Playing with clay

In this interview, we chat with Catherine Ash about ceramics in the contemporary age.

Catherine Ash is playing matchmaker to an unlikely pair: ceramics and geometry.

Emerging creative Catherine Ash creates ceramic pieces for her label Ash Ceramics. While it’s not bone china, it certainly deserves a place in the display cabinet.

Ash’s ceramics are utilitarian pieces but they are so beautifully created that they also function as art.  She creates small, fun tableware items such as bowls and plates, as well as bigger sculptural pieces such as her giant tortoise shells. Most recently she has branched into the field of ceramic wall installations.

Ash’s ceramics pieces possess a quaint hand-made aestheic and are one-off creations of which she only makes a handful of variations.

What techniques do you use?

I mostly hand-build my pieces but I have also made a mould of a few pieces so that I can slip cast them or press mould them. Then I hand paint and glaze every piece.

Talk us through your work – some of the more conceptual elements or elements that aren’t apparent in the final product?

I don’t think that my work is very conceptual or at least it was never meant to be. I simply try to make objects that are aesthetically pleasing and unique. 

Tell us about your personal history and how that led you to ceramics? What made you choose ceramics as a way of expressing yourself?

As a kid I loved playing with clay and often got my hands dirty with some, but I never imagined myself doing it as a career. I slowly gravitated towards it in university and when I started working on a piece at Art In The Forest ceramic studio over a year ago, I simply found myself creating many little things and just could not stop. 

Ceramics and pottery are age-old crafts. How have ceramics managed to survive the changing and modern times?

Yes, ceramics is an age-old craft but there is always a need and want for it. The medium itself dates back centuries but the design is ever-changing, just like fashion and other functional design. 

How do you describe your current body of work?

I would describe it as fun and contemporary. I am loving the trendy geometric design at the moment and cannot resist incorporating it into my designs. 

Tell us about the use of colour and its importance in your creations.

Adding colour to my pieces is another great design element and I love playing with that. 

Your ceramics have a contemporary look. What’s the battle between that and more classic sensibilities?

The classics are done well – very well, in fact, so therefore I am trying to stay away from creating “classical” pieces. I also love contemporary, simple and clean design so it has never really been a battle of which way to take my ceramics. 

You’re combining ceramics with installations.  Your wall installations are a strange, interesting and dynamic way to handle ceramics,. Will you talk more about that?

I enjoy the way something can change depending on the angle a person is viewing it from. This was the thought process behind the installations but I wanted it incredibly simple. So some of my installations one can see a different colour if one is on the right, left or facing it directly. These installations are meant to pick up and subtly enhance an area of a space depending on the colours and the angles it is viewed from. 

What are you currently experimenting with in terms of new ceramic approaches and what are your plans for the future?

Technically, there is so much to explore within the medium of ceramics and being self taught means I still have a lot to learn. Sometime it feels like I needed to study chemistry to understand mixing glazes. So, for the mean time, I am still trying to master some basics. Otherwise I am really enjoying playing with my ceramic wall installations and will carry on pushing them into new and exciting domains. In the near future I will also be focusing on some bigger sculptural pieces.

Do you feel that your style is evolving naturally and organically, or is there a niche you have seen and are purposefully working to fill?

I try to keep my style as natural as possible so that my work stays unique and original, but I also admire many artists and brands that help me keep my focus on my aspirations.

As a South African, does your environment influence your work? And what is working at Art In The Forest like? Yes, definitely, and South Africa is such a stunning country to be influenced by. I love the vibrancy, colours and cultures of the Cape and I am sure some of these aspects are evident in my work. 

Art In The Forest is fantastic! It is definitely one of the most extraordinary studios in Cape Town (definitely worth a visit). I love working with the master ceramicists and learn so much from them constantly. 

What’s in the future? Any pieces you’ve been itching to make?

I cannot wait to make a large ceramic sculpture or a really large vessel that will fill the whole kiln. I have a few ideas that will hopefully take shape in the next few months.