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Ceramic Artist Nicolette Johnson Gives Us 'High Spirits'

Art

Just two months ago we visited the sophisticated Brisbane home of longtime TDF fave – artist Nicolette Johnson, and her husband Tom. The pair had upsized from the apartment they shared when we first visited their home in 2016, and Nicolette’s practice has evolved a LOT since then too.

Aside from clinching the winner’s trophy in the Handcrafted category of the inaugural TDF Design Awards in 2019 (and scoring a nomination in this year’s shortlist, too!), Nicolette has been hard at work experimenting and refining her practice – producing collection after collection of astounding, original pieces.

We chatted to the artist about new ways of working, and the creative revelations this year has delivered, ahead of her show High Spirits (love that name going into 2021!) at Sophie Gannon Gallery.

4th November, 2020

Photo – Nicolette Johnson.

Photo – Nicolette Johnson.

Nicolette Johnson with her exquisite creations! Photo – Nicolette Johnson.

Photo – Nicolette Johnson.

Sasha Gattermayr
Wednesday 4th November 2020

‘2020 had a special way of turning my practice upside down and shaking it until something good came out.’ – Nicolette Johnson

From the bumps and turns of this year, a new way of thinking has emerged for Nicolette Johnson.

‘2020 had a special way of turning my practice upside down and shaking it until something good came out,’ the ceramicist explains. ‘I think my current work is unrecognisable from the works I was making a few years ago, and even from the works I was making earlier in the year!’

Between the incredibly intricate Assemblage vases Nicolette created in the first lockdown (which are shortlisted in the TDF + Laminex Design Awards, you can see more here) and the 20 pieces she has built for her new show High Spirits at Sophie Gannon Gallery, the young artist’s prolific output year represents two very distinct sides to her medium.

While creating the fiddly, detailed figures that embellish her large ‘Assemblage’ vases, many of these small decorative elements cracked under the kiln heat. As a result, Nicolette began rapidly moulding by hand, arriving at the coral-like shapes of pressed clay that now make up the handles of her High Spirits vessels. As a result, Nicolette began discovering new shapes. Bulging studded orbs and tall slim vases with rounded clay shards for handles followed, each glazed in opulent shades of deep crimson or royal blue.

The resulting organic, decorative shapes resemble anything from bone to lace to filigree, and appear like relics from another time and place. ‘The pots themselves, some with elaborate halo-like handles and others embellished with rocky studs, are shrouded in jewel-toned glazes and have a talismanic quality, as if originating from an imagined ancient world,’ she describes.

Using predominantly stoneware clay, Nicolette crafts her ethereal vessels in a tiny studio at the back of her home (see where the magic happens here). They are then fired and glazed in a space under the house!

Of the sheer volume and variety of her creative output this year, Nicolette has a few theories. ’I think that because I only arrived at clay five years ago, my practice is evolving all the time, as I search for ways to make work that speaks about who I am, or what I find beautiful or fascinating,’ she posits. Her process has been one of creative catharsis, in which she grapples with the challenges of this year, and searches for the forms that naturally emerge from its uncertainty.

‘If anything, I am feeling more confident to just make whatever I want instead of trying to figure out what other people might like,’ she says.

Words of wisdom for any creative!

High Spirits is on show at Sophie Gannon Gallery (in person!) from 4th – 21st November. Learn more here.

Obsessed with Nicolette’s amazing pieces? Us too! See more of her work 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