Studio Visit

Ornate, Oozing Ceramics By Ebony Russell

We don’t tend to think of ‘cake decoration’ as an art form, but in Renaissance Europe, ornate ‘sugar sculpture’ was a highly esteemed craft, displayed at Royal palaces and grand feasts, as a symbol of luxury and excess. (Think Marie Antoinette, The Palace of Versailles, etc!)

In the Sydney suburb of Glebe, visual artist and educator Ebony Russell continues this tradition in her own contemporary art practice. Referencing the traditionally ‘female’ craft of cake decoration to create her droopy, glazed porcelain forms, Ebony explores the intersection of cake decoration, craft and feminism. For real!

Sasha Gattermayr

Ebony Russell is a visual artist using cake decorating techniques to create her totally unique porcelain sculptures. Photo – Simon Hewson.

Sculptural details. Photo – Simon Hewson.

Ebony’s finished pieces marry whimsy and weirdness with an underlying sense of purpose. Photo – Simon Hewson.

Fine porcelain ribbons hold their textured rivulets in perfectly slumped form. Photo – Simon Hewson.

This finished globular sculpture looks like coils of toothpaste stacked on top of one another! Photo – Simon Hewson.

Creating blobs of porcelain ornaments with her trusty piping bag. Photo – Peter Morgan.

These candelabras are made from layers upon layers of porcelain squeezed through different shaped nozzles on a piping bag, traditionally used for cake decorating. They look like a mermaid’s treasure concealed in an underground grotto! Photo – Simon Hewson.

A corner of the studio resembles a confectioner’s workshop! Photo – Peter Morgan.

A candle-stick holder is one of Ebony’s functional objects. Photo – Simon Hewson.

Sasha Gattermayr
2nd of July 2020

Raised by a family of creative women who used craft as an avenue for creative and financial independence, Ebony Russell is fascinated with the feminist agency her ceramics practice holds.

‘Looking back now, I can see how my love of art was shaped by the craft practices of my mother, aunts and grandmothers,’ she explains. ‘The skills that were passed down through the traditions from both sides of my immigrant family, shaped my love of craft and art from an early age. I was always surrounded by women making things for love and for family.’

Surrounded by this web of artistic maternal influences, Ebony knew she wanted to be an artist from an early age. After 15 years of full time teaching (and raising two daughters!), Ebony finally returned to study in her late thirties. She graduated from a Master’s of Fine Arts from the National Art School in Sydney just last year, and has taken up permanent residence at experimental ceramics studio in Glebe. With two kilns in her backyard for midnight lustering sessions, lecturing undergraduate Fine Arts students, teaching extracurricular art classes at her daughters’ primary school and upcoming solo exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney, it feels like Ebony’s ceramic style has entered the world fully formed!

Steeped in historical references, Ebony’s ornate forms are at once opulent, oozing, and organic. Her drip castles with their toothpaste-like coils are squeezed through a cake piping bag before they are glazed and fired. Symbolically, the use of these confectioner’s tools is bound up with legacies of seduction, consumption and desire, but these heavy historical associations appear playful and weird in this fresh contemporary context.

Ebony’s distinct style combines a complicated, layered aesthetic with naive pleasure and delight. Sometimes she incorporates perspex, glass and fibre into her constructions to really push the structure of her medium to its limits, catching a sculpture right before it collapses beyond repair. It’s this moment of deterioration that Ebony is seeking to capture, hoping to hold and preserve her tottering forms right at the cusp of ruin.

Ebony is inspired by the infinite possibilities of her material, and the potential to explore and subvert traditionally ‘feminine’ creative practices. ‘I will never master all of clay, there is always another direction to pursue, new glazes, different clay bodies, endless techniques and processes to play with’ she says. ‘It will always be exciting to me.’

A major solo exhibition of Ebony’s works will be held at Artereal Gallery from 4th – 28th November, including a large-scale ceramic installation.

Ebony’s conceptual and sculptural work is represented by Artereal. Her one of a kind functional objects are available to shop via Piped Dreams Studio.

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