In Conversation with
Nicolette Johnson, Ceramic artist. Brisbane, Australia.
Turning to pottery as just a way to relax, Nicolette Johnson soon found herself glued to the pottery wheel, creating elaborate ceramics mimicking impressions of bone and lace. It was only four years into her pottery career where she was titled the winner of The Design Files Awards under the handcraft category. Her pots with intricate angel-wing handles can be found at The National Gallery of Victoria and Museum of Brisbane, showcasing Nicolette’s ethos of merging traditional with the unexpected. Nicolette’s unique flare radiates through her creations - seamless ceramics which are on the top of our wish list.
Hi Nicolette! We'd love to hear a bit more about you.
I am a Meanjin (Brisbane) based ceramic artist and I make pots! I took my first pottery class in 2015 as a way to de-stress and I very quickly fell in love with it. They say you get “bit by the clay bug” and I absolutely did. It was only after a year or so of weekly classes at my local studio, Clayschool in West End, that I decided I’d like to try and be a full-time potter.
Tell us about your studio space.
My studio is in a tiny spare bedroom at the back of the house we rent. It's an incredibly small space, so only the bare essentials—my wheel, desk, and shelving—can fit in the room. Ideally my studio would be chock-full of cool stuff, but most of the time any and all flat surfaces are reserved for works in progress, even the floor!
Inside Nicolette's Studio. Courtesy of Nicolette Johnson.
When it comes to the studio, does location matter? Where would your dream studio location be if travel and money didn’t matter?
I absolutely love being in a home studio as it really suits the way I like to work. I have constant access to our artworks and books which are a huge source of inspiration. It also means I am only ever a few steps away from the kitchen for coffee and snacks :P
My dream studio would just be much bigger, with lots of natural light, and have a drain in the floor to hose it all down at the end of the day!
Have you got a key figure, moment or cross road that has changed or heavily influenced your technique?
I really enjoy exploring different aesthetics and changing the way my work looks as I move from one body of work to another. I don’t particularly like making more than one of anything, instead I am more interested in making variations on a theme, and when I find something else that excites me I tend to pivot and change the way my work looks again. The works in my debut exhibition High Spirits were initially borne out of slight frustration in the making process. Clay can be unforgiving at times, and in the middle of this year I was attempting to make some very precise, intricate pieces that just weren't working out. The clay was cracking and breaking in ways that couldn't be fixed or worked around, so in a bit of a panic I began haphazardly squeezing and pinching clay to make handles for the vases. The act of hastily squeezing clay was cathartic, like squeezing a stress ball, and to my delight, the resulting texture appeared both organic and highly decorative, looking like anything from coral or bone to lace or filigree.
High Spirits, 2020.
Rare and Important, 2020.
Glazed pots in the kiln.
Unprecedented Creation, 2020.
What message do you wish to convey in your work?
I want to make work that feels like it has an energy or magic in it, something that looks like it has a history rather than being a brand new object. One of the great things about pottery is that there is such a strong connection between the work and the maker’s hand, and every single mark that is made on a pot can be frozen in time and last for thousands of years. I love thinking that my pots could be ancient one day.
I get so much pleasure out of looking at and holding the pots that I’ve collected over the years, and that’s what I hope for the people who end up with my pots!
From forming initial ideas, to creating a finalised work, could you talk us through the processes that are used to bring your ideas to life?
My ideas for new work happen most often when I’m sketching. I’ll draw out a couple of iterations of an idea and when I land on something I’m happy with I will sit down at the wheel and start making it. The next stage is usually the part that takes the longest—drying. Clay has a lot of moisture in it, and needs to be dried very slowly and evenly otherwise it can split apart or crack in places you can’t easily fix. Depending on the thickness of the clay, the weather (or the deadline!), drying can take a couple of weeks or even a month. When the work is dry and ready to be fired, I carry it by hand down to the kiln under our house where it is fired once to 1000°C, glazed, and then fired again to 1280°C. Each firing takes over 24 hours from starting the kiln to when it’s cool enough to open. After the work is unpacked from the kiln, it’s sanded, washed, photographed, and packed up to be sent to its new home! If I’m lucky I get to live with the pots for a while before having to ship them off :)
Pottery Tools. Courtesy of Nicolette Johnson.
Works in progress. Courtesy of Nicolette Johnson.
When your mind is blank, what do you turn to for inspiration?
I love looking at museum collection archives.
Who would be your dream partner to collaborate with?
How fun would it be to collaborate with Kelly Wearstler?! Kelly, let’s collab from across the pacific!
Whose studio would you be eager to get inside of?
It would be so cool to visit Simone Leigh’s studio, her ceramic sculptures are full of poetry and strength.