Based in Melbourne’s inner North, BelindaWiltshire has been practising as a visual artist and painter for the past two decades. Expanding her focus to include ceramics in 2018, Wiltshire has developed unique decorative processes to bring her visual art background and love of functional ceramic ware together.
Originally inspired by the use of layering basic forms and repeated patterning of Bauhaus Ballet Designer Oskar Schlemmer, this most recent body of work has progressed into a series of one-off large sculptural vases and stand-alone serve ware.
Image: Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files, read the article here
I have been a practicing fine art painter for the past two decades and have made a somewhat meandering journey toward ceramics since I attended my first wheel throwing class in 2015. Shortly after the class I etched out a modest wheel setup within my painting studio and remained content for a while just making for fun and practice. It wasn’t until 2019 that I started to take myself more seriously and expanded to a dedicated workspace where I allowed myself to experiment more with techniques and to narrow in on what I wanted to achieve with ceramics as an artform.
I am still very much a painter, but as my ceramic art becomes more and more prevalent, I have had to make peace with this balance of creative time and attention in my art life. I have always worked part time to bolster my practice over the years, I find the stability of routine and the mandatory interaction with the outside world to be a great leveler. At the moment I work as a Visual Arts Mentor to students at LCI University in Collingwood, as well as part time retail assistant in a design store.
I had just set up my ceramic studio here at Divine Dundas, Preston a matter of days before your visit, it’s a great big warehouse run by a core collective of makers and is home to a range of creatives including ceramicists, designers, fabricators, craftspeople, and artists. At 9sq m, some might call mine a tiny studio, but it’s bigger than my last space! I find a minimal setup lends itself to maintaining an orderly workspace, and it definitely contributes to the sense of calm I try to preserve while making. The most important and most used elements of my set up are my bespoke short-person workbench made by my partner, my old Venco wheel, and my even older Tetlow kiln. My kiln is located in a different part of the warehouse just down the hall where it has a little more space around it to fire freely. I also have a home studio for painting.
My works are comprised of a selection of what you might call building blocks. Each final piece is a compilation of smaller basic forms which are then stacked and joined; sometimes while still on the wheel, sometimes when they’re leather-hard and already trimmed. I have a series of silhouette design sketches that I constantly add and refer to, and before I begin a new piece, I’ll usually check in on them to get myself moving. I never tie myself into making an exact form, but I will plan out the separate elements in my head before sitting down at the wheel. For instance, if I have a silhouette in mind, I know I’ll be needing a conical shape, a bowl shape, and a sphere, so I’ll throw multiples of these with slight variations in one session and it won’t be until they’re complete that I’ll start playing around with how they’ll be joined and in what order. This step in the process is probably the most important as it really sets the overall character of the piece, it’s endlessly intriguing to me how a simple series of shapes can portray a completely different feeling when inverted or scaled differently. Once joined, trimmed, and burnished, I then bisque fire the pieces. I’ll glaze the inside with a clear glaze so as to be functional as a vessel, but I prefer to keep the outside with the natural matte clay body finish. The decorative stripes are hand brushed in a black iron oxide wash. I make the oxide mix on the thicker side so it resembles an ink brushing on to a porous paper, if you can imagine. Again, I don’t like to plan this part of the process too much, by skipping the measuring and marking steps you might expect when decorating with stripes, I am intentionally forcing myself to pay attention and compromise along the way, resulting in a genuine flow of mark making, and a finished design that I may not have arrived at any other way. The oxide wash fires to a slightly metallic silvery black where it is thickest, and a deep warm brown where it is slightly thinner, the nuances in colour and tone are to me, another opportunity to imbue character to my work.
I treat my research as a ceramicist and painter in a similar way, it usually starts with slowly collating inspirations both visual and conceptual. I then rest these in the back of my mind for sometimes quite a long stretch before I’m able to start pulling at their threads and revealing what will become my fully formed idea. I say reveal, because my ideas are often genuinely a surprise to me. Of course, once they’re there in front of me with the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious where a concept has sprung from, but I am hyper aware of how necessary this journey is, that it needs to unfold at its own pace when searching for a visual language, also how exhausting it can be to get there. I remind myself constantly that experimentation is the key to moving forward, and it’s ok to move around between concepts and styles. Once you realise you don’t owe anyone a “product” as an artist, your limitations seem to fall away at an alarming rate. I also find it helpful to reconnect with my natural state of design now and then, and I try to honor it whichever direction I take. By this I mean, if someone handed me a blank page and told me to decorate it, I would start with stripes, stripes and lines are my default form of expression and provide me with a solid leaping off point. Both in my painting and ceramic art once I focus in on a concept or technique, I try to immerse myself and fully explore it. I will inevitably move on, but there will always be traces of each movement in my visual language, one development will inform the next.
I really do believe that inspiration comes from all angles and can strike at any time, no matter how obscure an unrelated the situation may be, so I try to be open to it with everything I do. Influences of Astronomy and Philosophy seem to crop up in my work more and more, but I usually look to other creatives for inspiration. An artist that endlessly fills me up is Louise Bourgeois. Her art and life were so vast and intertwined, she never ever questioned what she was doing and maintained the confidence to work in whichever medium or discipline she felt would best communicate her ideas. Although she did yearn for commercial success, she was never trapped by self-imposed limitations or influenced by industry pressure. An artist that is quite relevant to my recent work is Bauhaus Ballet Designer Oskar Schlemmer, who’s use of basic shapes and bold lines in a kind of mischievous and unexpected way is kindred with how I’d like my work to manifest. There is a definite sense of humor in their work, and an obvious freedom in design. A great and influential ceramicist for me is Marguerite Wildenhain, who like Bourgeois also believed producing great art meant putting your whole self into the work, and not caring about what others thought about it. In a contemporary sense I greatly admire and aspire to ceramic artists Lynda Draper, Kate Malone, Nicolette Johnson, and JuzKitson.
The whole process can take weeks in real time, but as anyone who has every worked with clay knows that much of the time is spent waiting patiently while the clay goes through its metamorphosis. For me, each step along the way takes a similar amount of time, I would estimate an hour of throwing, an hour of finishing, an hour of glazing and so on and so on, so if you were to lay each process end to end, I would imagine the total time would be something like 6 to 8 hours for one of my larger works.