Behind a white garage door on the winding coastal road in Tamarama, paint peels back from sandstone walls, and plinths and plywood shelves display large and small ceramic pieces. This is ceramicist Alana Wilson’s studio. The ancient aesthetic of the vessels on display makes it feel not unlike a small museum. The position of each piece in the space looks carefully considered; when we mention this Wilson explains, “50 per cent of my practice is trying to understand how the pieces work together.”
It's no accident Wilson’s studio sits so close to the ocean; it’s only steps down to the sand. She was born in Canberra and moved to New Zealand at a young age. Wilson spent a lot of time around pools where her parents ran swim schools. When not in her studio working, Wilson continues to teach swimming at Cook & Phillip Park. “Being in the water has been a significant part of my life,” she tells us. “I am constantly drawn to the aesthetics of the marine landscape, and it’s found a place in my art, whether consciously or not.”
Wilson moved to Sydney to study ceramics at National Art School, completing her Honours in 2012. Since then she has exhibited widely, showing works across Australia as well as in Los Angeles and Berlin. “In art school we were always encouraged to experiment to find the answers to our questions,” she says. “That was a really valuable kind of education.”
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Images of ancient vessels plaster her studio walls, and an oval travertine table holds stacks of art books and clippings. Wilson works with terracotta, porcelain and paper clays, mixing traditional practices with new materials. The experimental glazing methods she practices lend an “old world” look to her work, and her deep interest in marine archaeology has a strong influence on her aesthetic.
Vases appear as if they are encrusted in coral, and bowls brim with tiny bubbles that are reminiscent of yabby-holed mud flats. Wilson’s ceramics look as though they’ve spent years on the ocean floor, aged by the elements and corroded slowly by salt wash.
Although Wilson’s vessels appear heavy with sediment and texture, they are light and fragile to touch. Each piece in her collection is layered with textured surfaces to reflect such decay. They will be fired in her kiln more than once, various recipes for glazes are researched and concocted – the resulting colourways of each piece will almost always be a surprise. Upon close inspection, tiny flecks of copper and bronze catch the light as they drip and bubble down the curves of the clay. This is what happens as the chemicals in the glaze react with one another, the heat of the kiln preserving the changes.
Much of Wilson’s work is centred around this type of chemical practice, and her studio shelves contain jars of powders, stains and other compounds. It feels as much an artist’s studio as it does a laboratory, and Wilson is an expert in her science.
The majority of her work is produced for exhibition, with some commissioned pieces and a small retail collection in Small Spaces in Redfern, and Mr Kitly in Melbourne. She has produced several collaborative works, such as the series of large painted vessels in her studio, made with Australian landscape painter Dan Kyle – another National Art School graduate.
Both Kyle and Wilson will exhibit their work at Walcha Gallery in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales later this year. After this, Wilson wants to work overseas again, preferably in Europe, where the museums and historical artefacts would stimulate her artistry and inventiveness.