Perfect Imperfections - Lucy Tolan



It always reassuring to know the successful and the creative are just like the rest of us.

Lucy Tolan is a Melbourne based ceramicist and her quiet honesty is as refreshing as her expressive, new series of three vessels - and three candle holders - for Jardan. Each piece will feature her signature, hand-built, slab style assembly and characteristic exposed seam construction.

“I’m pretty good at leaving things to the last minute,” she laughs, “but I almost feel like the lockdown has been beneficial to my practise…being forced to work and work in the art.”

Lucy’s new work for Jardan is a very limited production run of her architecturally inspired vases, ewers, receptacles, jugs, containers. Call them what you will, they’re happy with their perfect imperfection and irregular regularity. Break the mould they say, be bold, be different, do something, just don’t do nothing.

Her work prior to Jardan popped and burst with reds and blues – coral and cobalt – that almost feel superimposed on shelves and tables. The new pieces have the clay in neutrals and seams in varying shades of blue, still executed with the same, loose, grid-like, seam work that permeates her work, as if a building has turned itself inside out, exposing the frame and detail of its inner workings. This is her signature, and it reveals her technique and hand, showing us the secrets and giving us the answers before taking it away in one foul swoop of practised expression and experience.

Ceramics tends to walk a fine line between the artistic and commercial worlds, often straddling both, and Lucy finds herself in a similar position.

“My style kind of developed through uni and I guess I’m still trying to work out what that is (art and commercial work) and I’m still early in my practise, but I guess it felt conceptual early on.”

Lucy speaks of the modernist movement and the influence of mid-century design and brutalism on her work. With the collapsing sides and the exposed seam work and panels, her work is perhaps, a more apt homage to the best of Frank Gehry’s post-modernist buildings. The twisting asymmetry, and unpredictable texture, shape and form puts an emphasis on the incongruous, stepping away from the clean lines of modernism and its endless search for impossible perfection, with a style that is better compared to the work of the Deconstructivists or Gehry’s as a breath of fresh air against the strict and austere lines of the modernist era.

Spiritually, Tolan’s work maybe more connected to say, ceramicist John Mason and the Ferus Gallery. The gallery championed the West Coast art movement and ultimately forged its artists as 20th century tastemakers.  It’s at these crossroads, rather than explicitly architecture, that the experimentation of form and use of techniques to draw attention to the processes and materials used in the creation of art that the truest feelings of modernism are realised and perhaps why the influence of design in this era is so strong.

That’s not to say that Tolan’s work can’t find a home in any space. The porcelain paper clay has an inherent strength suitable for her sculptural work, able to be thin but retain structural integrity and an ability to hold texture like few other mediums. Building as she does, by hand, in the slab style, pinching the layers and establishing the form, “means that no two pieces will ever be the same, a result of the organic process and its nuances.” 

“With this (work for Jardan) I was looking at my travels, and a lot of my work is inspired by architecture, in London, Berlin, Tokyo. Just before lockdown, I went to Taiwan and cycled and afterwards I was craving to make again, so, I’ve been trying to spend every day in the studio, and it’s been motivating,” Lucy says with the glee of an artist on a creative streak.

“Now that we can be out again. It’s great to be a part of the creative community and I’m looking forward to collaborating again. I think I want to work on some things that are more experimental. I’ve been talking with friends about an installation later in the year, which are more about the installation than the objects,” a clear nod to the architectural influence and spaces Lucy finds inspiration and solace in.

Lucy says she wants her work to occupy the space where architecture and landscape meet. And when her pieces are all lined up together as a craggily tooth, miniature city skyline, stems and flowers shooting upwards and out, that axis point of these two worlds feels tangible and real, the line between art and commercial perfectly blurred.

Lucy Tolan’s latest collection of vessels and candle holders for Jardan will be on show from March.

View Lucy's collection here

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