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Monday, 11 August 2014

THE POTTER

Elena Renker/ Ceramic artist
Being a potter isn't for the faint hearted.  It requires hard physical labour, long hours, a head for science and a whole lot of patience.  Not only did Elena hand build her own woodfire kiln, she also collects and cuts all the wood, loads the kiln, stokes the fire every few minutes until late into the evening (by which time the temperature is in the thousands) and then painstakingly takes each piece out again after everything has cooled down.  It's not until the very end when the kiln is opened brick by brick, that you can fully understand the excitement that makes the whole process worth it!

How were you first introduced to pottery?
My first introduction to pottery was in India. When I was 17 I spend 3 month in India where I divided my time between learning pottery at the Golden Gate Pottery in Pondicherry and tapestry weaving in a local workshop. I don't think I learned very much about pottery in my time there, they basically just gave me a lump of clay, showed me an old kick wheel outside under some trees and told me to go for it. One day there was a huge strike at a major local factory, the striking workers forcing every business in the whole town to shut down. There were groups armed with machetes roaming the city ready to beat up anyone who dared to work. They also came to our pottery where I was busy trying to throw a pot on my kick wheel. They got very angry when they saw me working, wielding their machetes, shouting loudly. It was very frightening. But the owner of the pottery told them that I was not actually producing anything and invited them to come and watch me. So I had this group of angry men standing around watching me trying to throw a pot. After a few minutes they just started laughing and walked away, it was very humiliating! I finally learned to throw properly while working in a pottery in Bavaria, Germany for one year after my return from India.

You have such a unique style, can you tell us a bit about it?
I make mostly functional wares. When I first started potting my work was very different. I was fascinated by ancient Chinese wares like perfectly shaped vases in porcelain with a blue celadon glaze. But while I was doing my diploma in Ceramic Art I made a loosely thrown bowl in a low fired earthenware clay. I loved the shape but was not happy with the glaze. So I started searching for a glaze to suit that particular pot and came across the Japanese shino glaze. I fell in love with the textured surface of that glaze, the interaction with the clay body, the crawling and the pin holing, the unexpected results, different from each firing. Working with this glaze made me more aware of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, the beauty of imperfection. Now I enjoy making pots that are loosely thrown and often slightly deformed. To me they are more interesting to look at, to hold and to touch. They have character, attitude and they are never boring! A few years ago I build a wood fired kiln. The ash that accumulates on the work adds another dimension to the pots.

What made you decide to take pottery up again after so many years?
I have always enjoyed making functional things be it knitting sweaters, sewing clothes for my children, making toys, puzzles, dolls etc. I had spend the year learning pottery in Bavaria, Germany when I was 18. I loved it but I decided that at that time it was not the profession for me and studied graphic design instead. But I always felt that I wanted to get back to it one day. It seemed like the perfect time when my youngest daughter started school.

Can you share a typical day in the life of Elena Renker?
There really is no such thing as a typical day in my life! Every day is different. I divide my time between my pottery, the farm, garden and animals and my children and granddaughter.
What opportunities have presented themselves through your work?
I have met many amazing people right around the world through my pottery. I have build a kiln in China, taken part several times in a traditional Tea Bowl Festival in Korea and have attended workshops and conferences in Europe. Later this year I will attend the European Wood fire conference in Europe and that take part in a Chawan ( Tea Bowl) Expo with 9 day workshops in Singapore. I really enjoy meeting so many potters from around the world!

What are your interests outside of pottery?
My other interests are probably firstly gardening, I have a large vegetable garden. Pottery and gardening supplement each other very well and I feel it balances me to do both. I also love cooking, and eating, spending time with my kids and my granddaughter, my dogs. I would love to have the time one day to take up spinning and weaving again. And I have just started knitting again for my granddaughter, I had forgotten how much i enjoy that! Walking the dogs, traveling and skiing are also high on the list as well as reading!

What advice would you give somebody interested in learning pottery?
Just go for it! It is a wonderful thing to do, so rewarding and yet so frustrating! Unlike other art forms where the artist has full control over his work, pottery is a collaboration between the potter and the fire. Once a pot is made it is given over to the force of the fire to do its magic. The results are not always what was intended but when it all comes together the outcome can be truly magical! 

Where can people find your work?
I have a website, I also sell my work on the internet shop etsy as well as through selected galleries around New Zealand. I usually have an open studio day in Mid November. To receive an invitation please end me an email to renker-ceramics@gmx.net

2 comments:

  1. Love this new series Malayka! Elena's studio looks amazing.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Brooke. Creative people have the most interesting work spaces! I feel quite honoured that they're letting me intrude like this and nosy around :)

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