if the micro is macro
fig. astrid dahl, dacrima (2019)
Astrid Dahl’s work explores light, purity and symmetry in large botanically-inspired earthenware forms. The artist studied Fine Art at what is now the Durban University of Technology, graduating in 1999. Dahl demonstrated an early love for clay and hand-coiling at university and found a visual impulse in botanical photography from the early 20th century. Working increasingly with her own natural environment, pulling images from her garden, her white and black clayworks are large, heavy, but defy themselves with their appearance of lightness. Dahl’s vessels are meditations on vessel-making itself; they do not defer to a symbolic language but allow each object to inhabit itself entirely. Dahl pursues a perfect, essential form, outside of time and place. The artist’s work is housed in private collections both locally and in France, England, the United States and Australia. Dahl has recently been featured at the Barnes Foundation in Paris.
b. 1977 (EMPANGENI, KWAZULU-NATAL)
if the micro is macro
Predominantly composed of white earthenware, Astrid Dahl’s work pays homage to form and symmetry. A practice in pursuit of the form that is perfect and timeless – something essential that has yet to emerge. The vessels exist as vessels, filling the centre of a room with real presence, and they also exist as material traces of a rigorous daily search for the things that are beautiful and worthwhile and true. Dahl describes always loving coiling, and being good at it. All of her vessels – large “organic abstractions” – are made using this technique. The limitations of coiling (requiring a base, a certain way of working layer by layer) allow for a freedom-within-constraints. When you are not having to reinvent (or use) the wheel every day, there is an expansiveness within the known frame. The artist is not afraid of scale and will go as big as her kiln can manage.
Dahl was inspired by her lecturer Hennie Stroebel who encouraged her “to explore and create using clay as a language.” Later, after experimenting with various mediums and approaches, she was introduced to the images of Karl Blossfeldt, which ultimately instigated Dahl’s expansive career of botanically-inspired work. We may see the generous arches of orchids (Orchidaceae), the coiled protrusions of Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum raddianum), the roundness of the Globeflower (Trollius europaeus), or the tender forms of Monkshood (Aconitum), drowsily raising its head. Dahl’s clayworks remember the absolute mystery of the organism. They are not mimics, but real expressions of biological processes. They do not seek to look precisely like botanicals, but are like them, sustaining themselves, unsolicited and without premeditation, maintaining a specific emphasis on form in and of itself, juxtapositions of gravity and light, and making the micro macro. Perhaps increasingly, the artist describes the process as inherently organic – both formally and methodologically. Working without drawings or references, Dahl’s vessels – although meticulously executed and finished – are formed quite spontaneously.
“In Dahl’s work, we may see the generous arches of orchids, the coiled protrusions of Maidenhair ferns, the roundness of the Globeflower, or the tender forms of Monkshood drowsily raising its head.”
fig. astrid dahl, detail of work (2019)
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contemporary clay from south africa
CLAY FORMES is the first of its kind: a survey of contemporary clay from South Africa. This volume, through exquisite photography and literary essays, showcases multiple generations of living South African artists, each innovating the potentialities of clay and ceramics. This publication offers enthusiasts and collectors a glimpse into the studios of thirty important South African artists and opens a window into the complexity of each body of work, revealing the richness of both contemporary clay and ceramic tradition within South African art.
This publication has sought to reflect its subject: to be as fluid as water and as weighty as earth. All this is done in the hopes of leaving behind a fresh approach to this manifold medium, and of presenting to the world the previously unexplored richness of sculptural clay in South Africa.