Ceramic Matters - Creating In Partnership

On our recent trip to South Africa, we were lucky enough to meet with Gerhard Swart and Anthony Harris, the creative force behind Ceramic Matters. Nestled amongst old oak tress in the historic town of Wellington, in the Western Cape South Africa, their creative partnership focuses on finding expression through a range of ceramic objects and sculpture, that reflects ideas and tensions from the world around them.

The couple first met whilst studying at the Johannesburg Art School. Anthony has a background in fine arts, as a painter whilst Gerhard’s initial focus was on printmaking and ceramics. Their collective artistic ability and ongoing interest informs their work and helps determine the direction of their development as makers and artists. It is not surprising that they referenced the work of both Richard Slee and Grayson Perry during our meeting. Both UK-based artists are known for their investigation of important social constructs through the use of ceramics.

Gerhard and Anthony founded Ceramic Matters in 1998 and since then have been on a journey that, amongst many things, seems to explore the relationship between craft and art in intricate and extensive detail. Over the years, they have produced work commercially as well as for specific commissions and acclaim has followed consistently.

Ceramic Matters make objects in a considered and systematic process that usually starts with a model. The model is either hand carved or derived from a found object. Often objects are combined in unusual and stimulating combinations, which challenge the viewer to reinterpret pre-existing constructs and form new ideas and meanings from the pieces. The pieces can be functional in the conventional sense, but often their purpose is to challenge or inspire.

The developed models are usually used to make a final slip-cast object in earthenware, which is then decorated to develop and express the idea further. Decoration is often using deeply coloured oxidation-fired glazes that result in glistening inviting surfaces. However, artistic bent often introduces a new element to surface decoration such as through drawings carved through black engobe (a coloured clay slip coating applied to a ceramic body for coloured decoration or to improve the texture). These drawings render the surface in a way that approximates woodcuts, perhaps referencing Gerhard’s printmaking background.

At the time of our meeting, Gerhard and Anthony were preparing for an exhibition in a local gallery in Wellington, titled ‘Matter/Stof’. They were also excited at an opportunity to develop a further exhibition later in the year in Knysna, termed ‘Earthly Delights’. Both exhibitions focussed on richly metaphoric ceramic art – precisely crafted celebrations of the art of making as well as providing immersive installations with multiple layers of story for us to decipher and enjoy.

Find out more about Ceramic Matters here.

All images by Craft Editions.

Brian Waring