Björk Haraldsdóttir Ceramics
My professional background is in Architecture and is a strong influence on my work. Natural forms reflecting my upbringing in Iceland and exposure to the extraordinary in nature are also reference points. Inspiration is found in anything from architectural form, natural materiality, and Nordic pattern and folklore
Architecture is a complex and rewarding creative endeavour but is it constrained by a vast array of technical and legislative issues. I first started making ceramics as an antidote to those creative chains; small architecture with no brief and no client. Producing un-commissioned artwork strips away the burden of those constraints to leave only the creative act, a liberating situation and an issue that I am not complacent about. My work however remains unequivocally architectural to my eyes, and is influenced by my training and profession in many ways. I still plan and draw works before they are made like an Architect and ‘feel’ and adapt the work as it is made like an artist.
My pieces are hand-built vessels which are manifestations of the enduring themes of my experience. They are a conversation between the pseudo -perfection of geometric pattern and the tactile impurity of hand-manipulated clay. They are not sterile and porcelain-perfect but visceral mini monoliths, which have layers of complexity built into superficially simple constructions. I deliberately create warped planes through the careful pattern cutting and jointing of would-be flat slabs so that vessels become intentionally and subtly off-kilter
I started my ‘pattern journey’ referencing to old textile work and stitching patterns from Iceland and the Nordic Culture. This has developed over time into patterns inspired by ideas and images I come across in nature and daily life. I am constantly working into the pieces ‘making stiches’ or lines of weave and the result is often cloth-like in appearance. The ceramics are mostly built in stoneware clay and painted with slip which is then scraped back to reveal the base material in two-tone monochrome patterns. The scrape marks are visible and the surface is a plane of shallow relief, much like a tapestry. The tactile nature of these pieces is important -they are an invitation to touch, much like one would like to handle a draped cloth.
When I started on the particular process that defines a lot of my work I wasn’t conscious of any strong connection to textile but that understanding has grown. At the core of this work is a conversation between 3 dimensional form and 2 dimensional pattern. The pattern is draped across the form and changes perception of the shape.
Form and pattern are individually and equally important but this work is defined by the interaction of these very distinct attributes. There is often an ambiguity in the pieces caused by the drape of the pattern over the form, which begins to disguise the shape as it runs seamlessly across creases and corners. Shape and pattern are usually conceived in a planned design however I have become more flexible over time and now often build the form and assess it before committing to pattern. I like to place a rigid, geometric pattern onto an organic form – a bottle or bell shape. The ‘grain’ of the pattern vastly alters the perception of a piece and two superficially similar forms will appear unrelated when rendered with different patterns.
I have always been drawn to monochrome and I suppose it could be seen as a reflection of the monochromatic palette of the Icelandic landscape, particularly in winter. I often think my work is evocative of that landscape with black lava peeking out from beneath snow covered planes but that is certainly not the intent of the work. The process suits monochrome but the limited palette seems to strike the right balance between form and pattern. I have produced some work with third colour highlights which is sometimes effective in drawing the eye and setting up another narrative. For example I often line internal surfaces at openings such as the neck of bottle shapes, which begin to suggest a hidden organic interior. I am particular about the cuts and punctures I make in my vessels. Openings – often arbitrary - allow the soul of each piece to come and go as they please.
The basic premise of ‘draped’ pattern over architectural form is straightforward but the range of expression it allows is vast. I feel I am still growing into an understanding of those possibilities and while there is much more to explore I intend to continue to produce work that is recognisable as part of a continual series. The work changes subtly and incrementally with every firing and every exhibition so I don’t expect work in the future to look like it did in the past. I will continue on the process of producing well-conceived and well-executed work that hopefully brings joy.