James Lemon’s new Northcote studio and retail space didn’t look anything like this when he moved in, in April this year. What was once a dark, cluttered auto shop with rough concrete floors and harsh fluorescent lighting is now bright, spacious and welcoming, with lush greenery occupying every available corner and surface. It was important to James to create his space and thoughtfully and sustainably as possible. ‘Most of the fixtures and materials in the studio are recycled or second hand, so the space represents what is not in landfill right now’, he says. ‘It’s vital to my space to waste little, and make the most of what I can.’
James painted the entire place white (including the floors), lined the walls with shelving to display his work, and set up a long bench with six wheel-throwing stations, where he currently holds small classes on Tuesday evenings, Wednesday daytimes and Saturdays (and by appointment). ‘Small classes allow me to actually spend time with people, learn where they’re at so I can actually teach and also get to know people, and work on the projects or forms that they want to work on’, he says.
As far as his own practice goes, James says it has ‘evolved quite dramatically’ since he first started making work in 2015. ‘I’ve become more expressive’ he tells me. While he’s still making his simple, signature line of ceramics, he’s also creating experimental pieces that blur the lines between functional pieces and artwork. Meanwhile, the popularity of his functional wares have resulted in collaborations with institutions including the NGV and Heide MoMA.
James truly puts his heart and soul into the work he creates, and his creative practice is about so much more to him than the final outcome. ‘I like ceramics as a material for its physical and sensory qualities, as well as the emotional rollercoaster it can put you through’, he says. ‘I’ve learnt many lessons for life through this weird mud material. It’s allowed me to learn to breathe and know myself.’
What strikes me the most about James, and really the greater ceramics community in Melbourne, is how dedicated they are to supporting one another. Every time I’ve spoken with a ceramicist about their practice and creative philosophy, I never get a sense of competition, or ownership of any aesthetic, but there is almost always a strong focus on building community.
That’s what James is trying to do with his new space, which he is treating as ‘test for something a bigger’, to see whether this model of retail, workshop, and studio is financially viable. He has goals to ‘create more community between creative people, the spaces they occupy and the people that support their work’. Somewhere where creatives can come together, share resources, escape the solitude of their studios, and practice their craft in a collaborative, sustainable way. James admits that right now it’s ‘too soon to know’ whether this is actually feasible long term, but I really hope it happens for him!
Join James to celebrate his new space in an opening shindig on Friday, October 18th from 6.30-8.30pm! You can book in for a workshop here.
James Lemon Store + Studio
41 Arthurton Road