Jenni Eleutheriades is a Sydney-based ceramic artist specialising in crystalline glazing. The personal experiences and responses produced by various objects have been the main source of inspiration throughout her practice. Her geodes represent a nostalgia for a collection of gemstones which she amassed and treasured as a child. We talk to her about the illusory nature of her practice and how she creates such intricate pieces.
A: Your works build upon the colour and form of organic matter – what is it about natural forms that interests you in terms of making them your own?
JE: The creation of my forms is an organic process. I like to let the clay move in the direction it wants, almost allowing it to shape itself. I roll, stretch and build with the clay but I don’t try to make it take any specific form. I really love not having too much control over my pieces. The concept actually came from a collection of geodes and semi-precious rock I had amassed as a child. I always found these natural treasures absolutely captivating, I found it so amazing that they were created naturally, without the aid of the human hand.
A: Could you talk about the methods of creating your work, specifically the science and experimentation that comes with crystalline glazing?
JE: Crystallines are definitely one of the most complicated glazes to work with;there are just so many options for different outcomes. Things like where the piece sits in the kiln or whether you use cobalt, copper or silver nitrate in the glaze can all have a big impact on how these crystals turn out. There are also so many variables that can completely block the development of a crystal as well .I like to think of my glazing process as a sort of alchemy.
I usually start with the piece that I have hand-built, the surface that I apply my glaze to needs to be completely smooth and as clean as possible. Once my glaze has been applied, the pieces go directly into the kiln. The firing cycle consists of a quick increase to 1200 degrees Celsius or above so that the glaze is nice and fluid which allows for the movement of the particles and the zinc-silicate nuclei to dissolve which in turn means potential crystal growth.
The temperature is then dropped to about 1050 – 1100 degrees Celsius. This is when the crystals grow. I tend to hold the temperature for a fair few hours so they may grow large. Then the kiln is shut off. I sometimes opt for a reduction firing after the initial crystalline as well. This is the process in the simplest explanation. It’s all very experimental and I can never tell 100% how a piece will turn out. I think some of my best pieces have been surprises.
A: What are your main inspirations for working with these materials?
JE: When I went to art school I thought I would be a photographer. I had no idea about how versatile clay was as a medium. It was the first time that I tried throwing on the wheel when I realised how much I loved working with it. I went home thinking about it, and the next morning I wanted to do it again. I started learning about glazing and all the different types of techniques and processes and I was hooked. Working with ceramics offers so much potential with what you can achieve. I really enjoy the scientific aspect, the experimentation and understanding how things are created.
A: Could you talk about the sensory notions of your pieces – how do they connect with you in terms of touch as well as visuals?
JE: I’m a very tactile person: I’ll often find myself picking up objects to explore them. I think that’s why I enjoy the process of creating a piece so much. I press and squeeze the clay until the form is complete. I leave fingerprints, I leave marks. Those marks are still there imprinted on the clay once it has been fired. It’s a visual representation of what I felt when shaping the piece. I find work interesting when the maker leaves their mark.
A: How do you think that audiences respond to your work, both for its manipulation or re-representation of natural objects and for the aesthetics it creates?
JE: I have actually had the response where people see the works and state that they are geodes before actually realising that they are made by the hands of a person. The first response is always to talk about what it appears to be or resembles. Some say the ocean or a painting or lily pads. People see different things in the work I make, I suppose that’s the point. Each individual is different, so one piece can be received in so many ways.They’re often drawn to the quality of the surface. It’s glossy and luscious, seductive in a way. There’s a depth to it; people really can’t help but be fascinated by the details and intricacies within the matrix of the glaze.
A: What do you have planned in terms of future projects/exhibitions?
JE: I still enjoy playing with the idea of nostalgia but I think I will start to move away from the geodes and move onto a slightly different path. I’m quite excited to get into it, I’ve been recollecting items that I remember were quite significant in my childhood. Things that someone born and raised in the 1980s and1990s will most probably recognise.
I plan on appropriating these items for a gallery setting. I think it will be interesting to walk into a gallery space and see a somewhat ordinary childhood item that you might have played with every day remade in porcelain, looking so precious and fragile .In September next year I will be heading over to Jingdezhen, China, for a month long residency at Sanbao. I also do have my first solo show coming up in November at Scratch Art Space called Mineralia which I’m currently finishing up some work for. So a few things are coming up and it’s all very exciting!
Find out more about the work: worksbyjenni.com
1 Jenni Eleutheriades, Courtesy of Savvas Eleutheriades – 2016.