Type “Joy Smithers” into YouTube and you won’t find the ceramist’s clay work. What you will find is a music video for her 1985 single, Hearts on Fire. There’s lots of hair mousse, white leather gloves and stonewashed denim. It’s incredible to stumble across, because usually Smithers is barefoot and wrapped in a clay-splattered apron at her Botany home studio. There’s not a hint of that ‘80s glam queen, but there’s something shimmering under the surface.
Alongside a successful acting career with spots on All Saints, Home & Away and the more recent Mad Max: Fury Road, co-founded Common as Mud with business partner Shelley Simpson in 1994, which became Mud Australia in 1999. Smithers left the company in 2000.
After a period of focusing on her three kids and acting, the deeply cathartic process of working with clay, which she has been doing since she was 13, started calling again. Smithers launched Batch Ceramics in 2013.
“Because I have a small house and I'm a mum of three kids, I design for myself,” says Smithers. “I design things that are multifunctional and work in small houses and small spaces. I guess I'm quite selfish about it. I design things that I think are useful in multiple ways, and I think people agree with that.”
Smithers’ pieces have character. They’re not completely consistent, there’s movement and drips and painterly aspects to her bowls, platters and dishes, and that’s something she always strives to keep in each piece.
“I build in deliberate drips and I teach [my staff] to do that. It looks random, but it's not. They’re never exactly the same.” There are bowls in sunny colours such as mandarin and buttercup yellow, and more muted, matte underglazes in ink and terracotta.
For Smithers, Botany is Sydney’s best-kept secret and the ideal location to raise her kids and new business. Her studio is set up at the bottom of her garden. At the front, the neighbour’s cat is curled up on top of the electricity metre box. “It’s so safe here,” she says. “The people rock. They're just normal people, it's like a village and it’s a 10-minute drive from the beach. Plus, you don’t run into anyone you know.”
Right now she’s “basically the in-house potter” for Simon Johnson, who’s picked up her range exclusively for his stores nation-wide. Neil Perry is now one of her largest clients with Batch. She’s also working on a new collection for Rockpool.
We move around as she packs and unpacks pieces to show us. There are welcome platters and peasant bowls and big, gorgeous serving plates.
“I can't tell you how happy it makes me to do clay,” she says. “I don't need anything. I don't need to eat, I don't know if I'm hot or cold, I couldn't care less if it's raining, and I'm someone who hates the cold. I just think I'm so lucky that I can do this.”
You can purchase Batch Ceramics through Simon Johnson stores or online.
UPDATE: A version of this story was published on February 09.