Alana Wilson, a Ceramic Artist interested in Decay

By Merrell Hambleton For the New York Times

Images by Alana Dimou

Alana Wilson, an Australian artist, has always been interested in decay — the ways gravity, heat and time alter and transform. On childhood hikes through the varied landscape of Wellington, New Zealand, where she grew up, Wilson would pocket shells and small animal bones. To the artist, these objects were relics of “the physicality and fragility of the world.”

It’s fitting then, that Wilson’s medium is clay, transformed by fire. “The destruction that happens at 1,260 degrees in the kiln is the same as what happens over time and in volcanic activity,” she says. That violence and unpredictability is central to her studio practice, and it results in delicate vessels that have caught the attention of the design boutique Primary Essentials, which carries her work, and the Australian fashion label Albus Lumen, with whom she recently collaborated on a line of home wares.

From her studio overlooking Sydney’s Curl Curl Beach, Wilson, 30, hand-builds ceramic pieces that resemble both the objects she gathered as a child — perforated shells, hunks of coral, sun-bleached bone — and man-made forms shaped by nature’s forces. Delicate tea bowls and big-bellied vases, crusted with thick patinas of glaze that bubble, crack and coagulate, suggest vessels unearthed from some long-sunken ship or excavated from the remains of a Pompeian tragedy. In fact, the forms that her pieces reference are quite ancient.

 Working with terra cotta or porcelain paper clay (embedded with fine particles of paper fiber that burn up in the kiln, resulting in a lighter fired piece), and using a coiling method that is itself many thousands of years old, she creates objects inspired by classical shapes: sturdy Cycladic vessels, flared Chinese tea bowls and squat, spherical Korean moon jars, among others. She’s not entirely faithful to the forms she references, however, favoring delicate, perilously narrow, bases. “I’m usually trying to skewer some expected proportion,” Wilson says.

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