Friday 8 October 2010

Drawn from Clay - ancient and modern inspiration

This series of paintings was done in response to an invitation from the Ceramics Association of Kwa Zulu Natal to exhibit with their members at artSPACE Durban. I was joined by other painters for the exhibition “Drawn from Clay” to create a conversation between three dimensional ceramics and our two dimensional paintings.
 "Rose Imari Baluster Jar & cover" Watercolour
  170mm x 100mm ©2009 Carol Lee Beckx

The inspiration for the miniature paintings arose out of a fascination I have had for antique Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
The fluidity and sureness of the brushstrokes on ancient ceramics gives the work a fragility and timeless beauty.The paintings evolved as homage to the ancient masters of ceramic art.
I wanted to show the works in a miniature format, so the viewer would have to come up close to enjoy the detail. The paintings were placed in shadow box frames so that they would be displayed as precious artifacts.

The paintings were done with minimal preliminary drawing, only a soft pencil line to indicate the outline of the vase. I wanted to replicate the direct process of the brushstrokes, using watercolour in the same way the porcelain painters would decorate the original vases.

Cups & Bottles series


About 3 years ago I visited the Queensland Art Museum. I was struck by ceramics displayed on a long shelf along one wall of the Gallery. The pieces - all glazed in similar colours - were displayed in groups. The stillness and simplicity of the vessels echoed the paintings of Morandi.

I took a few photographs and intended at some time to do a series of paintings inspired by these ceramics.

When I was researching some ideas for Drawn from Clay, I found an article about an Australian ceramic artist,
Gwyn Hanssen Pigott.  She was artist-in-Residence for a time at the School of Mines & Industries, Ballarat Ltd.

I was fascinated to discover she was the same artist I had admired in Brisbane. The images shown in the article were of groupings of cups and bottles before bisque firing, so the pieces were matt – no shiny glazes – just such beautiful shapes – they had a quiet, serene presence.

I found her working methods so interesting to a “non-potter”. She would throw a series of bottles and cups and when lifting them from the wheel gently squeeze the forms, adding subtle changes and complexity.  Some were dipped after being thrown and squeezed into different shapes. The pieces in themselves were so simple – but placed in groups the interaction between the pieces made powerful compositions.
Cups I Oil on canvas 610mm x 760mm
       ©2009  Carol Lee Beckx

I began the paintings with a deep burnt sienna ground – it seemed logical to tie the paintings to the colour of clay, and then worked up the shapes leaving hints of sienna here and there.

As I painted, the forms seemed to come to life and begin to move. I had the sense that the cups were about to jive off the canvas.

 After Gwyn had seen some photographs of the paintings, she said that she had been originally inspired by the still life paintings of Morandi. It was interesting that her ceramics were now in turn, inspiring new paintings.

A complete portfolio of all the paintings on this exhibition can be seen on my Facebook page Carol Lee Beckx Artist.


  1. Your work of clay objects is so clear and precise. I especially like the blue cups - they would make wonderful tea cups! I have one to match already made by a local potter - if I can find the photo - I will send to you.

  2. Helen,thank you for sending the photo of your blue cups - perhaps they will become a painting as well...
    Glad you enjoy the work.

  3. I like the circle of inspiration - from original painting to ceramic interpretation back into a painting. Wonder how often work comes about after such influence - conscious or subconscious... Jen

  4. I enjoyed the specific connection between the two disciplines.I am sure all artists work with reference to what has gone before, we just have to find new ways to re-create our inspiration.

  5. Carol do you know that Gwyn lives in Brisbane! Perhaps you'll meet! I listened to an interview with her (on internet) and she sounds so nice! Well she must be, clay and paint people are. (and she's one of my sources of inspiration as I experiment with glazes at the moment)! Beautiful paintings, thanku for sharing. I hope to visit you on your open w.e. Love Louise Jennings