Current Arts Practice

Cathy Keys

I am a Brisbane-based ceramic artist most easily identified by my coiled ceramic sculptures which are organic in form and drawn from the natural environment. These pieces are created using the ancient ceramic technique of hand coiling and the forms generated are inspired by observing the interactions of climatic and environmental phenomena in the Australian landscape. I have also been developing a body of slab-built ceramic work concerned with types and textures of the urban environment. The images introduce this evolving body of work.



{gallery width=120 height=180}nov11/jac/current/part1/{/gallery}

I approach my ceramic practice from a background education in architecture and anthropology. Regardless of form and technique, three recurring theoretical concerns underscore in my arts practice. These are a focus on culture, the notion of place, and an interest in the search for origins.
The ceramic series W.A.S.P was inspired by the bottle-shaped nests of the Common Mud Daubler Wasp (Sceliphron formosum) found in South East Queensland. It is my first major wall-mounted installation and was selected for inclusion in the 27th Gold Coast International Ceramic Art Award. W.A.S.P. was originally designed for a major solo exhibition called Silt, which ran in the newly completed Fusions Gallery during September 2009.

Silt focused on cultural issues associated with mangroves and urban development and was supported by a grant from SignatureBrisbane. The exhibition included families of ceramic forms drawn from mangroves, shells, bunya nuts and bottle trees, an installation of dripping ceramic vessels and a major installation called Breathing.

Breathing was a floor installation of more than 100 hand-coiled stoneware ceramics sitting in a bed of salt and was inspired by the breathing roots (or pneumatophores) of the grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina ssp. Australasica). Breathing was supported by a series of ink and wash drawings that documented the mangrove environments of Brisbane. This show was the first time I included my drawing studies and it’s a medium and practice I wish to pursue further.

In contrast to my organic, landscape-focused coiled work is the evolving stream of my arts practice that draws on studies of Brisbane’s urban environments. These ceramic pieces are more architectural in form and created using the technique of slab-making. The idea to present a typological study of Brisbane architecture in slab form was initially triggered by a ceramic piece by Susan Shutt Wulfeck called Untitled/Light (Gray Bottle), 1984. This piece is discussed conceptually as ‘vessel as image’ in the book Postmodern Ceramics by Mark Del Vecchio1 In my mind, the notion of a ‘vessel as image’ progressed to the possibilities of ‘building as image’.

{gallery width=180 height=120}nov11/jac/current/part2/{/gallery}

Brisbane Typology was the first series I developed in this way. The pieces were quite small and taken from prominent historic landmarks in my urban landscape and the Brisbane skyline: the colonial mill tower, Spring Hill; the brick kiln stack, Newmarket, and the old sub-station in Paddington.

The Woolloongabba studies were made in 2005. The scale was a little bigger than earlier series and I experimented with printmaking on the ceramic surface (under the tutorage of Brisbane ceramic artist Darren O’Brian). This work was concerned with expressing the layers of cultural meaning built up through human occupation of a specific place, an ongoing focus of my ceramic practice. Linked to my renewed interest in drawing, I am excited by the potential use of printmaking and other image applications on an unfired clay surface.

I returned to this concern with urban typology in 2009 with the creation of the ceramic sculpture No Room in the Boom (or Bust!), which was included in The Australian Ceramics Association’s exhibition White Heat in Sydney. The piece highlighted the old inner city building practice of rendering-up and detailing a street facade while leaving the brick red boundary walls bare.

Over the last five years, my arts practice has evolved from the creation of single hand crafted coiled ceramic objects, to clusters of similar forms in space, and more recently to larger floor or wall-mounted installations. I have diversified in terms of how I construct my sculptural forms to respond to the subject matter, introducing the use of slabs as a reflection of the forms and construction techniques found in the urban environment. In terms of where I perceive my work going, I see the future including larger bodies of sculptural works that complement and integrate my interests in drawing, design and materiality. Whatever the physical output, this work will be underpinned by my theoretical interest in the interactions between people and environments.

1 Garth Clark’s introduction was a critical text for me as an artist because it triggered a conscious convergence of both my ceramic and architectural interests. Clark, Garth 2001, ‘Meaning and Memory: The Roots of Postmodern Ceramics 1960-1980’, in Del Vecchio, Mark Postmodern Ceramics (2001), Thames and Hudson.

To read more articles, buy issue 49/3 The Journal of Australian Ceramics here.



Author: Australian Ceramics

In 1956, The Potters Society of Australia was formed to encourage and foster the development, appreciation and recognition of potters and pottery. It was the first ceramics organisation in Australia. In 2006, our name was changed to The Australian Ceramics Association to more fully reflect the scope of practice of the members. We are a national, not-for-profit organisation representing the interests of practising potters and ceramicists, students of ceramics and all those interested in Australian ceramics. We actively support and promote quality, specialist ceramics education nationally. T: 1300 720 124

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.