Tessa Eastman - I Honestly Feel If One Can Perceive Something One Can Achieve It (Artist)

Tessa Eastman

What I love about ceramics is that one thinks one is in control, yet one never is. 


1. Tell us about your background and journey?

I have been working in the field of contemporary ceramic art for over twenty years. I was lucky enough to go to a school which had a pottery department and feeling unconfident with drawing I choose pottery along with a friend (whose Mum was American and had done a lot of ceramics in the USA). 

My friend’s Mum gave us ceramic books to look at and I was always transfixed observing the sculpture, finding UK ceramic books full of brown pottery and less exciting. There was one book I loved which discussed the Funk Ceramics movement and included work by Richard Slee. 

After school, I did an art foundation where I was taught by Annie Turner and then completed a BA at Harrow and an apprenticeship with Kate Malone, who was recently a judge on the BBC TV series The Great Pottery Throwdown. Between 2013-15 I carried out a MA at the Royal College of Art where I was taught by outstanding tutors who are well known in the field.


2. When did you first decide that you wanted to become a sculptor?

I was unhappy at school and found solace in the ceramic studio. I started off creating a few functional pieces but quickly moved into exploring sculptural form. I won a pottery prize for a ceramic pond with a fountain and fish modelled between glass and glaze. 

I had never won a prize before and this was a sign that I was good at clay sculpting. I feel confined by the potter’s wheel and like to be freer and hand-building sculpture allows me to do this. I always thought it would be easy to make a living and recall as a child saying, ‘I am going to make work and sell it’. 

Little did I realise just how challenging this would be. One is blessed with naivety as a child which is a good thing as when one gets older one is more limited by one’s beliefs. I honestly feel if one can perceive something one can achieve it and maybe I am still naive in thinking this way as an adult!


3. What is the most challenging part of selecting materials for use based on strength, colour, texture, balance, weight, size, malleability, and other characteristics?

I was given terracotta or buff clay to sculpt with as a child and felt dissatisfied with these clays as they produce dark off-white tones which does not help render the glazes bright. 

They are also not as strong as other clays, and it took me a while to discover a white high firing clay that is full of grog or chamotte (particles of pre-fired clay) which helps strengthen the material. This allows me to create larger pieces and smaller handheld work.

It also took me time to feel confident with glaze and I would spend many weeks on a piece that would then get destroyed in the glaze firings. I spent two years on my master’s researching and developing glazes and continue to do so to produce expressive ceramic sculpture. 

I aim for the glaze surface to awaken gratification of the physical senses and I select colours and surfaces for their blending and clashing qualities. The glazes enhance the harmony and discord of the sculptural arrangements and equally, through glaze and three-dimensional form, the intensity is embraced to transport the viewer into another dimension. 

The arousing and soothing qualities of the glazed surfaces reflect the fluidity of human sensations. Through glaze, the sculptures become animated and provide room for contemplation on impermanent states of existence. Each glaze is made up of a recipe using various balances of mineral constituents. I embrace the unexpected nature of glaze just as I do when sculpting.


4. How and where do you find inspiration to churn out content?

I don’t churn out work. Ceramics is heavily laboured, it takes over a month to create a large work and a lot of things can go wrong at any stage in the process. What I love about ceramics is that one thinks one is in control, yet one never is. The process emulates humanity in so many ways. 

One is most out of one’s control with many weeks of work in the kiln being heated to high temperatures, vitrifying the clay into fired ceramic and melting the raw glaze material into glass.

My inspiration comes from the often-overlooked detail of bone, cloud, crystal and microscopic structures which are observed as a starting point to developing pieces which possess a curious ambiguity. I aim to fix un-graspable states such as fleeing cloud formations which represent both the ideal and the perishable, signifying doom and fantasy. 

The strange otherworldliness of natural phenomena transports me away from the mundane and I become excited when fixed ceramic form seems alive, evoking awareness of life’s impermanence where not all make sense. I am fascinated by the disruptive dynamism formed when repetitive growth patterns in living systems mutate as this produces tension. 

