit. Quite often during the making process, the idea doesn’t live up to expectations and very rarely it exceeds it.
I start with cardboard and paper mould prototypes. This process is quick and satisfying. On the flip side of this, working with clay is a long, formalised process – waiting for plaster moulds to set, clay to dry and work to be fired. It can take months for one piece, so I always have a few things on the boil. It’s so easy to make mistakes or break clay, you have to learn to laugh and let go.
During the whole process, I’m never sure how things will turn out and opening a kiln is always an exciting experience. I just hope the end work is a combination of spontaneity and technical calculation, but also humorous lightness, and a subtle connection to other concepts that are maybe working on me subconsciously. I work better if I do yoga, meditate and allow things to naturally come to the surface, mistakes included.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I usually start with messy, long drying work first, like slip casting or plaster mould making. Then I go for a walk or do yoga before I clean up and start on more detailed processes. I don’t have any strict routine, and I’m usually more productive if I am making new work or working towards an exhibition. I’ll work until I am satisfied, cold or have had enough. I don’t push myself too hard. Enjoyment has to be a priority. But when I am in the zone, it’s hard to stop.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Eddy Carrol – Eddie’s work has an esoteric beauty that hypnotises all who delve in.
Anna White – Anna has a spontaneous sensitivity to her paintings that comes from a sophisticated understanding of colour and movement.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Instagram – I keep up with other creative going ons and discover other artists both here and overseas.
Pinterest – For me it’s like a calming activity, looking at pretty and interesting stuff. You tend to notice trends, which can help you to avoid them.
Podcasts – This American Life, The Spirit of Things and Marc Maron. I especially enjoy any type of creative person being interviewed.
Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter – His positive twist forecast and news stories warms my heart a little.
Brainpickings – If I get time I like to delve into their weekly articles.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
I’ve been asked to run a few workshops at places like NC4, Craft Victoria and Northcote Pottery. Taking a class on a subject you are passionate about with people who are keen to learn is such a treat.
What would be your dream creative project?
I’d love to collaborate with an artist who works in a different medium. If I had the time, finding an empty window in the city to set up a small gallery space.
What are you looking forward to?
Any spare hours I have to play in my studio or attending a yoga class keeps me smiling. I’m also looking forward to the arrival of Spring and visiting my sister Megan in Perth.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I’m loving my ‘hood Preston, especially the market where I can get gooey cheese, kefir, fresh flowers, vegetables and seafood. Preston is still a good mix of people. The ‘50s and ‘60s houses and gardens are great, but there are new cafes and bars popping up for the younger crowd. It’s not totally gentrified.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Soi 38, authentic street food Thai noodles in a Melbourne car park. It’s a great place to meet a friend for a quick lunch.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Yoga at Prana House, then heading to Northcote Pottery for some supplies. Paul and Debbie are my favourite people at Northcote Pottery.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Coburg Trash and Treasure Market on the weekend. You might get lucky and find a few good plants, but if you consider the $2 entry fee is for pure entertainment value, then you won’t go home disappointed.