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Ceramic Sculptures

Ceramic Sculptures

 

Ceramics are an unusual, and sometimes hard to define genre of sculpture. Often treading the line between craft work and fine art, pieces of ceramic work can sometimes split opinion on just how they should be regarded. However, whether the object is an ‘art or a craft’, a ceramic is made using non-metal minerals such as natural clays or other types of earth. This material is formed and then fired. This firing process converts the malleable base material into a hard, strong and corrosion resistant material- producing long lasting and durable pieces. There is a huge variety in the types of materials that can be used to produce ceramic sculptures- either by themselves, or through mixing with other substances. There are even some entirely synthetic materials, such as polymer clays. Depending on the base material used, and the resulting properties of the object once fired, it may be categorised in the following way: earthenware, terracotta, porcelain, china, bone china, stoneware or many others.

Ceramics: Art, or Craft?

 

The distinction within ceramics of art versus craft comes down to the historic uses of ceramics. Most commonly, ceramics are encountered in the form of things like plates, cups, pots and other functional objects. Whilst these items can be handmade with artistic intent and significant creativity, generally it is considered that if they are produced primarily to perform a function, they are a craft. This distinction is the subject of much debate, and at the end of the day it can come down more to opinion than a truly objective distinction. There is much more to ceramics than plates and pots however, and generally within sculpture you’d expect to find ceramic works existing in forms and ways more familiar with other sculptural mediums. As such, the distinction is something to be aware of and consider, but as with all things in the world of art, is rather subjective.

Taken into consideration as art, ceramic work dates back thousands of years. Use of clay in making simple decorative figures goes back as far as 25,000 BC. The earliest known ceramic figure is a small nude which was produced by moulding and firing a mixture of clay and powdered bone. From these humble origins, the use of clay has spread across almost all cultures in all corners of the globe and has evolved tremendously. At its core however, the process remains the same, no matter how sophisticated the piece and techniques used. A material is formed into shape by the artist, and the object is fired in a kiln or otherwise heated by fire to cure and harden.

The topics explored in ceramic sculpture are widely varied, and the tactile process of moulding clay by hand or with tools allows for a diverse range of styles and subjects. Figurative works are popular within the genre, and in a sense this is the oldest type of ceramic work- the representative figures produced by ancient man being the first examples. As techniques and tools have evolved, realism emerged within ceramic art and from there it has developed to match most other movements and styles that have been developed in the art world. Today, it is as common to find realistic works alongside more figurative and minimalist pieces, pieces that blend the two, and everything else in between. The accessibility and low cost of working in ceramics, particularly clay, means that it remains an enduringly popular medium.

Smoked Torso, Ferri Farahmandi, Ceramic Sculptures
Smoked Torso by Ferri Farahmandi, an enchanting and surreal depiction of a female torso with a beautiful smoky glaze.
The Visitor, Guido Delue, Ceramic Sculptures
The Visitor by Guido Deleu, a delightful bright red figure that is forever admiring the beauty of the sky above. With editions available in all shapes and sizes, this is a popular piece.
Viking Longboat, Mark Smith, Ceramic Sculptures
Viking Longboat by Mark Smith, a piece that really demonstrates the variety of subjects explored in ceramic sculptures as it captures a most unusual subject.
Tourterelle, Marilyn Vergne, Ceramic Sculptures
Tourterelle by Marilyn Vergne, a radiant figurative work that captures the familiar form of a bird in such a distinct and unusual manner.

Subjects of Ceramic Sculptures

 

Another popular topic of ceramic works is animals. The animal kingdom is the subject of a huge amount of sculptor’s work, with the complexity and variety of creatures allowing great opportunity for diversity among ceramic sculptures. The techniques and methods used to accurate portray such creatures demonstrates great skill, and such works are accessible to viewers but also allow for displays of great technical ability and the artists knowledge of their craft. The fine work required producing scales, or feathers or fur and the knowledge required to correctly represent the anatomy and poise of a creature mean that realistic ceramic works are incredible feats of effort and capability. That isn’t to say that less realistic and more abstract are any less challenging, and the creativity and eye required to create recognisable forms from simplified shapes in ceramics remains an equally challenging goal for any artist.

The malleability of clay, coupled with its ability to hold a shape and to slowly build on dried areas means that it is an exceptionally versatile medium. Many techniques have been developed over time and are used to shape it. Commonly, clay is used by artists to produce works which are later cast into materials such as Bronze. Some of the techniques that can be used when working with clay are drawing, engraving, printing, embossing, stippling, pinching and coiling. This list isn’t exhaustive, and of course as many variations on these techniques exist as there are artists producing ceramic sculptures.

Ceramic Sculpting Methods

 

Coiling is a pottery method that has been used for making clay pots for thousands of years. The process enables the creator to work at varying thicknesses and work taller than conventional pots would have been. The process is still used today to great effect and some works use the process to decorative effect. It is also one such tool that artist can use in the production of ceramic sculptures. The clay is rolled into thin strips about the same thickness as a common pencil, but can be used thicker, and is then coiled around in circular motions to form shapes. Originally the clay would have been smoothed over but some have used this process to explore line, layering and texture within their work. ‘Embrace’ by Ferri Farahmandi is a good example of the coiling method and how it can be used to good effect as a finished aesthetic in sculpture. The lines that loop around the figure of ‘Embrace’ enhance the curvature of the figure and play with light and dark to show folds that hint at fabric and skin. The surrealist nature of this work lends itself to the abstracting technique of coiling.

Embrace, Ferri Farahmandi, Ceramic Sculptures
Embrace by Ferri Farahmandi, the texture and form of this piece clearly demonstrates the use of coiling, and piled lines of material are arranged in such a way to give the impression of wrapped cloth or rope.

‘Bull Walking’ by Elaine Peto is an example of a ceramic piece that has used multiple decorative skills to represent numerous textural qualities present in this subject. The horns of the bull are smooth and polished which then contrasts greatly with the textural hide of the bull which has been embossed using a printing method that would see the artist working into the wet clay with hessian style fabric which would be pressed into the clay and removed to reveal the texture embossed into the clay. The folds of skin and muscle definition have been hand worked by pinching the clay and reshaping it to form the desired appearance. Pinching is a simple, intuitive process that is often taught to children and beginners and it sees the use of the thumb and forefinger to pinch the clay into shape However, when used by a master sculptor it can be used to great effect. A methodical process like pinching can be used in multiple manners to create a huge variety of forms in ceramic sculptures, providing the artist or crafter has some imagination. It is important to keep the work at a suitable thickness to ensure it doesn’t crack after firing.

Bull Walking, Elaine Peto, Ceramic Sculptures
Bull Walking by Elaine Peto, the varied surface and form of this works demonstrates a wide variety of ceramic sculptures techniques.
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