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Interview

The timeless ceramics of Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee / Photography by Jay Goldmark

Jennifer Lee / Photography by Jay Goldmark

With applicants from across the globe, Craft Scotland were thrilled to see Scottish ceramicist Jennifer Lee win this year’s prestigious Loewe Craft Prize with her hand built ceramic vessel, Pale, Shadowed Speckled Traces, Fading Ellipse, Bronze Specks, Tilted Shelf (2017).

The jury, composed of ten leading figures in the world of design, highly commended Jennifer’s work for its classicism, timelessness and its ability to provide a focal point for the entire exhibition. The Loewe Craft Prize Exhibition showcases the work of the 30 shortlisted artists at the Design Museum in London. In it's final weekend, this unique exhibition is well worth a visit where it provides ‘a multigenerational snapshot of the utmost excellence in craft today’ – Anatxu Zabalbeascoa , Executive Secretary of the LOEWE Craft Prize Experts Panel.

We caught up with Jennifer Lee to learn more about her fascinating ceramics practice and about what her plans are for the future.


Jennifer began her career as a ceramicist at the Edinburgh College of Art and after graduating she went on to spend eight months on a travelling scholarship to the west coast of the USA. On her return, Jennifer continued her studies by completing a Master in Ceramics at the Royal College of Art, London.

Jennifer has now been making hand-built clay vessels for forty years, "creating works with the ancient techniques of pinching and coiling with basic elemental materials; clay, water and oxides." The materials and method are central to Jennifer’s practice as a ceramicist, with the making process becoming central to the resulting works:

"My work is chiefly concerned with my interaction with the materials in my studio. The process is very important to me. Constant testing of materials is imperative to the ongoing development of my work."

Jennifer Lee / Photography by Michel Harvey, courtesy of Gallery LVS. Works left  to right: Dark olive, umber haloed band, flashing, tilted, 2017 21.3 x 11.3, Dark olive, umber and olive haloed bands, flashing, 2017 14.4 x 9.8cm, Speckled shale, haloed granite bands, olive base, tilted shelf, 2016-17 26.6 x 12.7cm
 

Jennifer's process begins with selecting the clay from an archive that began forty years ago. The clay is mixed with oxides to provide colour to the pieces before constructing them. In some of the mixes, the characteristics of the material changes as the clay matures. In other cases, the colour migrates from one band to another, producing distinctive haloes after the clay is fired.

Travelling to Japan on various occasions, including the opportunity to be a guest artist in residence at Shigaraki Ceramic Culture Park in Japan, Jennifer describes observing how the people there have a “profound relationship and sensitivity to things made of clay”. This observation, and experience of these surroundings, appears to influence how she engages with and preserves the natural qualities of clay in her practice. This November, Jennifer will return to Japan to work at Shigaraki and present her second solo exhibition at the Gallery Sokyo in Kyoto which will include drawings and small thrown pots alongside her large hand-built vessels.

"There is visible evidence of decay all around us. The landscape and world we inhabit are in a constant state of change. When clay is fired you can create a lasting image, capturing a moment in time."

Jennifer Lee / Photograph courtesy of LOEWE Foundation. Pale, shadowed speckled traces, fading ellipse, bronze specks, tilted shelf,  2017 17.4 x 16.0cm

This innovative use of clay provides the distinctive haloes that appear and disappear as they move around the vessels. Glaze is absent from the works, leaving an honest trace of the making process and material. The haloes and asymmetry of Pale, Shadowed Speckled Traces, Fading Ellipse, Bronze Specks, Tilted Shelf (2017) create a sense of movement in the work, as if the piece has been suspended in time.

By drawing her finished works, Jennifer uses the previous pieces to inform the next, fostering a cycle of a cohesive body of work that steadily develops over time:

"…the vessel evolves in my mind and continues to develop during making."

Although referring to her drawings is a key element of her practice, she describes how intuition during the making plays a part in deciding the actual form. While the clay evolves as time passes, Jennifer’s practice progresses with it, each vessel influencing the next in a fluid and instinctive state of change. 

With work included in over forty public collections and showcased in exhibitions internationally, there are plenty of current and upcoming opportunities for you to experience Jennifer Lee's work. Her work is currently on display at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut as part of Handheld until January 2019, two pieces have been recently purchased by the Amorepacific Museum in Seoul and, in its final weekend, Things of Beauty Growing: British Studio Pottery at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.  

Materials Ceramics

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Siobhan  Scott
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