A Former Kenzo Design Director Finds Creative Freedom in a Pivot to Ceramics

When you’ve spent seven years as design director for a major Parisian fashion brand — in this case, Kenzo, the luxury house founded in 1970 by Japanese designer Kenzo Takada — where do you go from there? In Ben Mazey‘s case, the answer was: move back to the Antipodes, set up a ceramics studio, and fall in love with the creative process all over again. The New Zealand–born Mazey was on vacation in Australia when the pandemic hit; he took the opportunity to put down roots and began exploring clay as a material with total freedom. Out of this self-directed sabbatical came a highly expressive world of colorfully glazed pieces, and a unique visual language that’s not easy to define, in the best possible way.

“As much as I’d technically had quite a creative job for years, I was often just pushing ideas around a computer until someone said yes to them,” Mazey says. “This felt different. I was super permissive with myself, and just making and creating for the sake of it. Honestly it was a pretty delicious period and amazing for me personally – super cathartic, and a really lovely internal reset for myriad reasons.”

Mazey’s work combines all of the references he’s subconsciously collected from the cultures he’s been exposed to during the different parts of his life: growing up in a New Zealand National Park; studying fashion design in Australia; working for mega brands in Europe; side-tracking to Shanghai for a year. There’s also a mathematical underpinning to his design process, as seen in his Flag series, which comprises various manipulations of the same 20x50cm rectangular slab. Similar slab-like shapes form the building blocks of many of Mazey’s functional pieces, from lamps and candleholders, to vessels and even tables, which together form a sort of DIY domestic environment. All share a very anti-perfectionist aesthetic, celebrating the nuances of the handmade. 

The artist’s relationship to his medium is tied to the act of working with his hands, taking his time due to the forced constraints the process dictates, and then enjoying the unpredictability of using a kiln – a process he likens to AI generation. “I love that with ceramics you are kind of at the mercy of the end result when you open the kiln,” Mazey says. “That’s how it is, and you just have to accept it and move on. I love renouncing that control.” He’s represented by C. Gallery in Melbourne, and as of eight months ago, his studio forms part of a live/work space in an industrial building near the city’s airport, which after Mazey’s renovation feels part, what he calls, “dumb art bro loft fantasy” and part “medieval themed restaurant.”

Now settled and having found his stride with the ceramic work, Mazey’s ambitions are growing: “I have some excellent ideas for a large-scale fountain, so if anyone reading this has a massive budget – and a really long lead time – for an incredible ceramic fountain, please call me.” Form a line!