I first trained as a potter and still work with the ceramic attribute of containment in mind. For a visual patina I use coloured slips, glazes, sprigging and carvings. The materials, technologies and the characteristics of clay make up a complex palette – to be employed as needed.
My female torsos were inspired by the prehistoric ‘Venus’ fertility figure. I saw the torso as a complex place of containment, mirroring our own status as emotive containers, as an evocative, economic form, and representing something universally understood – or is it? Does the Venus figure speak of feminine power, as I initially envisioned, or, upon reflection, does the Venus figure serve to objectify the female entity? I decided to stop using the female torso image and figure as a means to speak about anything.
My human figures have become what I call proto-human, blurring the lines between male and female, adult and child. The roundness of the figures provide volumetric aptitude and space for surface narratives. Landscape and architectural references reflect my environs and generate opportunity to add contextual layers. Figures and narrative images are placed within metaphorical constructs outside of how we normally encounter them, hoping to provoke a dialogue about collective – or not – experience. Combinations of human and animal figures are intended to represent the human and animal worlds respectively, seeking a connection – or not – between them.
I return to my images and ideas recurrently rather than in linear series. The earlier explorations become archival, and the new interpretation is re-examined and cycled again. I am attempting to make visual art, and in the ceramic practice that includes working with a narrative material, its sculptural assets, its inherent beauty, and concurrently allude to a broader commentary that campaigns for present-day engagement. My contact with the material is personal, my portrayals are emotive, always hoping for some magic connection is implanted and my pieces will stand on their own, as singular objects, (perhaps finally discovered in second-hand shops) and be welcomed into other people’s lives. In a way my body of work may read like the survey of a life experienced, in part, through an art practice.
Our Grade Three class was shown “The Story of Peter and the Potter” [NFB 1953]. The film showcased potters, Erica and Kjeld Deichmann, who pioneered studio pottery in New Brunswick. The film followed them demonstrating the processes of throwing, glazing and firing a pot. As the story progressed I could see that this family of potters lived and worked seamlessly. Their lives made sense to me and the materials and processes were enticing.
When I was 16, I started taking pottery classes and I read “A Potter’s Book” by Bernard Leach. Leach’s philosophy reinforced the notion of an integrated personal and working life. From 1973 – 1979 I spent six years working in a self-directed apprenticeship as I ran a large pottery school, intentionally isolating myself from outside influences. In 1979 I enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art. At least one teacher stated that women should choose either a family or a career. It was an infuriating and typical statement of its time, challenging my resolve for an integrated life as witnessed and still fondly recollected in the little NFB film.
Just before I started working at the pottery school in 1973, I saw a small Joe Fafard clay figure in Toronto. I was entranced by its dynamic presence – radiating the personality of both the maker and the sitter. I continue to be affected by the Canadian Funk scene – its inherent irony and post-modern irreverence. Other powerful influences have been Cathi Falk’s early ceramics, Emily Carr’s mythic trees, E.J. Hughes’s definitive regional paintings, the Martin Brother’s performative figures, and Staffordshire figurative narratives.
I started collecting ceramics in 1973, and have focused on BC ceramics instigated by attending the wonderful openings at Hiro Urakami’s famed House of Ceramics [1972 – 79]. I am now surrounded by a ceramic ‘family’, the work of my colleagues – a constant source of thought and visual pleasure. By 2005, it became apparent to me that we had not collected enough of our regional ceramic history in BC, nor did we know who many of the artists were, and are. Clay artists were anonymous. I began collecting artist marks, and histories, with the idea of creating a BC Ceramic Mark Registry – the BCCMR. John Lawrence, a collector in Vancouver, and Allan Collier, also a collector and a Canadian craft and design expert, have been important colleagues who have enabled this project. In 2018 I contacted the Craft Council of BC (CCBC) and Director, Raine Mackay, seeking assistance with creating a digital platform for BCCMR, and suggested that all crafts should have registries to identify artists and track histories. In 2022, facilitated by CCBC intern Tatiana Povoroznyuk who build the digital platform, CCBC launched its Craft Archive, including the BCCMR which has over 500 BC ceramic artists starting with our earliest potters who were established in 1922 – representing 100 years of BC ceramics. BCCMR is organic and growing. The marks are a starting point revealing identity but I consider the biographies to be of more value as a narrative framing a cultural history.
It seems that I have been seeking connectivity throughout my practice. Other connections with those who encourage and mentor, and encounters that change the course of a career. Hiro Urakami, owner of the House of Ceramics gallery (1972-79), was the first person to actually like my work (still does), he gave me several exhibitions and opened my eyes about how to look at ceramics. Thirty-five years later, Australian, Janet Mansfield, publisher of ‘Ceramic Art and Perception/Technical’ magazines, encouraged me to write about my hitherto ignored big dogs -‘Dogged Process’ 2008,Vol #27′, she selected a big dog for my first international juried exhibition, which led to applying for residencies, and finally she opened the door to writing about ceramics. János Probstner, founder and first Director of the International Ceramics Studio (1976-2013) in Hungary, who selected my work for the ICS Triennials and selected several pieces for the ICS Collection.
Dr. Alex Lambley Clark of Falmouth University, who after spending month in our home in 2012 – and the next nine years writing her Dissertation on the Leach Diaspora in British Columbia – adding to the story of BC ceramics immeasurably – and she facilitated an invitation from Julia Twomlow, Director of the Leach Pottery and Museum (2008-20016) to research and respond to two rare Bernard Leach equestrian finials, a dream-residency simply tailored to everything I love, and a residency that lead to friendships with Peter Smith of Bojewyan Pottery, Dr. Matt Tyas, and present Director, Libby Buckley, and several more dream -residencies, and to publishing more books. Dr. Carol E. Mayer, a head curator at MOA, founder (1993) and mentor on the North-west Ceramics Foundation, who has supported the ceramic culture in BC tirelessly, who facilitated my year-long residency at the UBC Museum of Anthropology, which lead to being including in the seminal 2020/21 exhibition, ‘Playing With Fire’, and publishing another article…in process. And, dear friend , fellow ceramicist, Mary Daniel who facilitated my first journey away from Vancouver in 30 years, and has been a resourceful travel-buddy and a wise mentor and companion at many residencies.
The ceramic practice is akin to living with an extended family, crowded by unruly characteristics and peopled by complex processes. The material [its characteristics] and my intention to create an integrated life are connected with my drive to be a maker [and that included making a family.] During the early and teenage years of my children, and while my parents aged, I taught night classes, and snatched fractured work hours, but was only able to sustain a semblance of a practice, thanks to my husband, Terry Yip’s tremendous support.