It was during her second year at Glasgow School of Arts in 2015, that a visiting tutor from China challenged artist Viv Lee to sculpt an entire head from clay. Unacquainted with the material, Viv began to use simple sculpting techniques to model the face, pinching and coiling to create details.
She quickly realised the expressive potential of clay, whilst feeling deeply drawn to its ancient roots. The tactile quality of clay invites touch, Viv describes, and much like the human body, it registers even the gentlest of pressures. It was this pivotal point that Viv discovered the material she wanted to work with.
Viv enrolled onto a 12-week evening course at the City of Glasgow College shortly after, absorbing the basics of working with clay alongside her degree in Fine Art Sculpture. I became instantly drawn to the meditative and grounding properties of hand building, Viv says. I put aside my analytical mind in favour of slow and gestural sculpting.
But it's no coincidence that Viv has ended up working with her hands. Her ten year career in floristry prior to ceramics, combined with a short spell of aromatherapy set her up with the perfect collection of skills for sculpting with natural materials. I suppose all of these things have been ways for me to get closer to nature, she says. Now, as a ceramicist, working with clay is very much linked to my desire to connect to the earth. Although a serendipitous progression, her sculptural approach to flowers and clay seem intertwined, both with a careful attention to beauty.
From pits and pinholes, to unexpected glaze irregularities, Viv accepts each of her hand-built vessels today as unique. She embraces imperfections in both form and finish, sitting perfectly in line with the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Surfaces are subtly textured with her fingertip markings, and glazed in a palette of off-whites and earthy tones. And whilst visually pared back, areas of lighter glazing reveal the natural terracotta and stoneware that lies beneath.
Each smooth-edged piece by Viv subtly references the human body. Figurative shapes with hollowed centres echo the lines and curves of limbs. I appreciate the wonderful diversity of forms that can emerge from mindful making, Viv explains. The gentle undulations in line, the marks that reveal my touch. Her inspirations too carry a similar calm beauty, from the ancient figurines of Venus, to the resonant sculptures of Barbara Hepworth.
Today, Viv belongs to a shared working collective at the Glasgow Ceramics Studio, situated in a former cigarette factory in the east end of Glasgow. It is a vibrant, communal space filled with ceramicists and artists alike. I feel very fortunate to be part of a diverse community of makers, Viv explains. There is such a great atmosphere of skill and knowledge-sharing, as well as supporting and motivating each other.
Viv's vessels bring a certain tranquillity and stillness to the room they sit in. She hopes that, through creating with care, each will be cherished for many years to come, and perhaps even generations.
Words by Daisy Gray.
Workshop images by Gabriela Silveira.