Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Antoinette Badenhorst spent her childhood in Namibia, a land of sharp contrasts and brilliant color. The deep blue skies touch the horizon as far as the eye can see. The sands of the Kalahari Desert glow a rusty red. The sunsets are brilliant explosions of ever changing colors. Cultures ranging from indigenous to 21st-century European exist side by side. It is little wonder she took her inspiration for her porcelain artwork from this land of constantly shifting light and melding cultures. Chris Campbell: How did your early life influence the work you make? Antoinette Badenhorst: My childhood was very innocent. I played among the rocks on the hillside behind the farm where I grew up. On a clear day I could see the Erongo Mountains 62 miles (100 km) away. I knew the difference between a real waterhole and a mirage. At sunset I watched the beautiful shades of reds, oranges, and pinks twist and turn as they painted their way into dusk, then gave way to a clear, star-filled night sky. These early experiences, lingering in my subconscious, laid the foundation for my artistic career. Through the translucence of porcelain I can convey the emotions of these beautiful scenes.
CC: When did you start working with clay?
AB: I started learning my craft in 1981. There was very limited formal training available since pottery teachers and books were scarce. I had to find my own way. Later I became a pottery teacher and have taught others for most of my ceramic career. At one point I owned a ceramics factory that supplied 250 stores in countries throughout southern Africa. I had 20 employees, but quickly decided I did not want to be a manager. I returned to pottery in 1995, making pit-fired vessels and won my first awards soon after.
CC: How did your move to the US affect your studio practice?
AB: In 1999 my husband Koos was offered a job in Information Technology in the US so our family moved to Mississippi with only our suitcases and some boxes of memorabilia. Until I became a permanent resident in 2001, I was not allowed to earn my own income, so I exchanged my skills for space to create some pottery for our own household use. I prepared for my first Mississippi show in our apartment. My children held up black plastic bags around my wheel for me as I threw so that I did not spatter clay all over the room. I handbuilt pieces on black plastic around my bed. Eventually, I was offered a workspace in a friend’s barn. When we finally had a chance to buy a house, I had a workshop in the back of our yard. I won my first award in the US at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in 1999. When we moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 2007, I had to work in a garage or at a nearby arts center. We moved back to our house in Mississippi in 2013 and I easily slipped back into operation. Through shows and exhibitions I began to make connections with artists and curators who have shaped my career in a positive way. When we first moved to the US I was longing for my country. At first I expressed the indigenous side of my African heritage through a series of pit-fired vessels. When I had fully explored that aspect, I turned to high-fired translucent porcelain to express a more Western aesthetic, but one that maintains the rhythmic qualities of life and nature in Africa. My pots begin low, from a static place then evolve into high, balletic gestures.
CC: When making pieces, do you carefully plan your designs?
AB: I am not a faithful planner. I know I have to draw, but for me it is so much easier to work with the clay surface. It is important to fully understand the character of porcelain in order to successfully do this. Instead of fighting or trying to dominate its unsteady character, I lean into its personality. I had to learn to follow the clay, but also to rein it in and keep some control.
CC: How do you use translucency to its best effect?
AB: Pieces must be flawless in order to achieve the best effects. Smooth, even walls devoid of process marks are absolutely crucial since the crisp designs are entirely exposed by light filtering through the walls. Cracks in porcelain are often seen as part of the nature of the material but I can seldom get away with one. Unless a crack follows a contour of a carving, it interferes with the flow of the design. Even a repaired crack shows up under light and so is a taboo for my work. Whiteness, line, texture, color, and translucency have to be in balance with each other. The flow of design, balance, and harmony are elements that elevate translucent porcelain to its fullest potential. You cannot count on translucency alone. Developing a glaze palette for these pieces was a part of finding my own voice. I altered a few basic transparent glazes from cone 8 to cone 10. I add Mason stains, starting with about 2 teaspoons to 1 liter of glaze, and staying below 10% addition of stain to glaze. I enjoy the challenge of mixing exciting, fresh colors and my clients appreciate the results.
CC: Your photographs of your work have a signature style. How important is this?
AB: The style and consistency are very important. In the internet world images go around the globe quickly and being easily recognized is important. Images are often the only thing by which we are judged. I am fortunate to have Koos as my professional photographer. He understands my artwork and captures the defining elements of the pieces.
CC: Would you say you have settled into your own aesthetic?
AB: I think there is so much to life that I will never cover everything that I would like to do. I have found my niche, for now, but I would like to extend my work into other ceramic techniques. I’m currently interested in switching to other types of clay to make life-sized sculptures, expanding on the theme of circles, cycles, and seasons.
CC: You have taught for a long time, and now offer online workshops. Can you talk about the role teaching plays in your career?
AB: Since I had to figure so much out by myself, I enjoy shortening my students’ learning curve. I understand the subject, so I can explain and demonstrate it clearly to others. Teaching gives me the joy of seeing students improve from what they have learned in my classes. It brings a personal victory for me when I can encourage them to find their own voice. Online teaching is economical and convenient for students. The collaborative e-courses I am teaching with a few colleagues run over a 6-week period and are the equivalent of a week-long workshop. If needed, we walk students through their computer set up before the course begins. Then they have a front row seat at any time of day or night. They can review the class often so they do not have to take notes and can work hands-on at their leisure. Students may also send in a one-minute video to consult on any problem areas. There is a private Facebook page where they can communicate with each other. In the beginning, online teaching was intimidating, but as soon as I realized I was reaching real students, I relaxed. It is different from YouTube and other video material as the class size is limited and I am available to answer questions. The online courses are very new so my colleagues and I are still learning about this way of teaching. We have also begun a video series of artist interviews that we hope to integrate into our offerings. My number one priority is to encourage and teach other potters to work with porcelain. There is so much more to discover.
For more information on Badenhorst’s porcelain e-courses, visit www.porcelainbyantoinette.com.
the author Chris Campbell has created her colored porcelain artwork from her studio in Raleigh, North Carolina, since 1991. She writes articles about colored clay and teaches workshops on the subject. Learn more at www.ccpottery.com.