Last Wednesday night, Contemporaries members were taken into the creative spaces of some of Sydney’s most exciting ceramic artists. After making our way around the back of Glebe Library, we were greeted by our host for the night, co-founder of kil.n.it Bev Shroot. Bev invited us explore the studios of resident artists including Holly Macdonald, Madeleine Preston and Scott Duncan.
Kil-n-it experimental ceramics studio is housed in an unassuming U-shaped brick building, a former nurses’ quarters. Owned by City of Sydney and used by kil.n.it as part of the City’s Creative Spaces program, the space has been reimagined by a community of emerging and experimental artists. The individual studios are modest in size, but each artist has made the space their own, with tools, books, works in progress and images pinned to walls.
We split into groups to hear from each individual artist in their space. Holly Macdonald spoke of her hand-built porcelain vessels, which she paints with coloured slips and ceramic pencil rather than glaze. This process retains the immediacy of the hand-drawn line on the delicate clay surface. Guests were invited to pick up and hold works around the studio, and Holly demonstrated the acoustic changes that indicate the various stages of firing – when you gently flick a vessel, the pitch of the ‘ping’ is higher with each firing.
Members were mesmerised by the food-inspired pots of Scott Duncan, who has only recently returned to making art after twenty years as a chef. Scott’s painstaking creations combine mid-century aesthetics with hilarious accents of food, like a serving of chopstick-speared noodles balanced on the neck of a vase. Scott uses kitchen tools – a serrated knife, extruders, processors – to sculpt clay into crinkly hot chips, sushi and musk sticks that are affixed to pots and carefully glazed to life-like perfection.
Madeleine Preston explained her journey from painting to ceramics, and shared images of her installations where the two mediums are combined. She described how she builds tall, thin vessels from coils of clay, working around such unassuming forms as toilet rolls, which are then burnt out during firing. All of the artists spoke of the challenges of clay, and embracing the possibility of failure. Madeleine pointed out her once-favourite pot – perhaps ironically in the form of an elaborate cup or trophy – which collapsed in the final firing and is forever fused to two other vessels. It remains in her studio, a reminder that we can never predict how things will work out.
After these intimate and enlightening studio conversations, the artists walked us through the back streets of Glebe to kil.n.it’s classrooms, in the nearby Glebe Town Hall. Wheels and clay were set up ready to go, and artist-technicians Rachael McCallum and Paige Phillips worked one-on-one with poncho-clad members – between breaks for beer, wine and pizza – to teach us the basics of hand-building and wheel-throwing.
The evening was a fascinating insight into the ways contemporary artists are working with clay as a medium for wild experimentation. It was fantastic to be part of this vibrant community for the evening, as they shared their spaces, stories and skills with us.
Keen to try your hand at ceramics? kil.n.it offers classes for all skill levels. The beginner’s six-week course covers everything from hand-building techniques to wheel-throwing skills, and how to mix and apply glazes. Upon graduating, students can book the workshop or glaze kitchen and fire solo.
Find out more about kil.n.it classes here.
You can also join kil.n.it on Saturday 5 November to help them celebrate their first birthday! Click here to register attendance and buy your limited edition artist cup.
Be our guest at the next Contemporaries event! Become a member and receive invitations to an exclusive calendar of behind the scenes contemporary art experiences. Find out more and view our upcoming events here.