Sumi Skellam discusses the recent work of Inga Svendsen
Inga Svendsen is an emerging ceramic artist and an adoring cat owner who lives in Newtown and studies at the Ceramic Design Studio, Sydney Institute of TAFE, Gymea campus. Prior to her foray into ceramics, Svendsen secured an Honours degree in fashion and textile design at the University of Technology, Sydney and worked for over a decade from her textile design studio in Kings Cross.
Svendsen’s latest work in clay has taken her on a journey of discovery. From the ochres of the original Dune series, she has expanded the range to include the pale ultramarine blues of the Horizon and Undercurrent series and the gum leaf greens of the Eucalypt and Evergreen series in which the look of cloth is most evocative. Svendsen’s textile design background shows up when she least expects it. The most recent addition to the body of work is the graphic black and white of the Southerly and Twilight series.
Each of the series reflects different interactions of the artist with nature. Both the Dune and Horizon series reflect childhood memories at the beach, romping over sand dunes and swimming in the ocean from sunrise to sunset. But, where once the sea was met at its edge by waves of fine golden sand, Svendsen observes that we are now confronted by a fortress of towers casting their imposing shadows over the dunes. She uses the vessel as an analogy for the towers making their mark across the beach, embodying shape, materiality and containment.
In part, the cylindrical form of Svendsen’s vessels represents the hard edges of the towers of development now casting shadows on her beloved sandy space. The cylinder was also chosen for its strength of form and its neutrality, with its ability to act as a blank canvas enabling full expression.
The pieces are worked from porcelain paperclay which is tinted with metallic oxides and stains to produce a delicate palette of up to thirty shades of an individual colour. Manganese, cobalt, iron and copper are some of the chemical elements worked into this extraordinary range. Svendsen’s intricate collection of test tiles attests to her commitment to quality.
Various shades of clay are carefully laid together in strips and shapes, manipulated and then rolled to produce a pattern in a very thin slab, which is then cut and hand-formed to shape. The seam of each cylinder falls in a fold evocative of fabric, complete with Svendsen’s signature stamp as a neat button-like indentation at the top – that subliminal textile reference again. The work is not glazed; it is polished until satin smooth by sanding after the bisque and again after the final firing.
These are fine, sleek forms with very subtle undulations caused by the different expansion rates of the stained clays. Every piece has some slice of white, preserving the lightness and translucence of porcelain in the untinted spaces. There is no surface-deep treatment here. The decoration penetrates the wall structure and the hues permeate through the depth of the clay body. It is this aspect of the work which creates the pivotal connection between form and concept.
In Svendsen’s words, “The aspects of my work that are most important to me are the honesty of the decoration, the colours and proportions I use to create rhythms and the emotional response the work provokes in others.”
Svendsen has learned a lot whilst creating this work – when to stop handling a pot, what firing temperatures bring out the best in the clay, and the extent to which the various oxide and stain content and the shape of the coloured areas will warp a piece. Prior to this work, while studying at TAFE, Svendsen had spent enormous amounts of time on each of her one-off pieces. The move towards a more repeatable look was an experiment in the vague direction of a possible sustainable enterprise. However, she has learned that she is spending no less time on these pieces. On top of the labour-intensive slab creation, breakage rates are approximately one in ten (and slightly higher when inquisitive cats are involved), mainly from the painstaking sanding work done at the bisque stage and the fragility of the very thin walls. Once fired to maturity, these works are surprisingly lightweight yet have enormous strength.
Svendsen’s perfectionism is a demanding taskmaster, with the results speaking for themselves. In 2008, she won first prize in the 45th National Port Hacking Potters Award for two bowls created as part of her Dune Series and her work Paper Dunes was acquired at the Ergon Energy Central Queensland Art Awards 2008. This work is now part of the permanent collection of the Rockhampton Art Gallery in Queensland.