The Cape Town Ceramicist Making Crinkled Vases and Clay Faces
Here’s a tip for anyone suffering from the fear of starting something creative: Make the ugliest thing you can think of. That’s the genius bit of advice that ceramics artist Ceri Muller’s partner gave her when she felt blocked, faced with her first lump of clay. “I did that and carried on doing it and those ugly little things morphed into these heads that I grew to really love,” she says. Sometimes they’re based on people she sees roaming around in her neighborhood in Cape Town, and other times they start out as a sketch of a face or a feeling that she has in mind. “But they always end up doing their own thing when I sculpt them,” she says.
With their mouths agape and their haunted hollow eyes, her clay characters make a tragicomic addition to her catalogue. “They are so sweet and sad at the same time,” she says. What she’s usually busy making though, are more formal, but just as unusual, crinkly vessels and vases. She works from an old storage unit in her apartment block which she calls her studio dungeon and it’s here that she hand-sculpts her pieces, pressing her fingertips into their soft sides repetitively to make a pattern of uneven ridges. “It’s meditative and calms my mind,” she says. She came to this effect through playing around with different textures until she found something that she liked.
Some of the pieces Muller makes are small flower pots that could fit into your palm and others are the size of a bear hug. “I see each piece kind of like a human body with a unique shape, size and color, riddled with blemishes and imperfections,” she says. “They come together to create a motley crew of outcasts. It makes my heart warm.” Her colors are decided through indecision and panic-buying at the pottery supply shop. She experiments with clays of different natural tones and is slowly getting into glazing, which will unlock a new world of color. With a Master’s degree in fine art, Muller supposes she’s allowed to call her sculptural vessels ‘art’ but she prefers not to label them. “My things, like all things, just are what they are.”