I don’t know about you, but I seem to naturally gravitate toward depictions of other people or animals, reading their overall features, facial expressions, gestures, stances, posture, and more. This feels instinctual, as animals and people are important to us. We care for, learn from, rely on, and sometimes need to be wary of other living things.
Two- and three-dimensional figures in art, including ceramics, build on this reflex to visually gather information about individuals around us. Figures portrayed in art, whether human or fauna, invite our attention. Sculptural, painted, drawn, or carved, these representations can convey complex emotions, personal experiences, and universal concepts. They can capture the idiosyncrasies that make us unique and reveal the tensions between lived realities and social systems. They can help us to express (and feel) emotions, share (and listen to) stories, call (and pay) attention to underrepresented issues, and manifest (and explore) ideas only imagined.
This issue’s focus on narrative and figurative ceramics brings together insights on the work of several artists who skillfully blend storytelling with sensitive handling of materials to create human, animal, and hybrid sculptural and utilitarian forms in clay.
Kay Whitney discusses the way that Irish artist Claire Curneen’s figures invite introspection with open-ended narratives about belief and humanity. Her porcelain sculptures (one of which can be seen in progress in the image of Curneen working in the studio, below) are a celebration of beauty and transience, and her explorations delve into the ways imagery from historical myths and religious stories can be reimagined so they resonate today.
Heidi McKenzie examines Diana Williams’ High Fired series of figurative sculptures, which express both a critique of the toll war takes on people and a hope for peace, spurred on by her personal perspective as an Australian military mother and spouse.
Pennsylvania-based Lisa Naples shares how her most recent body of work developed. Recent life events, from children moving away from home to a long relationship ending, led to a series of narrative work that explores the role of uncertainty and confusion in learning, growing, and finding a new path one step at a time.
In his Clay Culture article, Craig Hinshaw recounts the opportunity he had to meet Yucatán, Mexico-based ceramic artists Patricia and Rodrigo Morales who create figurative sculptures and narrative illustrations based on historical pieces created by their Maya ancestors. They relate how they learned the processes and techniques used by ancient Mayan potters, and gained an understanding of the incredible skill that would have been needed to produce these vessels without modern kilns and clay supplies.
Spotlight artist Mac McCusker talks about making figurative sculpture that shares their experiences as a transgender and non-binary person living in North Carolina, and reflects on the effects that the resulting visibility and vulnerability have had on daily life.
Kay Whitney reviews work in the group exhibition “The Body, The Object, The Other,” currently on view at Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles, California. She analyzes the ways that the artists express how people’s lives and bodies often differ from expected norms, and by showing that dissonance, how the artists call attention to and challenge those systemic expectations.
In addition to articles focused on figurative expression, this issue includes features on the business model and concepts behind Los Angeles–based Bari Ziperstein’s various bodies of work (which humanize 20th-century Brutalist architecture and Constructivist art); a visit to Daniel Gillberg’s small but efficient, multipurpose studio in Oslo, Norway, where he makes work related to his travels learning about different cultures and aesthetics; and an explanation by Serafine Lilien of hand–and–wrist ergonomics for ceramic artists.
Figurative and narrative sculptures and vessels allow artists and viewers to both express and explore diverse perspectives. In today’s world, this is critical to helping us empathize with how others feel and move through the world, so we can better understand and connect with one another. Being more mindful and considerate can help us recognize our shared humanity and value as individuals.