How Modern ceramics designers are pushing the craft  Ahead

Lots of individuals consider porcelain as something equally valuable and passé — the type of thing our parents and grandparents used to lock up in elaborate cabinets, only to be removed for the many special celebrations (if ever). This perception began millennia ago, with all the origins of the craft itself: ceramic arts date back at least 30,000 years (before we lived in towns) with figurines taken for ceremonialnbsp;purposes.

But ceramic persists to this day and continues to evolve, even as fewer people are registering for nice, fussy china when they get married and bulky china cabinets are as important as rotary telephones. Contemporary designers are stripping down the frills, amping up the colors and finding new ways for us to appreciate thenbsp;finery.

Artist and ceramicist Molly Hatch makes whimsical, magical, yet undeniably unique pottery for popular brands like Anthropologie. Her work is yummy yet not overly delicate, the type of thing that brightens any table setting, special event ornbsp;differently.

In her new, beautifully illustrated book, A Passion for China: A Little Book About the Objects We Eat Out Of, Live with and Enjoy, she investigates the origins of her own fascination with fine ceramics (mainly objects in her grandma’s house) in addition to the immediate enjoyment that well-used porcelain can present (many of her grandma’s things were chipped out of being used rather than cabineted off — imbuing every piece with adoring, happynbsp;memories).

“As we move through our daily lives, eating breakfast, sipping an evening cup of tea or gathering for a family dinner, the patterned ceramic objects we live with are valuable witnesses into our stories,” Hatch writes. “We eat from them, they warm our hands after a chilly walk outside and we pull them out to celebrate the births, lives and marriages of our lovednbsp;ones.”

That human quality is very heightened with fine ceramics (instead of machine-made, mass-marketed stuff) since the energy, touch and texture of this maker gets transmitted to the material, which has an elemental, essentialnbsp;caliber.

Martha Grace McKimm co-owns Toronto’s popular decor and housewares store Hopson Grace. The shop feels entirely modern — suspended orbs of light float through the center of the shop like ideal glowing jellyfish — yet lots of the clean-lined, gray shelves are lined with fine china.

It “all counterbalances to what many believe is a soulless consumer landscape,” notes McKimm, describing why ceramic persists at time when everybody wants things to be microwave-, dishwasher-, and child-safe as you can. “After all, [potters] use their hands and the proverbial ‘dirt of the ground’ to create something unique, which brings warmth, context and a personal touch to a product.” Plus, she adds, “Most of the ceramics we take are actuallynbsp;dishwasher-safe.”

Contemporary ceramicist Alissa Volchkova agrees that one of things that is special about porcelain is your personal touch. Volchkova began her career in design, but did not like “working in a field that was more about spending the majority of the time on the computer, working virtually,” she says. She wanted to create things using a “human” quality, and “with spontaneity. … Clay is one of the first materials which may be easily approached by anyone,” shenbsp;states.

However, her ceramic is anything but fragile. She makes exuberant bowls and cups, overflowing with colourful, thick blobs — such as 3-D, impressionistic oil paintings. “Traditionally, porcelain is supposed to be white, transluscent and glistening, with perfect lines,” Volchkova states. “I’m doing the entire opposite…90 percent of the men and women who see my products believe that it’s plastic ornbsp;resi”

Her creations would appear strange locked up in a screen, alongside some delicate, 18th-century figurine. But that’s precisely the point. It is a different evolution, evidence that ceramic has a place out in our kitchens, dining rooms andnbsp;lives.

Here, seven standout ceramicnbsp;illustrations

Traditionally, porcelain was exact — created by hand, usually, but done so exactingly, like by a machine. London, England-based Alissa Volchkova takes the exact opposite strategy. As opposed to manipulating the clay into submission, she paints and pours liquid clay over a throw, observing the rough edges and arbitrary compositions that results. Price upon request. Through .

Canadian ceramicist Marjorie Camiré hand crafts her porcelain at her studio in Montreal. The cobalt blue of her glowing white vase ($85) references the background of her craft (the colour was a staple of porcelain since the 14th century) albeit at a relaxed, contemporary way. Through .

Spanish designer Jaime Hayon has worked with many notable decor manufacturers, such as crystal company Baccarat and ceramic purveyors Lladro, reviving their time-worn crafts with current day themes and ideas. His Fantasy set for the latter is like a friendly alien invasion left in centuries-old artistry. Price upon request. Through .

According to Hopson Grace’s Martha Grace McKimm, “as casual dining continues to trend up, ceramics’ more casual, organic shapes reflect how we live, eat and entertain.” Here, a simple, bell-shaped votive ($20) adds sparkle to any table setting with its easy, though shimmering, twig pattern emblazed. Through .

Netherlands-based designer Marcel Wanders frequently riffs on his country’s cultural traditions. For his Blue Ming collection, he plays the traditional blue-and-white patterns of Dutch Delft porcelain. The blatantly incomplete patterning of the serving platter both underscores the intricacy when making it feel less valuable. Price upon request. Through .

For centuries, German ceramic manufacturing firm Nymphenburg has generated memento mori — reminders of our mortality. Nowadays, that means a yearly addition to their Skull series, anatomically accurate heads covered in a yearly changing pattern. A blend of morbid and marvelous, this year’s version features glinting turtles — a reminder to enjoy the bodily pleasures of tropical holidays — before our time runs out. Price upon request. Through .

American designer and artist Molly Hatch is motivated by the long history of her craft. Her pieces, however, have a modern, casual vibe — the illustrations are enchanting, the shapes are unfussy, making them versatile for everyday use and special occasions. Vases from $83 (U.S.). Through .

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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