The pastel-brushed, textural ceramics of artist Karen Morton are beautiful enough to be on a display shelf. But even though they function as artworks, that’s not what Morton wants you to do with them.
“I get customers calling me up saying, ‘I’ve got them on display, they’re too beautiful to use’, and I say, ‘You have to use them!’ They’re objects of beauty but also objects you can use. I had a customer call me the other day saying that she had ordered a platter and she said she whacked it against a marble benchtop. I was like, ‘Oh no, she’s going to say it cracked’, but she said, ‘It chipped the marble bench top’,” Morton says, laughing.
Morton works with stoneware fired at a higher temperature than many other types of ceramics. This has the effect of vitrifying the clay, making it strong. Sometimes Morton mixes in other materials to add different textural elements, too.
“There’s a resurgence of terracotta, and the 1970s are really popular right now,” Morton tells me of the inspiration for her latest hand-hewn collection, Alchemy, which comprises cheese plates, serving spoons, trinket bowls and vases. “With this range it went back to this earthy tone and, with this clay, it lent itself to something that was almost Grecian-inspired: beautiful terracotta urns that look and feel really handmade and organic.”
To get the textures she wanted, Morton experimented with incorporating magnetite, a charcoal-coloured rock mineral. “It took me ages to source,” she says. “But in the previous range, the large vase that incorporated magnetite, and that was really textural, was one piece that everyone was immediately drawn towards, so it’s something I knew I wanted to do.”
Morton studied painting at university, but when she had kids the smell of the paint started to make her feel ill, so she began working with ceramics.
Now her collections are stocked in QT Hotels in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Queenstown, and in stores around Australia and New Zealand as well as in Paris and London. But Morton still makes all of her pieces by hand in her Melbourne studio.
“It’s important to me that they’re all individual,” says Morton. “I experimented with having some samples made overseas. When they arrived, it was almost an epiphany moment for me. [The pieces were] almost exactly what I’d sent them but replicated again and again; they were beautiful, but it was almost like they didn’t have any soul in them. They didn’t have that presence and I just thought, ‘No, this isn’t for me’.”
Two ranges are released each year, and the rest of Morton’s time is spent in preparation. Each work takes a few hours to make, up to three days to dry, then roughly another week for the two firings that are required.
“Because they’re handmade, it’s like people pick them up and connect with them,” Morton says. “They pick up the pieces and there’s just a little lightbulb moment where they’re like, ‘It fits my hand perfectly’.”
The new Kaz Ceramics range, Alchemy, is available online.