“People might have liked what I was doing, responded to it, bought it, eaten off of it, but it had nothing to do with being an artist—it was about being a craftsman,” reflected Betty Woodman in an interview with The Guardian . Woodman, who died this year at 87, was a career potter until, in her early 50s, she began to sculpt the type of multimedia art that landed her a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum just over a decade ago.
It was a real boon for ceramicists because clay in the 20th century wasn’t widely seen as a medium for art or design; clay was the province of craftsmen and potters, not creative expression.
“People don’t really care about these labels anymore,” says Tom Morris , the London-based author of the book New Wave Clay . Released this month, it traces the creative talents worldwide who are rediscovering clay.
Top architects, interior decorators, graphic artists, furniture designers, and pattern makers are among the fresh perspectives Morris credits as the new generation of ceramicists. These creatives may not specialize in clay but are nonetheless enamored by the material and are creating anything from small-scale architecture to bonafide furniture and wall reliefs.
Clay totem sculptures by designer Ashley Hicks.
Throughout the 296 pages of New Wave Clay, Morris profiles the works of 55 leading ceramicists, including essays and interviews with boldface names like Edmund de Waal impressing clay’s newfound relevance. Known for making a mess—bordering on capricious—clay’s unpredictability is one of the many reasons it feels remarkable in a high-filtered age. “We live in a world of touchscreens and where everything, from dinner to boyfriends, can be obtained with a swipe or flick,” explains Morris. “Clay is the antithesis of instant gratification—it takes time, patience, deep concentration, and physical exertion too.”
A more youthful attitude allows clay to be more animated—and imperfect. “I think this is why much of the ‘new wave’ is unapologetically handmade—ugly, even,” says Morris.
Disciplines across the board who’ve never dabbled in the material are unearthing clay as a blank canvas for whatever they want it to be; clay is no longer reduced to the pot.
Here are just a few of the creatives getting their hands dirty.
Pieces of clay furniture by Reinaldo Sanguino.
A work by Chris Wolston.
Artist John Booth’s colorful head-shaped vessels.
A clay urn by Liselotte Watkins.
Pieces by ceramicist Ahryun Lee.
The Hyper Real by Eastwood-Bloom.
Architectural works by James Rigler.
Ceramicist Sandy Brown’s Temple .
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