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Specialists in the Sale of 20th Century, Modern and Contemporary Sculpture

Ceramic Sculptures

Vessels by Tammy and Tracy Humphries, large ceramic sculptures, the sculpture parkCeramics also known as pottery is the act of making pottery ware which includes: earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Ceramics is a medium that has become a borderline material for use in both fine art and craft works, it has grown in popularity over the past decade due to the economic climate that has seen artists seeking out cheaper and more accessible mediums to work with. Its use in art traces back as far as 2000 years ago with the use of clay to make pots; the contemporary use of clay in art has seen some highly decorative, intricate and stunning ceramic sculptures produced using centuries old tried and tested techniques. 

 A vast array of subjects has been expressed in ceramic sculptures, the hands on methods of manipulating the clay is a very tactile process that artists often explore to its fullest potential in order to create works that reflect an understanding of the medium and how to create their subject with it. Figurative works have been produced in ceramics for thousands of years, dating back to 25,000 BCE with the earliest known ceramic figurine from the Upper Paleolithic period. The piece is a small nude figure that was produced by moulding and then firing a combination of clay and powdered bone. Contemporary figurative sculpture produced in ceramics often have a highly stylised appeal, surface texture aside, the works are quite often a sharp contrast between super realism and almost animation based  characters. 

 The animal kingdom is a subject that a huge amount of sculptors work with, a large amount of ceramicists use animals as a method of reflecting technique, skill and craft of their chosen medium to demonstrate understanding and application of these things in clay can come together well in animalistic works due to the sheer amount of textural differences in each subject; i.e. an artist would represent feathers completely different to how they would show fur or scales which gives them the opportunity to show off their knowledge and skills with their chosen materials. 

 Many techniques can be used with clay, which is often why clay is the most common material for mould making when an artist works in a casting material like bronze. Techniques that can be used when working with clay include – drawing, engraving, printing, embossing, stippling, pinching and coiling. ‘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. 

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. 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. 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. 

A major clay working technique that is instinctive amongst all is pinching, pinching is a simple 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. A methodical process like pinching can be used in multiple manners to create a huge variety of forms 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. 


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