Glasgow-based ceramicist Viv Lee crafts stoneware vessels using ancient hand-building techniques. The slow, meditative approach used to realise the sculptural forms allow the ceramicist to be guided by bodily intuition while handling the clay, resulting in softly textured vessels that quietly reference the human form. The Bamford collection of Viv Lee’s Holos ceramics were hand made during the early months of 2021 using press moulds, featuring a white interior glaze that is exclusive to Bamford.
The neutral palette and clean lines of the Holos silhouette reveal the natural textures of the clay, preserving the charming irregularities and imprints that result from the maker’s touch. First developed by Viv back in 2018, the original pieces to inspire this collection were coil built and made intuitively as a form of active meditation, inspired by the teachings of Zen Buddhism that Viv continually strives towards in her practice.
From the comfort of her studio in Glasgow, the maker tells us more about the heritage of her craft and the community that provides a foundation for her work.
Photography: Gabriela Silveira
Hand-building pottery is an ancient technique. How important is the craft heritage to you personally, and do you seek to modernise this in your work?
People have been making clay objects with their hands for millennia, and it is precisely its antiquity that I find fascinating and attracts me to this medium. Continuing to work with ancient techniques is therefore a direct means of connecting to its rich heritage and a way of preserving its importance in our industrialized culture of fast made goods. What this translates to in my every day practice is that wherever possible, my hands are involved in every stage of the making process as my primary tool. While machines are capable of doing so much, I feel there is a life force in slow, thoughtfully handmade objects that is in contrast to the homogeneity of machine-made objects. I like to think it is this unique haptic quality that gives handmade objects such an enduring appeal in the hearts and minds of people.
‘I feel there is a life force in slow, thoughtfully handmade objects that is in contrast to the homogeneity of machine-made objects.’
Has your craft provided any comfort during the past year during which time our tactile experiences – especially physical contact with other people – have become more limited?
Clay is such an incredible material and can offer a diverse expressive outlet for those that choose to work with it. Checking in with our own bodies and being present with our senses is so easily overlooked when we are accustomed to living life at such a fast pace. Being in the studio working with my hands, whether it is coiling a pot, pressing clay into a mold or hand painting layers of glaze provides ample opportunity for me to slow down, connect to my body, and in some ways, connect to the energies of the earth through its materiality. This need for grounding and connection has been all the more necessary in the past year, with our anxieties surrounding the pandemic and the ability to have physical contact with other people drastically curtailed - being able to continue my making practice with clay has certainly provided a huge source of comfort and joy.
How do you navigate the balance between beauty and functionality in your vessels?
As my making is very much guided by intuition, of greater concern to my practice is whether the work I make is an honest expression of my experience in the moment of making, than considerations of beauty and functionality. Furthermore, not being constrained by matters of functionality allows me the freedom to make whatever feels authentic.
According to the Japanese art critic and philosopher Sōetsu Yanagi in The Unknown Craftsmen (1972), ‘A true artist is not one who chooses beauty in order to eliminate ugliness, he is not one who dwells in a world that distinguishes between beautiful and ugly, but rather he is one who has entered the realm where strife between the two cannot exist.’ His musings on beauty in the context of non-dualist Buddhist philosophy have been a great source of influence on my own ideas and one I strive towards in my own practice.
‘Checking in with our own bodies and being present with our senses is so easily overlooked when we are accustomed to living life at such a fast pace.’
Can you tell us about the working collective you are part of in Glasgow? Has being a part of this community evolved your work, or your approach to making?
I first came across the Glasgow Ceramic Studio as a second-year student at art school. Due to the limited kiln facilities at the art school, I was looking for a place to have my experimental clay forays fired. I very quickly discovered it offered so much more in the form of the community of makers and artists and I took the first opportunity to join the studio when a space became available.
As a new maker, being part of a community was a great source of help as there was always somebody I could ask advice or commiserate with about my clay mishaps. Importantly, it gave me a valuable insight into the diverse approaches that can be taken with the material which really encouraged me to develop confidence in pursuing my own approach.
‘I very quickly discovered it offered so much more in the form of the community of makers and artists. As a new maker, being part of a community was a great source of help.’