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Kerryn Levy's Wonderfully Wonky Ceramics

Studio Visit

If there is one ceramicist who is consistently namechecked when we quiz our homeowners for the lowdown on their pieces, it’s Kerryn Levy! The Adelaide-based artist’s rough, handbuilt clay vessels are present in the enviable collections of top-notch Australian creatives, from Nicolette Johnson to Christina Economous.

Realised through a combination of wheel-throwing and hand-building techniques, Kerryn’s designs are led by intuition and flow. What results is a distinctly handmade quality, reflecting the intimacy and texture of her craft. Her statement candelabras make the grandest gestures of all her pieces, almost resembling a river delta as though viewed from above.

Off the back of her recent show at Redfern gallery Curatorial + Co., we chatted with the ceramicist to learn more about her creative roots.

19th October, 2020

Photo – Kerryn Levy.

Photo – Kerryn Levy.

Photo – Alex Frayne.

Photo – Kerryn Levy.

Photo – Kerryn Levy.

Photo – Kerryn Levy.

Photo – Alex Frayne.

Photo – Kerryn Levy.

Photo – Ashlee Hopkins.

Sasha Gattermayr
Monday 19th October 2020

‘I start with a flat base and slowly building upwards, coil by coil, pinching, smoothing, cutting, folding and shaping as I go until I’m satisfied with the form.’ – Kerryn Levy

Adelaide-based Kerryn Levy’s covetable ceramic vessels are organic and fluid constructions bearing the human marks of their composition. Her forms are made through a slow, manual process of pinching, smoothing and folding clay into a functional shape, meaning they carry impressions of the fingers, nails and muscle that moulded them. Kerryn is inspired by the natural world, the human body and the connection between the two.

Both earthy and sculptural, Kerryn’s finished pieces look as though they might have been buried in the clay all along, awaiting the right practitioner to come along and reveal their final forms.

We recently spoke with Kerryn about her practice.

Hello Kerryn! It’s so nice to finally chat. To kick things off, what’s been your creative journey so far?

I first started working with clay at UniSA where I completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2014. After graduating I took some time away to live and travel in Canada, where I joined a couple of ceramics studios, and sold functional wares at fortnightly markets. This time of making and selling pots solidified my desire to make ceramics my full-time career, so I came back to Adelaide and undertook the associate program at JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design.

The program and community at Jam provided me with invaluable experiences, mentorship, the time and space to develop my skills and creative identity, and the opportunity to partake in a Japanese residency in 2018 that helped shaped my design aesthetic and processes.

Can you tell me about the space in which you typically create? How long have you been here?

After completing the associate program in December 2017, I was offered the opportunity to continue renting a studio space at JamFactory (Adelaide) that I now share with my good friend and fellow ceramicist Connie Augoustinos. It’s a beautiful, light-filled studio where you’ll usually find music playing, incense burning, and Connie and I working at any number of activities from building pots, glazing, packing orders, having meetings, or having a cuppa on the couch.

Can you tell me a little about the process of actually creating your works? What materials do you use, and how long do they usually take?

I use a range of Australian hand-building clays; my two favourites at the moment are terracotta stoneware and a sandy white clay. I can create a variety of different surfaces and finishes using just these two clays and a couple of glazes.

I coil-build my vessels, starting with a flat base and slowly building upwards, coil by coil, pinching, smoothing, cutting, folding and shaping as I go until I’m satisfied with the form. Some shapes are as quick as half an hour to make, others I might work on for several days, depending on size and complexity.

I don’t usually work from sketches or plans, I will often make decisions about the shape as its coming to life, but if I’m working on a pair I will often sketch some ideas for the second shape to make sure it ‘fits’ and interacts somehow with its partner.

Do you have any key references or inspirations?

My main influence is the natural environment, the colours and textures of various landscapes and native flora: charcoal blacks, ochre reds, silvery whites, and most recently a range of greens. I also refer to the human body, tracing lines and curves from imagery by Edward Weston, Ruth Bernhard, Prue Stent and Carlota Guerrera to list a few, that inform the silhouettes of some of my pieces.

How has the year that has been 2020 affected your work, or your approach to your work?

This year has actually been really successful for me. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have continued access to my studio all year, and although I stopped teaching classes through the lockdown period, I was able to focus entirely on making stock and developing exhibition work. I was able to refine some of my processes, develop new glazes and add new products to my online shop.

I think as many of us have been forced to spend more time at home, the desire to create special spaces using handmade objects has led many people to invest in objects like mine.

Keen to check out more of Kerryn’s incredible pieces? See her website here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net