Pattern and Repetition

Sandra Bowkett’s handmade vessels

For as long as Australian potter Sandra Bowkett can remember, she has felt an impulse to work with her hands. Bowkett loves working with porcelain and other clays using basic hand forming techniques. Her porcelain pieces are decorative yet functional, from her range of clay vessels to wearable pieces of art, which are embellished with ceramic decals. 
Bowkett’s utilitarian pieces are a culmination of her cross-cultural experiences around the globe. She states, “My ceramic practice has been propelled by a passion for the medium and sustained by the people I've encountered along the way.” Most recently, Bowkett has been working out of the desire to move to more “fundamental ceramic practices” that she has experienced while working with traditional Rajasthani potters in Kumhaargram, India.
When Bowkett first visited India, she was drawn to not only the traditional craftsmanship, but the patterns and repetition found within. She vividly recalls a huge pile of spherical vessels called matkas, traditional water pots, and was drawn to their sense of beauty, function and bountiful repetition. In 2012, she returned to India on an Asialink Residency Program funded by Arts Victoria and Australia-India Council in order to explore the intersection of her work with that of the kalud aka “use and throw” potters. “I wanted to reprogram my wheel throwing practice of 30 years whereby I made refined tableware and to be able to rapidly and with more freedom throw what is termed ‘off the hump’. Over the last few years I have been hand building small vessels and I wanted to return to the wheel but in a more physically economical way.
“I have always been drawn to repetitive forms and I find the context to be important. When I see a pile of these objects or kaluds, I see more than the repetition of form. There is the endeavor of the maker, squatting sometimes in pairs for hours on end, and effortlessly throwing these forms that have a functional beauty. They are fired in simple kilns to the lowest temperature in order to change the clay into ceramic, and then transported, without any packaging, where they are stacked one on top of the other, ready for sale. These pots are found in chai stalls, lassie shops, and ice cream vendors. They are used once and then thrown away which is a better option than polystyrene or paper."
During Bowkett’s time spent in India, she lived within kiln smoke distance of the village and would walk along the earthen roads to where her work was based. Over time, she felt welcomed in her new surroundings and was embraced by countless families throughout the village. Her Hindi reached a level where she was able to comfortably communicate and make jokes with reasonable confidence and understanding.
On her first trip to India, Bowkett recalls it was “one of those inexplicable connections sometimes in life when you discover something and then pursue it. Why is it that the bold utilitarian forms of traditional potters appeal to me? I see a beauty in the pragmatic forms that sit within their functional roots. When you experience the making of this work, you see where this honesty comes from. There is an ease and grace in the making that comes from a lifetime of working with clay. The obverse side of this is that the potters of Kumhaargram, where I have recently been working, have little choice but to continue the craft they have inherited from their forebears.”
Over the past decade, Bowkett has been organizing projects where Indian artisans have traveled to her native country to share their creative skills, aesthetics, ideas, wonderful food, and traditional culture with Australians. These projects have become known as Crosshatched. She has also been involved with two contemporary ceramic exhibitions in New Delhi, as well as in Sangam, which is a platform for exploring the connection between Australia and Indian design.
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