Ceramicists are the rising stars of the craft business. Against the backdrop of the digital age, the tactile appeal of working with clay has never been greater, and these five practitioners are reimagining what can be done with nature’s most humble material.
1. Hitomi Hosono, London, UK
“Clay is a sensitive material and requires patience,” says London-based Japanese ceramic artist Hitomi Hosono. “But once one understands how to handle it, clay opens up so many possibilities of shapes, forms, and textures.”
Understanding the tempestuous nature of porcelain has been something of a lifelong mission for Hosono. Her botanical sculptures can take years to create, and are crafted by slowly building up hundreds of leaves or petals onto forms that have been thrown on the potter’s wheel. In many ways, her dedication is like the cultivation of a gardener nurturing the plants that she is so inspired by.
“I find myself drawn to the intricacy of plants, examining how the veins of a leaf branch or how its edges are shaped,” she explains. “I am always keen to find the essence of what makes leaves and flowers beautiful.”
Hosono was raised in the Mino region of Japan, historically one of the nation’s ceramic capitals. She completed her ceramics degree in Japan before moving to London to study at the Royal College of Art. Less than a decade after graduating, Hosono’s sculptures featured in the British Museum, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, and LACMA in Los Angeles. She recently worked with Wedgwood on a limited-edition collection of pieces that blend her botanical forms with the historic brand’s famous jasperware. British heritage with Japanese craftsmanship, organic botany with tempestuous clay, Hosono’s is a captivating alchemy.
2. Nicolette Johnson, Brisbane, Australia
It was less than four years ago that Brisbane-based ceramicist Nicolette Johnson—then a professional photographer—took her first pottery class. She was finding her occupation unsatisfying and booked herself on a course at her local pottery school as “a good way to take my mind off work,” as she explains. “I immediately tried to figure out how I could make pots for a living.”
A year later she bought a potter’s wheel and, a year after that, in 2017, held her first exhibition, when she decided to finally abandon photography and make pots full-time. “I’m currently planning exhibitions two years in advance,” she says. “Not once have I regretted my decision to change paths, even though it was an uncertain and, at times, scary transition.”
Her speedy ascent is perhaps explained by developing a very distinct style very quickly: most ceramicists take years to get into a creative groove and find a style for themselves. Almost immediately, Johnson’s preference for mixing large coil-built vessels in straightforward shapes (the cylinder, the cone) with elaborate protrusions inspired by nature shone through. Her most recent vessels—covered in sprouting nodules—show the influence of the botanical world. Some look like tree trunks with their branches lopped off; others resemble dahlias or chrysanthemums.
Although sometimes disappointing, the alchemic challenge of bringing a pot to life is Johnson’s favorite part of her new career. “The process of making a ceramic object is long and fraught,” she says. “But afterwards it is such a wonderful feeling to have this three-dimensional thing there in front of you, when just days before it didn’t exist.”
3. Eric Roinestad, Los Angeles, USA
“Modern with a nod to the past” is how ceramicist Eric Roinestad glibly describes the myriad cultural references at play in his work. Roinestad creates vessels that artfully merge motifs ranging from ancient Greek to 1980s Memphis design, California Deco to tribal masks, and even Bauhaus ballet sets from the 1920s. “I love historical design and have a large library of art, architecture, and design books that I am constantly referencing,” he says. Instead of messy, cross-cultural mutants, Roinstad merges these inspirations with clarity and simplicity to create graphic, unglazed shapes with global appeal.
Roinestad was an art director and graphic designer when he first attended an open ceramics studio in the mid-2000s. The appeal of ceramics was instant: “Working with clay was immediate and satisfying in a way that designing on the computer wasn’t,” he reflects.
Working with clay was immediate and satisfying in a way that designing on the computer wasn’t.
He had his first solo show at renowned design gallery The Future Perfect in 2014 and is now one of the most prominent ceramicists in the collectible market in the United States. While he began his ceramics career making vessels, Roinestad recently introduced lighting to his collections and has ambitions to produce ceramic furniture and large-scale sculpture.
Relishing the contrast to working on a screen, Roinestad can take up to a month to produce each vessel. He works on four or five pieces at a time and likes to include hand-built parts in his work, as well as elements that are thrown on the wheel. He enjoys the challenge at every step. “The clay can be very temperamental as it dries,” he says. Has it been difficult adapting to a slower mode? “I’m very impatient, always trying to speed up the process, which doesn’t always end well,” he admits.
4. Paola Paronetto, Trieste, Italy
Some ceramicists relish the challenge of getting this unpredictable medium to do what they want in order to craft faultless sculptures. Others resist it and cherish clay’s erratic nature. Italian ceramicist Paola Paronetto is one such artist.
For a decade now, she has been making forms using a process involving corrugated cardboard and slip (liquid clay). She dips the cardboard into the clay and then builds the bottle or bowl forms by hand using the slip as an adhesive. When the piece is fired in the kiln, the paper burns away under the 2,012-degree Fahrenheit (1,100-°C) temperatures, leaving the clay frozen in position.
It is this element of chance that Paronetto loves. “Working on the wheel inevitably leads you to precise work, which is not what I want,” she explains. “I need to be free from that constraint.” The results are delicate vessels that, when placed in small sets, appear like a still life by painter Giorgio Morandi. Glazing—which ranges from the moodily monochrome to primary technicolors and the occasional flash of gold luster—boosts the appeal and collectibility of her works.
Born in 1965, Paronetto first took up ceramics at age 18. She “immediately felt the magic in it” and took a series of courses. Since then she has exhibited widely, including shows at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan and the Contemporary Ceramics Centre in London. Today she teaches at the Meridiana School of Ceramics near Florence.
What does she enjoy most about ceramics? “Clay is such a versatile medium,” she says. “I especially like the variety of possibilities it offers to convey a message in terms of both aesthetics and function.”
5. Jami Porter Lara, New Mexico, USA
Pottery has traces in most ancient civilizations. Everyone from the Mayans to the Egyptians to the Greeks and the Romans used pottery to carry or store things in: grains, food, wine, and, of course, water. This heritage is something many of the current generation of ceramicists—however avant-garde their work—attempts to tap into.
New Mexico-based Jami Porter Lara, whose work has appeared in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, is one example. She produces clay versions of plastic water bottles inspired by Native American pottery traditions. In 2011 she was traveling on the US-Mexico border and noticed discarded water bottles in the same place where potsherds—fragments of ancient pottery once used by the Mogollan culture thousands of years before—could also be found. She then visited Mata Ortiz, the historic ceramics capital in Mexico, to learn the ancient techniques she still uses today.
“We learned to forage and prepare clay, build with coils, burnish with a stone, and reduction fire [reduce the available oxygen to change the clay’s texture] in a pit,” she explains. The earthenware clay she uses contains some ancient organisms: “It is partly because of these traces of carbon and iron that it fires to such an exquisite black.” Pottery is a way to commune with the past, which Porter Lara readily exploits. “To work with clay is to work with history,” she says.
jamiporterlara.comRead More Articles on Interiors & Design Tom Morris
writes about design for FT Weekend and CNN Style and is a contributing editor at Monocle. He is the author of New Wave Clay, published in 2018