Sharon Alpren is a studio potter whose functional pieces draw heavily upon observations of nature, art, architecture, and her immediate surroundings. We caught up with the UK-born artist at her home studio in Kyneton to discuss her practice, inspirations, and the importance of getting back to basics.
Prior to pottery, you worked as a fashion and homewares buyer in London. That’s quite a shift. What drew you to pottery?
I’ve always loved making things. As a kid I was obsessed with making little sculptures out of that coloured polymer clay you bake in the oven. I did a little bit of pottery at school and loved it, and later took some evening classes. When I first moved to Australia I was living in an area where there was a lot of clay, and therefore a lot of potters, and I jumped at the opportunity to study ceramics further. I’m pretty sure I’ve found my calling. I absolutely love it. Though actually there are a lot of similarities with textiles… colour, form, pattern, texture, natural materials and labour intensive processes. Not as big a shift as one might think.
Tell us about your most treasured object?
That would be my kiln. It’s a fairly large gas fired kiln made especially for me by a guy just outside Melbourne. Firing a gas kiln is a bit like playing a musical instrument. Each has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies. It takes time, patience, practise, and numerous stuff ups and disasters, to learn to achieve the results you are after. I’m not there yet.
In this age of technology, there’s been a real resurgence in pottery and other hand making processes. We consider these processes important as they connect us to each other and the natural world. What do you love most about working with your hands and raw, natural materials?
I love that it is so simple and direct… just my hands shaping the clay, maybe a few basic tools. Clay is such a versatile and responsive medium, it takes on the warmth of your body, and it’s soft squishy texture makes it a lot of fun to handle. I love the imperfections and inconsistencies of the natural materials. You can never be absolutely sure what you’re going to end up with. And while this can be frustrating at times, that element of surprise is an integral part of the ceramic process.
There’s something beautiful about using and holding handmade objects. Is this physical connection something you consider when developing your forms?
Yes, always. I want my work to be used and loved and touched, so I try for warm, textural, inviting surfaces. I consider how a piece will fit in the hands, feel against lips, whether or not it’s an appropriate weight... I try everything out myself and if it doesn’t feel right I will change the design.
You work from home; how do you relax when you’re not busy making?
I won’t lie. It’s pretty hard. If I’m not busy making there is usually a backlog of admin to deal with. Though usually a couple of glasses of wine will help. Or a bubble bath, a good book, a chat on the phone with friends.
What inspires you?
Everything I think… though not always consciously. Architecture, art, sculpture, the forms and textures of nature, the energy of city life, the markings on a road sign, the mood of a song… Though my work is mainly process driven, so mostly I’m inspired by the nature and characteristics of the materials themselves. The outcomes from one firing will lead to ideas for the next.