When I completed a Bachelor of Design in 1988, I was a disorganised 22-year-old without a clue as to what it meant to be a potter or if in fact that was what I wanted to do. It was when I was 25, after dabbling in some pottery, that the penny really dropped so to speak and I began to immerse myself fully in the world of pottery. This coincided with a trip to the UK on a one way ticket. The English studio pottery tradition with Bernard Leach as its most famous exemplary provided a whole new source of influence.
I spent a few years in England making decorative earthenware and selling it at local markets – there is nothing like trying to sell pottery in the snow ... Increasingly, however I wanted my work to reflect more of my shifting interest into the English studio tradition which spoke more of simplicity and austerity and had its origins in a crossing over of Chinese and Japanese and English ceramic histories.
Eight years of English winters was enough encouragement to propel me back to Australia. When I returned I was fortunate to be able to rent a shared studio space at the JamFactory Centre for Contemporary Craft and Design. This was a pivotal time for the change in my work and under the encouragement and tutelage of great potters that happened to be working at the JamFactory at the time I was able to experiment with ideas that had originated while in England. Four years of part time study through the post graduate department in the School of Art at UniSA enabled further exploration of the cross over of ceramic traditions.
In coming back to Australia I have been grateful to receive support from mentors and peers and to be part of a community of potters (I wonder what the collective noun is for a group of potters?) I feel lucky to be now working with people who are learning about ceramics, to be able to share in other people's growing passion for the material, and to watch the development of ideas articulated through a material that has limitless possibilities is a very fortunate experience.
Kirsten Coelho is a sessional ceramics lecturer at UniSA's South Australian School of Art.