At this year’s Ceramic Art London I was lucky enough to meet ceramist Ipek Kotan who took the time to talk to us about her strikingly beautiful works, all of which draw inspiration from the vessel form and its many connotations and meanings.
On what was a very busy press night I learned not only about the journey each unique ceramic design takes from start to finish, but also the personal journey Ipek took that meant these truly unique ceramics came to be. Here’s the full lowdown the vessel, the life cycle of a glaze and taking a step back to do something creative…
RE: How did your passion for ceramic art begin?
IK: I’ve been interested in art ever since I was a child, but I discovered my passion for ceramics back in 2007. A few months before my 30th birthday I quit my job as the marketing and sales manager of a boutique real estate development company in Istanbul specialising in the restoration of historical buildings and went back to university full time for three years. First I completed my foundation studies in art and design and then received my master’s in ceramics.
RE: What is involved in the process of creating one of your pieces?
IK: Once I decide on the form and size of a piece I would like to make, I take the right amount of porcelain and knead it. Then I centre the clay on the wheel and give the general shape. Depending on the amount of clay I’m working with, this can take up to an entire day. Then over the next few days or weeks, depending on how big and wet the piece is, I keep refining the shape, both on the interior and the exterior. When I have enough dry pieces to fill an entire kiln, I bisque-fire, glaze, sand and glaze-fire the works. Finally the last phase is polishing the exteriors of each piece by hand, which takes a long time but it creates such a tactile surface that it is well worth the extra effort.
RE: What appeals to you about the vessel form and what inspired you to use it as the basis of your work?
IK: The vessel being one of the most commonly unearthed objects in archeological sites the world over, to me it is the embodiment of the universality of the human experience. In a metaphysical and practical sense, it has to do with containing, preserving, safe-keeping, sharing, offering and nourishing. As an object, it is so deeply connected to and so tightly woven into the fabric of the story of humankind that it defies all politics, race, age, sex, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status. When I first started my work 6 years ago, I wanted to choose an object that could be immediately recognised by anyone from any culture and the vessel was perfect for that.
RE: Why is tactility and sensuality important in your work?
IK: Tactility is so essential to the way I relate to and connect with the world around me, that it is natural for it to be reflected in my work as well. Touching makes everything more real. While sights, sounds, smells and tastes can evoke emotions and conjure up images too, for me nothing comes close to what touching can do. My reaction to texture is so much more visceral and intense than my reaction to any other sensory stimulation. Sight comes close but without touch, without a three-dimensional representation, I feel it is very limited.
RE: How have you used different materials to create your glazes?
IK: I create all my glazes in my studio using raw materials. I have made hundreds of glazes over the years and still each year make more and handpick a few to research and develop further. The sculptural vessel form is the canvas and frame in which I show my glazes like abstract paintings, so I allocate a lot of time to glaze research. Also, this is where the real alchemy happens in ceramics, which I find very exciting to me. So mysterious and almost magical…
RE: How have your designs and materials evolved over time?
IK: The evolution of my works is soft, subtle and quiet but continuous. What I find interesting changes in time and naturally this affects everything else. Forms, proportions, colours and textures follow my interests and intuition. For example, I am now much more interested in what happens on the inside works rather than focusing mainly on the forms which was my main concern when I first started my work. Glazes and textures are taking centre stage now whereas the forms are more like the containers for ideas, glazes and textures.
RE: What makes each piece unique?
IK: I personally throw, turn, glaze, sand and polish each piece. I do not use any moulds which allows me to be free to implement any changes as I go along. The slightest adjustment to the profile of a piece, the curve of the interior, the softness of a rim, the thickness of the walls, the proportions of a form or the textures and colours of a glaze makes a world of difference in the character of a piece and its presence. This exploration of nuances is what leads the evolution of my works. Each piece I create informs the next…
RE: What advice would you give someone looking to take a new creative direction?
IK: If they are thinking about being independent, I would tell them to look deep into their heart and choose a subject that they are absolutely passionate about and deeply fascinated by. Otherwise it is very difficult to get past the creative blocks, emotional frustrations and keep motivating yourself especially when you have financial difficulties, which are all inevitably part of the creative package. Even when you truly love what you do and are prepared to work very hard for it, there is no guarantee for financial success or even acknowledgement.
However with enough passion, you can maintain a long-term vision, be patient and keep doing your work and still get joy and pleasure out of it even when things get tough. Being creative and trying to make a living with your passion is not a sprint, it’s a marathon… Every now and then if you’re lucky, you are able to slow down and catch your breath, but it is an endurance race and you can only keep at it if your heart is 100% in it. Otherwise it makes absolutely no sense, financial, physical or emotional and it certainly wouldn’t be sustainable over a lifetime.
To find out more visit www.ipekkotan.com