Dense and dynamic, this most recent body of work signals a departure from Alistair Blair’s signature delicate and controlled porcelain ware. Under the apprenticeship of South Africa’s renowned porcelain master, Katherine Glenday, Blair has perfected his wheel-throwing techniques and worked over several years to form the perfect moon jar. These rugged, naked stoneware vessels eschew, though never wholeheartedly, clay’s traditional ties to functionality, favouring expressiveness over utility. With their elemental and irregular dynamism, they flout the symmetry we have come to expect from the potter’s wheel. Formally, Blair’s sculptural abstractions pay homage to the Japanese primitivist ceramics of the 1950s and their contemporary forms. Defining (2022), which recalls Akiyama Yō’s kokuto (lit. “black fire”) pieces, resembles a rough-hewn hunk of wood early on in the process of being whittled down by chisel and mallet. Does the sky touch the ground? (2022), on the other hand, recalls the anthropomorphic silhouettes of Shozo Michikawa’s vessels. The essential nature of the clay has not been subordinated to Blair’s technical mastery; rather, his vessels convey a sense of collaboration between medium and artist. Through a sympathetic fluency in the handling of clay, Blair facilitates forms that are inexplicable, yet feel intuitive and inevitable. Like the grain of wood or the crystalline structures of minerals, they appear as though arranged according to some sacred geometry. A raw, elemental quality asserts itself as the hand of the maker recedes. They appear as if they have always been, and yet never were.
Born in Cape Town (1987), Alistair Blair is an erstwhile oceanographer and ceramic artist living in Kalk Bay (Cape Town). After discovering Katherine Glenday’s studio in 2014, Blair’s clay practice was birthed and, since then, Glenday has been influential through a close and extended apprenticeship. The medium has served as a means of mapping the internal self – the fine forms like streams of milk, the scored and twisted clay skins, the edible chalky grey. Inspired by the non-ethos found in Taoist and wabi-sabi philosophies, Blair has formed his approach by asking an answerless question — “How does one live a full life?” — and allowing impermanent, roaming answers to satisfy it. With a background in cinematography, Blair’s clayworks inherit an immaculate patina and a striking visual theatricality (the drama of the contrasting stoneware and porcelain). Born by the sea, the ocean inhabits these works; a tongue to a piece might yield salt.
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Haikus in Clay
“Walking into the studio with its ever-changing light and objects, the comings and goings of familial life, the texture of porcelain beneath my fingers and the flame in the kiln. They’re the experience of a life with clay.”- Alistair Blair
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