Experimental, yet traditional. Sturdy, yet light and delicate to touch. Contemporary, yet archaic. These are characteristics of Alana Wilson’s ceramics, through which echo murmurs of the ocean, informing us of one of the artist’s main inspirations for her work.
Alana makes her stunning and sea-beaten ceramic vessels by hand in her Sydney-based studio, lying a stone’s throw away from Tamarama Beach. She had never specifically intended to pursue ceramics, though following a creative path was always on the cards.
“Growing up I always knew I wanted to do something creative. As a kid, I was intrigued by spatial arrangements and natural objects such as shells, bones and rocks that I would find in the environments I grew up with in New Zealand.”
Alana was born in Canberra, Australia, but moved to New Zealand at a young age. She moved back to Australia to begin her tertiary studies in Fine Art at Sydney’s National Art School, and it was on her first day here that her love for ceramics began to flourish.
“It was such an enjoyable, tactile medium to be working with, that everything kind of progressed from there,” she explains.
Her design process is one of honing:
“It’s about finding a simple form, minimizing the details and connection points while using a natural material and craft based techniques,” she says. The neutral palette is also the result of paring back: “Once you focus, there are so many colors and nuances within a more subdued palette that I don’t find it restrictive at all. Quite the opposite, I find it really freeing.”
Alana splits her time between working in her beachside studio and teaching swimming, which she has been doing for over 10 years. She feels that the water helps “create a more balanced mindset” – as well as acting as a significant influence in the creation of her vessels. The surface of Alana’s pieces are bubbling, perforated and intriguing, and reflect a type of decay reminiscent of objects that have settled for years on the ocean floor.
“The textures and glaze surfaces are often compared to natural environments and elemental decay, which acts as a catalyst for environmental appreciation and identifying beauty in deterioration and change – in both art and life.”
“People have quite a tactile response, often asking to hold or touch the pieces, which is great, as this signifies a bodily response to a physical object,” she says.
The process of physically creating a vessel takes between a week and a month, though Alana explains that the way in which her works are presented, together or alone, is a significant factor in the process, too.
“The full cycle, from initial thought to exhibition, could be much longer – at least a year,” she says.
Alana does not follow a well-beaten path when it comes to her craft. She considers her works to sit within a grey area between “the social perception of Fine Art and the Vessel” – a perception which she hopes to change. “I also embrace glaze faults,” she adds, “which is not often done in ceramics.”
Alana’s work invites us to view ceramics – and, specifically, vessels – in a different way to how we are conditioned.
“A vessel as so many interpretations – functional, ritualistic, empty, full, precious, common, valuable, invaluable, prized, disposable – all of these connotations I try to work with, or question within my work.”
Looking at Alana’s vessels, with their inconsistent, incandescent surfaces, and their spindly necks merging into pinched, fragile lips, it’s clear to see the questions they pose as pieces of art. What is even more certain is that, like sea-worn treasures rising from the waves, they are utterly enchanting.