How Architecture Inspires Ceramicist Kirsten Coelho Everyday

'There on the other shore' collection by Kirsten Coelho

This Australian ceramicist looks far and wide to make pieces that are close to home.

Ask an artist when their creative passion was first sparked and often you’ll hear of supportive teachers, childhoods spent wandering galleries, a parent who saw something in them that they didn’t yet see in themselves. Ceramicist Kirsten Coelho has known all these things but it was a moment in a doctor’s office in the 1970s that proved the genesis for her artistic future. “I was about 10 years old and the doctor my mum took me to was into drawing – he was an amazing drawer. He would talk to me about it and I was fascinated. I wish I could tell him now that he had a big impact on a very young person. It opened up this impulse.”

Ceramicist Kirsten Coelho

Fast forward to today and Adelaide-based Coelho is an award-winning ceramicist, her porcelain creations exhibited here and abroad. For her most recent collection, There on the other shore, at Sydney’s Sullivan+Strumpf gallery, Coelho drew on the concept of “domestic vessels being like an architecture of the hand”, an idea she credits to British ceramicist Elizabeth Fritsch. Architecture itself has long informed Coelho’s work. “Inspiration comes partly from my environment and the degrading surfaces in architecture,” she says. “I live in an old harbour area of Adelaide and some rusting surfaces take on a wonderful, abstract potential.”

Her inspiration has also been found in North Asian ceramic traditions, famous ruins, archaeological ceramics, poetry, the colours of the Australian landscape and “the way that different objects come together to create a narrative about social history”.

Working with porcelain is intensive, she says. “Maybe I’ll make five of one thing and choose one – four just don’t feel quite right. It’s a long, slow process.” Part of that practice includes assessing every piece as though it’s to be used, even if the glaze Coelho chooses – often matt white for the way it absorbs and reflects light – is less conducive. “My pieces are not facsimiles of things that could be used. Each thing I make I feel in my hand – what would the weight feel like if I was drinking [from it]?”

Ceramicist Kirsten Coelho's tools

The current trend towards her art form is not lost on Coelho. “I’m thrilled to see a resurgence in the popularity of ceramics,” she says. “It takes away from mass production and can develop a rich, textural aesthetic experience within our interior lives.”

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Image credit: Daniel Noone

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