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Maker of the Month – Alison Frith

Our Maker of the Month for November is Alison Frith and we are absolutely thrilled to be exhibiting her beautiful work for the next 10 days at Guild.

Alison is an emerging artist in the field of ceramics and this week she is exhibiting her stunning hand-thrown pieces alongside fellow artist Jessica Rae at their exhibition called 'Two' which opens tomorrow night right here at Guild. Alison is meticulous in her approach to making ceramics, and this is clearly evident in her strong and sophisticated body of work. 

We are completely besotted by her crater glazes which will be on display in all of their glory at her exhibition. If you are a glaze geek (like us!) you really have to check these out.

You are invited to join us on opening night this Thursday November 19, 6–8pm for drinks and nibbles.

Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your craft?

I grew up just outside of Daylesford and moved to the city at 18 to study a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. I have always lived north of the river and have called Brunswick home for the past six or so years. My studio is just a short bike ride away in North Melbourne and I am about to finish (hooray!) a Diploma of Ceramics at Holmesglen. I create work that is predominantly wheel based with clean lines and simple finishes. My recent work explores unconventional surface techniques to highlight the medium of clay, often subverting the object’s utilitarian function.

When and how did you first get started in ceramics? 

I think I was going through a quarter life crisis, of sorts. I had deferred my Masters of Communication at RMIT and was at a bit of a loose end. So for Christmas my parents got me an eight-week beginner course at the Carlton Arts Centre. This is where I met Julian and my love affair with clay began – hold the Ghost cracks.

Can you describe those early days?

There was definitely a spark. Working with clay had ignited something in me. The tactile nature of the medium and the immediacy of throwing on the wheel was both challenging and satisfying. I was hooked, and soon I was going back two or three nights a week, on Saturdays and even faking the odd ‘sickie’ to glaze my work so it could be fired by the weekend. After a couple years of casual night classes I went travelling and saw a reconstruction of Lucy Rie’s studio at the V&A Museum in London. I think I held onto this experience more than I realised at the time because when I came home I cleaned out our outdoor laundry, bought an old Jumping Jack pottery wheel (it was louder than our washing machine) and enrolled in NEIS. My main line of thought was I got this. After a long cold winter, a few markets and the odd commission I realised I didn’t really know anything about ceramics.

What has the journey been like since those early days? 

Since enrolling in the Diploma of Ceramics at Holmesglen, I’ve started to hone my skills on the wheel, develop my own glazes and learn how to fire a gas kiln. I was lucky enough to be the recipient of the Trudie Alfred Bequest, which enabled me to purchase a new Shimpo wheel, a stack of batts for throwing and glaze ingredients for my studio.

Above all, school has taught me to loosen up and try new things – certain tasks force you to go in directions you never thought you would and to get out of your comfort zone. This is how I first started playing with crater glazes. While advice from the teachers can steer you in the right direction, I have learned most from observing my peers. Witnessing other students’ successes and failures gives far greater knowledge and insight into the creative practice than any institution can.

 Can you give us some insight into your creative process? 

I work with stoneware clays and make most of my work on the wheel. I think you’re either a hand-builder or a thrower and I’m definitely the latter. I like the immediacy the wheel brings and how it teaches you to be disciplined with speed, water and touch. I always throw on batts so as to not warp or disrupt the shape of my thrown piece when taking it off the wheel. I do have a tendency to chat (my favourite form of procrastination), but if I’m lucky (usually when no one else is in the studio) I’ll get into a throwing rhythm and the day will be over before I know it. I do a lot of glaze testing on different clay bodies and try to be pretty thorough with my documentation – some days this is better than others. Due to the simplicity of my thrown forms, I like to draw on unconventional surface treatments, including crater glazes and sprig tessellations.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

There are three ‘typical’ days in my routine at the moment. I’m either at the studio throwing on the wheel, turning pieces and loading/unloading the kiln. Or I’m at school testing and glazing all bisqueware I bring in from my studio. Or I’m at Anchor Ceramics, where I work part-time making planters. It has pretty much been these three studios on rotation for the past year. It can be a challenge working across so many different spaces as you really need to plan ahead due to the time dependent nature of clay, but I’m beginning to find a balance and learning (usually the hard way) not to take risks with letting work dry too quickly!

Do you have making philosophies that guide your practice?

For me ceramics is all about skill and technique. It’s 90% blood, sweat and tears and 10% creativity. I don’t find that inspiration comes like a bolt of lightning, but if I’m disciplined to keep going into the studio I’m occasionally rewarded with a small victory. It’s usually just enough to prevent you from giving up, to keep testing that glaze or trying for a certain form. I once had a stack of bottles glazed and ready for final assessment fall off a shelf and smash into a million pieces, which is when my teacher told me you need to have a lion’s heart to be a ceramicist – and I reckon she’s probably right. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control the clay teaches you something new. Possibly because there are so many more failures than successes with ceramics, I think it’s the failures that actually steer our creative direction.

What do you draw inspiration from?

Despite growing up in the country, it’s the urban landscape that I’m drawn to. My work is quite controlled and minimal, incorporating clean lines and hard angles. Even my crater glazes are highly prescriptive with countless hours of methodical testing, despite their organic aesthetic. I admire the utilitarian styles of Danish potters including Gertrud Vasegaard and Inger Rokkjaer. I like the simplicity of their forms … quiet and understated.

Can you name another maker that you admire, whose field might be different to your own, but you find their work or methods inspiring?

My housemates. We’re an eclectic bunch of do-ers. My boyfriend is a musician so he views and interprets things in a completely different way to me, which is really interesting (and occasionally frustrating, but usually interesting). The others span the creative fields of fashion, fine art and curatorship. With five of us all working in different mediums, there’s always something on the boil.

It’s nice to be surrounded by people who just keep chipping away at things. It can be tough going to keep a creative practice afloat. There is usually a string of part-time jobs and a truckload of self-doubt. It’s a hard balance to achieve and doesn’t always work, but it’s encouraging when you’ve got good company along the way.

Find Alison on Instagram, her website, and the Guild shop.