The haphazard physical: CR meets ceramic artist Tessa Eastman

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Tessa Eastman, photo Stephen Brayne

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Inside our current issue, we talk to three emerging makers from the British Ceramics Biennial FRESH award 2015, including ceramic artist Tessa Eastman. Below, she tells us more about her curious work

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My recent pieces demonstrate my commitment to the challenge of using complex hand-building methods to produce curious ambiguous sculptures
Through developed form and multiple glaze fired surfaces, the overlooked detail of microscopic arrangements are revealed. I believe the otherworldliness of natural phenomena assists in helping transport viewers away from the mundane, where the grouped works possess a sensuous physicality and embodied character. The dynamism produced when repetitive parts in growing systems mutate parallels the trials and tribulations of life. The shift from geometry to irregularity, order to chaos raises questions about emotional transience. My ‘Baby Cloud Bundles’ are haphazard sprouting mesh shapes which unite and conflict with voluminous cloud-like forms, suggesting a dichotomous relationship of harmony and tension. Ungraspable states of fleeting cloud formations have here been fixed to represent the ideal and the perishable, doom and fantasy.

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Lollipop Mint Baby Cloud Bundles, by Tessa Eastman, photo Sylvain Deleu

Lollipop Mint Baby Cloud Bundles by Tessa Eastman, photo Sylvain Deleu

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I found it a moving and memorable experience exhibiting at FRESH, part of the BCB 2015
This is because I had previously visited the event in 2013 and felt dejected seeing the dilapidated old Spode factory, despite all the thought provoking contemporary ceramic exhibits. This year’s event had more of an impact due to all makers, apart from Ian McIntyre at Airspace, showing on one site in the China Hall. Consequently, there was a powerful vitality in the air with all the up-to-date work (many pieces were created directly on site).

I feel the contemporary ceramic sculpture has strong links with age old approaches to pot making
All exhibitors, including myself clearly have knowledge and deep ingrained respect for the Potteries in Stoke where mass production once meant women painting rims by hand and men engraving patterns with scalpels. Some of the finest ware in the world was – and is – on a minute scale, still produced. Stoke City, or ‘Smoke City’ as it was called, was a product of the British Empire. I had desire to take part in the BCB as I see them selecting makers who recognise the importance and value of skill and use their awareness to break away from the past rather than attempt to directly interpret past styles. All BCB selected makers represent the vanguard of the ceramics scene in Britain – all are likely to push the goal post forwards of what can be done with clay.

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Sprouting Limitless Cloud by Tessa Eastman, photo Sylvain Deleu

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I reach a state of bliss when natural organisms grow and metamorphose, as this reflects divine order
Themes are crucial to my work and I explore opposing elements such as symmetry and disorder to raise questions about the perfectly imperfect state of humanity on an individual and entire level. Sculptural dissimilarities give way to certain clarity of thought on the complex and transient states that make up all living beings.

All work is made by hand using various hand building processes
I’m meticulous, and relish the construction of repetitive shapes within a piece, where every element is slightly different. After making, work is left to dry slowly in plastic to even out moisture for up to three weeks. I fire slowly and typically brush stoneware glazes to create the desired unusual surface effects. Brushing allows for different glazes to be applied on a piece and it is economical where the spraying of toxic materials into the atmosphere is avoided. However, I have no choice but to spray when pieces have deep internal spaces where I am unable to reach inside with a brush.

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Sunshine Cloud on Midnight Element by Tessa Eastman, photo Sylvain Deleu

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Like making, glazing can be addictive
I expanded my knowledge of glaze research during my MA and dedicate time to glaze testing as it is crucial that surface and form work together to account for expressive work. I aim for glaze to awaken gratification of the physical senses and select colours and surfaces for their blending and clashing qualities. I am a modeller at heart and it is through sensitivity to form and glaze that pieces become animated.

Living and working in London has a hold over me with its visual diversity
I appreciate natural stimuli and despite living in an urban environment, I notice biological structures and like to look at museum collections and visit galleries whenever possible. I teach pottery to all ages and abilities in studios around London and am currently acting as head of the Malden Centre Pottery. I can’t imagine producing my own work without teaching. I feel it is essential for ceramic artists to pass on their knowledge, as ceramic skills can only be acquired through dedicated practise and it is by working together that student and teacher can become improved makers. Whilst the teacher becomes more conscious of their skills, the student becomes better informed and more able to create in clay.

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Find Tessa tweeting at @tessa_eastman and discover more about her work at tessaeastman.com

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