Grouping sculptures enhances their unique persona as they form a dialogue, which generates an atmosphere of congruence and conflict. This contrast assists in generating an awkward air where geometry and irregularity, order and chaos, soft and hard evoke awareness of the impermanence of human emotions. 

Voluminous cloud shapes exploring the theme of space pushing out are juxtaposed with opposing harsh mesh structures that reveal the internal. This relationship between internal and external relates to pots and to the body where the void is a life force.


5. Share one of your favourite experiences as a sculptor with us.

The most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences is of course for anyone working with clay the moment when one opens the kiln to reveal what high heat has done to chemically alter the work. This combination of apprehension and excitement is utterly thrilling and spurs any clay worker on. 

Another good experience is working months, sometimes years for a major show and then seeing all the work in the show and breathing a huge sigh of relief, satisfaction, and exhaustion.


6. What has been the biggest learning from your job? and What piece of advice would you like to give to future and aspiring creators?

When working as a sculptor using technical materials one never stops learning and this is what spurs one on. The biggest learning has been accepting that just when you think you understand the materials, they come out to bite you by doing something ad hoc. 

I have had glazes work for years suddenly change and it can take years to discover what has happened, often a material has changed with a supplier which alters the chemical nature of the recipe or the glaze that sits next to this glaze on the work has changed. 

One is constantly kept on one’s toes. My biggest learning has also come from taking part in a business program for creatives. I joined the London Creative Network in 2017 and still attend workshops and events that are relevant to what I need in the given moment. 

At art school, one is not taught business and often artists are hopeless at it. The workshops have helped me with funding, marketing, time management and numerous aspects one needs to consider when running a small business. 

The advice I would give to future aspiring creators is to dream, don’t put off today what can be done tomorrow and to keep creating whilst surrounding oneself with likeminded others. I would also recommend taking part in business workshops such as those run by the Crafts Council.


- Tessa Eastman (Artist)

Tessa Eastman

Tessa Eastman is an award-winning artist with over twenty years of experience working with clay and glaze. Her dynamic sculpture sits at the vanguard of the contemporary ceramic art scene and she has impressed many, bringing originality, skill and a daring approach to the art form. 

Her sculptures appear curiously alive with movement and her Cloud Bundles have found a serious following among collectors, gallerists and ceramophiles alike. Work has been presented by the financial firm's Abacus (2003), Gresham (2006) and Clifford Chance (2019).

Tessa was shortlisted for the Cynthia Corbett Gallery’s Young Masters Prize (2017) and won the Craft Emergency Award (2016). Notable solo shows include ‘Cloudspotting’ with Jason Jacques, NYC and ‘Le désordre en délice de l’imagination’ with Galerie de l’Ancienne Poste, France (2019). Her work has been selected for the British Ceramics Biennial (2015) and she received an honourable mention at the Korean Gyeonggi Ceramic Biennale (2017).

Tessa has been teaching since 2005, currently working at the Kiln Rooms, studios providing professional development and Heatherleys, one of London’s oldest Independent art colleges. She holds a ceramics BA Honours from the University of Westminster (2006), and a MA from the Royal College of Art (2015). She is a member of the Art Workers’ Guild and the Royal Society of Sculptors.

Tessa’s new sculptures are part of an esteemed contemporary art, craft and design exhibition called 'Crafting a Difference' at SoShiro, a Georgian townhouse in London’s Marylebone: https://www.craftingadifference.com/exhibition

The exhibition is supported by The Michelangelo Foundation and is a positively defiant act of coming together when so many have been forced apart. Her work is represented by Ting-Ying Gallery at the exhibition which remains virtual until restrictions lift: https://soshiro.co/collections/crafting-a-difference/

Website: www.tessaeastman.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/tessa_eastman/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tessa.eastman.ceramics/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tessa_eastman


Interviewed By Akshaya Rathinavadivel

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