Studio Visit

These Painterly Ceramic Pieces Make Every Day A Party!

If there’s such thing as a ‘rockstar’ ceramicist, Kelly Murphy of Benna co is it! Over the last four years, her vibrant, painterly works have developed a bit of a cult following. Inspired by the chunky, wonky outcomes of student ceramic work, Kelly has used this naivety as inspiration, and refined it to perfection.

Originally trained in painting at the VCA, Kelly brings an artist’s aesthetic to the functional wares that she fondly refers to as ‘party plates’– if they’re going to be used every day, why not have a bit of fun with them?!

Sally Tabart

Kelly Murphy of Benna. Co’s Brunswick studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kelly was originally inspired by the aesthetic of student ceramics. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kelly – artist, ceramicist and mother-of-three! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A selection of pieces waiting to be glazed. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Glazes at the ready. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A corner of the studio featuring some of Kelly’s wall hanging. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kelly working on her intricate glazing. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Glazes ready for painting. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Kelly was originally trained as a painter at the VCA. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Taking a freshy out of the kiln! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A selection of Kelly’s ‘party plates’! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

A family of Benna. Co vases and planters. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sally Tabart
9th of July 2021

Kelly Murphy of Benna co brings all the good vibes with her sculptural, one-of-a-kind, functional ceramics. Although the artist, ceramicist and mother-of-three creates pieces intended for everyday use, they’re also the kind of wares you’ll want to leave out on display, rather than hidden away in a cupboard!

Trained as a painter at the VCA, Kelly now applies an intricate glazing method to her plates, platters, cups, vases and planters, giving them a joyful, painterly quality that is highly coveted (hot tip – she just dropped  her most recent collection of pieces last night, get in quick!).

Over the last four years Kelly has refined her style to create an aesthetic that is completely unique and collectable, and totally her.  We chat more about how she’s made it happen!

First things first – how did you come to ceramics? can you tell me a little about your creative journey so far?

I studied painting at VCA in the pre-social-media age of the early 2000’s, when earning a living from art-making was certainly a challenge.

I let painting fall by the wayside when I had my first baby in 2012, and simply couldn’t find the time or headspace to paint with a baby and a day job. Skip ahead a few years, and my creative outlet became homemaking and I left my day job to start selling vintage furniture and homewares. When I couldn’t source enough vintage planters I thought I’d try my hand at making my own.

I was pregnant with my third baby and wrangling furniture around town was getting harder so this new found creative outlet was just what I needed. I had always loved the naivety of student ceramics and collected them from op-shops, so my skill level as a beginner was just right to recreate those chunky, bulbous and sometimes brutal forms.

Eventually vintage selling was replaced by ceramics completely, and it’s been 4 good years of happy development.

Where do you create?

I began my ceramics practice on the kitchen table at home, and still do a lot of work there with my kids all around (Odi – 9, Loki – 7 and Juda – 4). My glazing method is pretty intense, so I can’t do that at home – my Brunswick studio has a big old pattern-maker’s cutting table that I can spread out on. The studio space is in an old warehouse just off Sydney Road, and has about 20 tenants of various disciplines in neatly ordered cubicles. Brunswick used to be a suburb of such industry that there are still plenty of warehouse studios around, though with the intense development they may not be something artists can rely on for much longer.

I have a Tetlow Kiln in the studio, and a small one at home, and I am working from both places 7 days a week. A little bit here, a little bit there.

What kind of pieces do you make, and How would you describe them?

I make mostly functional-ware. Plates and platters, hand pinched cups, vases and planters. I also make ceramic wall hangings.

I like to think of my tableware as party plates- the kind of thing you use to serve up a birthday cake or big mixed salad. They make every day a party!

Can you talk me through the process of actually making one of your pieces?

I use plaster moulds for all of my tableware and so begin by old-school, lo-fi rolling out a slab of clay with a rolling pin. This is draped into the mould, pressed in gently and the excess cut away. I leave it in the mould for a few hours or overnight, then gently pop it out to dry further and I’ll trim the edges at leather hard stage. Once bone dry it’s into the kiln for a bisque firing and then it’s ready to glaze.

The glazing part is really most of the work for me and it requires many careful applications of glaze. I think of my work as part intention, and part chance. Will the glaze do what I expect, or will it surprise or infuriate me? Cups are pinched forms, just like we were taught in primary school! Planters and vases are slab built and manipulated, a kind of pinch and slab hybrid.

What does art-making mean to you, and what do you hope to communicate?

I’ve come to realise that those who are drawn to art making will do it in every area of their life. Whether it’s arranging our belongings just so, creating a tablescape or a garden or our home, creating a meal or dressing ourselves. It really doesn’t need to be a formal practice at all. It’s an act of creation. I made something, I made it from my brain, I made it with my hands, this is of me, this is me. I will always make art of some kind or other, even without an audience, but I really do get a kick out of knowing that someone likes my work enough to want it in their home. I know as student artists we are told not to expect that kind of external validation, but it’s certainly a very human driver and it really gives me great satisfaction.

Check out the Benna. Co store here (a new collection just dropped and catch Kelly at the Three Day Clay at Stoker Studio on the Mornington Peninsula October 1st – 3rd! 

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